Shame and Guilt

Image by Kankanravee Kanyawath from Pixabay

In the 60’s and 70’s, when I grew up, youth and young adults were experimenting with a lot of things. If you were angry, you needed to express it. Guilt and shame were bad and wrong. Recently the idea about guilt and shame is being revisited. At the core of this is conscience – the ability and concern to discern right and wrong, and then to do the right thing.  

George Simons has written two books that have changed the way I see guilt and shame, and also how I understand many people: In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. On one side, is neurotic guilt and shame – the kind that psychologists like Sigmund Freud dealt with before the First World War – a world quite different than the one we live in now. Many of the women Freud was treating were neurotic people who were far too concerned about right and wrong in a stifled hypocritical European society where the true spirituality of religion had mostly disappeared. On the other side, are those who have little or no guilt or shame. A book I haven’t read yet, but have heard good things about is Without Conscience by Robert D. Hare. 

Fast forward to the year 2020, the social mores of society have been turned on their heads. In terms of right and wrong, “anything goes” seems to capture the spirit of the age concerning morality and values. I think the first and second world wars, and materialism, have had a huge impact on society and what people believe and value. I suspect this difficulty in determining the role of shame and guilt in life, along with many other issues, is due to these topsy turvey times we are living in. For more reading on this topic, check out my blogs End of Times and A Sick Humanity

In 2020, the problem is not too much conscience as with neuroticism, but with too little conscience, as with people who have character disorder. George Simons explains this in his two books. Now many people don’t have enough shame or guilt, or sometimes little or none at all, as with narcissists, psychopaths, and people with anti-social personality disorder.  

Neurotics have too much conscience and are too much concerned with right and wrong. They fret continually about right and wrong, blame themselves too often for problems they don’t own or didn’t cause, and take too much responsibility for others and what is happening around them. They experience toxic levels of shame and guilt, causing them much distress.  

People with character disorder are the complete opposite. They have little or no conscience and little or no concern with right and wrong. They see people who are concerned with right and wrong as stupid and ignorant, because the world is dog eat dog, every man for himself, and think the world will always be that way. They rarely if ever blame themselves or take responsibility for problems they are causing others or problems they own. They are deep in denial and blame everyone else except themselves. They experience little or no shame or guilt. 

“Verily I say: The fear of God hath ever been a sure defence and a safe stronghold for all the peoples of the world. It is the chief cause of the protection of mankind, and the supreme instrument for its preservation. Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed, and do not possess,” (Baha’u’llah

“No wonder, therefore, that when, as a result of human perversity, the light of religion is quenched in men’s hearts, and the divinely appointed Robe, designed to adorn the human temple, is deliberately discarded, a deplorable decline in the fortunes of humanity immediately sets in, bringing in its wake all the evils which a wayward soul is capable of revealing. The perversion of human nature, the degradation of human conduct, the corruption and dissolution of human institutions, reveal themselves, under such circumstances, in their worst and most revolting aspects. Human character is debased, confidence is shaken, the nerves of discipline are relaxed, the voice of human conscience is stilled, the sense of decency and shame is obscured, conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty are distorted, and the very feeling of peacefulness, of joy and of hope is gradually extinguished.” (Shoghi Effendi)  

I remember reading in Scott Peck’s book Roadless Traveled, where I first read about this neurotic/character disorder dicotomy, that a common couple is a neurotic wife and a character disordered husband. The wife blames everything on herself, and the husband blames everything on everyone else. What is needed is a healthy balance somewhere in the middle.  

This brings up another topic I hope to blog on – boundaries. In short, my understanding of boundaries is founded upon the idea of “this is mine and that is yours”. I own this, you own that. I am responsible for this, you are responsible for that. I found somewhere on the internet that Ruhi Institute has a paradigm for this: who owns the problem, who caused the problem, and who is affected by the problem. From my own experience, I suspect both society and the Baha’i community in general, are far from having this figured out yet. Instead of this sane approach to life, you have self-help and success gurus preaching about no boundaries and no limits – the exact opposite of what humanity needs to hear – in my opinion. 

1 Comment

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