Making Contact with Culture: A Psychotherapist’s View

Kubik’s (2014) paper, Culture Contact: cognitive and psychodynamic aspects deals with interesting facets of the discourse of the concept of culture, that one would tend to overlook. It starts off simply, describing a scenario of two individuals holding passports from different continents. How do these persons view each other’s culture? How do they communicate their differences in culture? How much of the culture that represents each person’s heritage do each individual actually possess? How much do these individuals have in common?

Culture is learned.

In gestalt therapy terms, the learning is actually introjected (Clarkson, 2014, S. 58). Introjection is often also described as the act of swallowing information and influences without chewing it first. The difference between learning and introjection, is that learning is cognitive and introjection goes deeper— introjected material becomes the self. The resultant terminology is aptly called the cultural identity. Once it becomes integrated into the self, the self does not notice it any longer as material that is merely learnt. This could be a way of explaining why we tend to be blind to our cultural learnings.

The process of introjecting learned material in the cultural context can be described as enculturation.  Enculturation is a life-long process of introjections. This process serves the purpose of enabling the individual to integrate and function in the social sphere.

Society provides as much security as it traps the individual. This is how we also understand the concept of introjection – what we learn in this way is difficult to escape from if it doesn’t serve us positively. Hence throughout phases of life, we find ourselves having to deal with our cultural biases and adapting to other people’s culture.

The self as many voices.

I like to think of a learning of cultural elements as a way of obtain a new “voice” in our heads. Each introject is like introducing a new character or “face” (Satir, 1978/2009) in an intra-psychic theatre. As a child develops into adult these form the polyphonic voices similar to the ones we encounter in Dostojevskij’s novels (Bakhtin, 1984).  As the article mentions, these become our unique cultural profiles, which change dynamically with the influences we encounter in our lives.

Cognitive and Psychodynamic Levels of Learning

Learning involves being in contact with material. I guess that this is what the article alludes to with the term, cognitive level. We perceive and learn the material, but for the material to be internalized, it trickles thorough the psychodynamic aspects of our consciousness, the psychodynamic level.  What I am imagining is, that the perception of the learned material can be shared by separate individuals at the cognitive level, but each person makes meaning and introjects this material differently at the psychodynamic level.

An example is the symbolism of crows in Japanese culture as mentioned in the article, citing Akira Kurosawa’s (1990) film. Most persons at the cognitive level see the same crows— which are black birds— but the meaning different cultures make of crows are different. The Japanese culture, for example, sees the crows to be more injurious than perhaps other cultures. There are also explanations for it: the crows in Japan are bigger and more likely to attack people and property. Incidentally, in western media, the Raven, also a black bird is often depicted as a messenger of menace in literature—like in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven— and Hollywood films.

How Cultural Objects are Dealt with in Gestalt Therapy

Throughout my gestalt therapy training, we are constantly trained to be aware of the fact that we, as individuals, put different attributes onto tangible and intangible objects. These are also sometimes termed as cultural objects (Owen, 2015).  As gestalt therapist, we need to ask the client what the objects mean to them individually, so as to avoid assuming that we share the same meaning of the said object with our clients.

The content of the article is very relevant to our work as therapists. If we are able to be aware of our cultural biases, we will be better able to make contact with the client in therapy, thereby being more effective in understanding the client and his/her psychological issues.

Bibliography

Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostojevskij’s poetics: Theory and history of literature. (Bd. 8). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Clarkson, P. (2014). Gestalt Counselling in Action (4th Kindle Ausg.). London: SAGE Publications.

Kubik, G. (2014). Culture Contact: Cognitive and psychodynamic aspects. Lecture at the University of Rome Tor Vergata Feb 25 2014.

Kurosawa, A. (Produzent). (1990). Dreams. [Kinofilm].

Owen, I. R. (2015). Phenomenology in Action in Psychotherapy.

Satir, V. (1978/2009). Your many faces: The first step to being loved. (Kindle Ausg.). Celestial Arts.

Nationalism and National Identity: Liberating and Destructive Aspects

Kelman explains to us the liberating and destructive aspects of Nationalism and National Identity. As a Holocaust survivor, he experienced the persecution of of nationalism of the National Socialists in Germany in WWII, and at the same time it is the Israeli nationalism that helped the Jews regain their self dignity and identity as a people.

Kelman spent decades working through the Palestine-Israeli crisis, negotiating peace and preventing death and destruction.

Bibiliography

Kelman, H. C. (2016). Resolving Deep-rooted Conflicts: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Interactive Problem-solving. Routledge.

