Dr. Sanity on Guilt and Shame
Remember when I mentioned that a person's self image is their most precious possession and that we will do ANYTHING to protect it? I also mentioned that this truth provides the secret to creating a drammatic story. You just put a character into a situation that causes such a crisis. Then stir, bake for 35 minutes on high heat, and voila, you have a masterpiece! Like Hamlet.
I swiped this comparisson of a Guilt Culture and a Shame Culture from Dr. Sanity's blog to show why...
In this post, Shame, the Arab Psyche, and Islam, Dr. Sanity is comparing Western Civilization, a Guilt Culture, to Islamic society, a Shame Culture. But what she says holds true for individuals as well.
In a guilt culture, when an individual believes he is NOT GUILTY, he will defend his innocence aggressively despite the fact that others believe he is guilty. In this case, the individual self is strong and able to maintain an independent judgement even if every other person is convinced of his guilt. The self is able to stand alone and fight for truth, secure in the knowledge that the individual is innocent.
The guilt culture is typically and primarily concerned with truth, justice, and the preservation of individual rights. As we noted earlier, the emotion of guilt is what keeps a person from behavior that goes against his/her own code of conduct as well as the culture’s. Excessive guilt can, of course, also be pathological. I am solely referring to a psychologically healthy appreciation of guilt.
In contrast, a typical shame culture (e.g., Imperial Japan as discussed by Benedict; or the present focus of this discussion: Arab/Islamic culture) what other people believe has a far more powerful impact on behavior than even what the individual believes. As noted by Gutman in his writings, the desire to preserve honor and avoid shame to the exclusion of all else is one of the primary foundations of the culture. This desire has the side-effect of giving the individual carte blanche to engage in wrong-doing as long as no one knows about it, or knows he is involved.
Additionally, it may be impossible for an individual to even admit to himself that he is guilty (even when he is) particularly when everyone else considers him to be guilty because of the shame involved. As long as others remain convinced he is innocent, the individuals does not experience either guilt or shame. A great deal of effort therefore goes into making sure that others are convinced of your innocence (even if you are guilty).
In general, it has been noted that the shame culture works best within a collectivist society, although it can exist in pockets even within a predominant guilt culture.
A shame culture sucks, doesn't it? Fortunately, we don't live in one. As Dr. Sanity notes, however, a shame culture can exist within pockets of the predominant guilt culture. You see this in smaller social units within Western Civilization that are collectivist -- like some religious communities and on the far right and left ends of the political spectrum. In such pockets, political correctness is such a big stick that a shame culture develops, enforcing conformity, no matter what crazy things that forces members to subscribe to.)
A narcissist puts us in the situation where everyone thinks we're guilty and we believe we're not. As the diagram says, we must "protest our innocense and fight the accusation." And I add that holier-than-thous should shut up and let us! It is NOT a sin: it's absolutely necessary for our mental well being and our relationship with our self.
I don't know, but it seems to me that if you succeed in stiffling all complaint and suppressing all fighting-back in the victim, you might just be hammering and forging that person into a brand-new narcissist! A person ruled by shame, who thinks, "No one knows, so I am not shamed." That's a cunning demon hiding behind an angel-faced mask = a narcissist.
Moreover, so little resistence is possible or would be wise, that any resistance the victim can put up is precious. It is vital to the victim's well being. He or she must be able to say, "I put up a fight."
Holier-than-thous who call that "revenge" and command you to "Let God handle it" should go jump in the lake. Besides, what is God? Your big dog that you sic on your enemies? If I were him, I'd help those who help themselves.
So, guilt and shame are NOT the same thing. Make sure you don't confuse them. Throw off undeserved shame. Fight against letting people dump it on you.
We all feel both guilt and shame at times, but because these things can become confused by sloppy thinking and fast-talk, we can find ourselves in an environment where shame rules and is imposed by others on us when we are innocent.
A narcissist is ruled by shame, as in the second model in the diagram. He or she imposes a shame culture in their home. The children of narcissists, therefore, are inculcated with an exaggerated sense of shame. Shame is constantly dumped on them. No one likes to be disapproved of, but the children of narcissist become very sensitive to disapproval.
Now, since our society as a whole isn't a shame culture, they survive by eventually learning to cling to the truth and not let shame rule their conduct, like the Little Piggy Who Built His House of Brick. (If they don't form a backbone and do this, they are not going to get through mentally healthy.) Nonetheless, disapproval is a still very painful experience for them and makes them aim to please where no matter of principle is involved.
The model in Dr. Sanity's diagram above shows why, for example, Arab Muslims have no compunctions about lying their heads off. It's to save face (for yourself or your family or your religion), and that's just what you do in a shame culture. Because a thing ain't wrong unless you get caught and shamed for it. They have no idea why their whoppers offend us westerners so. The value of truth isn't appreciated in a shame culture. Appearances are all that get considered, as with a narcissist.
I also recommend the following the three-part series, Narcissism and Society, at Dr. Sanity. Again, the focus is on the current world war, but most of what she explains applies just as well to the individual narcissist and his or her victim.