Conformity and Obedience: Slippery Slope to Dehumanization of the Other

The social consequences of conformity and obedience of a group to it’s authority figures. Conformity and obedience to a group (be it a nation, an ethnic or religious group, a company or a family etc.) are acts of loyalty, which, when acted out of consciousness is a slippery slope to the dehumanization of other people who are not part of the group, e.g ethnic minorities, foreign workers, etc.

What must we learn the extreme example of dehumanization? Kelman, a survivor of the Holocaust writes the steps that has led to atrocities:

Bibiliography

Kelman, H. C. (2016). Resolving Deep-rooted Conflicts: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Interactive Problem-solving. Routledge.

The Function of Religion in Mental Health Today

Religion is in the modern “westernized” world today a topic of contention, that sparked off ever since the era of the Radical Enlightenment that began in the 18th Century in Europe. The situation is somewhat reversed in Asia because the religion of Asia was not Christianity till after this era. Since the theme of this website is not focussed on Religion or History, we cannot completely separate these aspects of cultural anthropology from modern life.

Religion founds the value system of the person. In Psychotherapy, we view the person’s wholeness. This includes the patient’s cultural background and religion. Religion is an important factor of life regardless of whether the person admits it to him/herself or not.

This is the focus of this article: to connect religion in mental health, and to mention the similarities and dis-similarities between the mindset of the two institutions– Religion (Christianity, in particular) and Psychotherapy.

Religion and Metaphors

Religion is transmitted by spoken and written word. Some are also depicted through art. There is hardly any religion in this world that is not transmitted through texts. Literature and art are language of metaphors. It is because of the use of metaphors that the meanings and wisdom of the texts can transcend through time.

Metaphors are poetic. These poetry contain truths about human nature and relationships, truth about our existence, our humanness as part of nature, and wisdom (Carveth, 2017). These are valuable messages that we learn through our culture and hand down to our children.

Much of this poetry is also transmitted through art. Visual art and music. This is how we attain the feelings and the essence of the religious influence.

As part of being human, we gain much from being able to absorb the images, poetry and music and make meaning out of them.

Some of these metaphors are considered myths. Myths are the strings that connect people in a group (Read also: Bion on Groups).

This is also known in Cultural anthropology as symbolism.

When we use symbols, we are able to grasp profound meanings through the symbols. We do not just look at the symbol as an object for what it is.

For example, a dove may symbolize peace. When taken literally a dove is just a white bird.

Religion against Pathological Narcissism

Narcissism is a word that very much belongs to the world of mental health. To the psychotherapist, narcissism is the root of mental and relationship issues. Religion, in its roots, and psychotherapy share, in a way a common goal of weaning man out of narcissism. There is a differentiation between healthy narcissism and unhealthy narcissism. Healthy narcissism is a self-preserving instinct that help us excel and survive in life. In this context, unhealthy narcissism is being referred to. Unhealthy narcissism is a borderline-operated personality structure as defined by Kernberg.

Read also: Kernberg’s Model of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The intrinsic value system most religions is one of denouncing self grandiosity, entitlement and the exploitation of others. In the beatitudes recited by Jesus, it is written in Matthew 5:1-12:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the beatitudes, Jesus lists out the qualities in a person’s character, and this aligns with Kleinian thought: that healing comes with the ability to mourn, accept one’s weakness, reconciliation (accepting others’ guilt and hence one’s own). Read also: The Manic Need to Control : Kleinian Theory

Religion against Idolatory

The grandiose self-image, and all the objects associate with this image (i.e. wealth, intelligence, looks…etc.) are the worshipped idols. The person is fixated on them, and has no time for anyone else. Idolatry is a projection of value on to external objects. It is a means of being a creator of something/someone greater than oneself. Underlying is the need to feel omnipotent, avoiding the shame of being small.

Religion against Self-Omnipotence, Pride and Oppression of Others

The narcissist lives in a state of constant need for omnipotence. No man is omnipotent, because we are vulnerable to the forces of nature. Eventually we get weak and die. The narcissist cannot deal with that and works against this dreadful thought by creating mental scenarios, idealization, demolishing others, envy, ambitions etc. Victimization of other persons by devaluing, discriminating against, bullying, alienating… is a means for the narcissist to deny his or her own vulnerabilities. He/she gets a taste of overcoming these vulnerabilities by annihilating the spirit of other people who he/she perceives to have these qualities.

Religious literature and art do teach us to overcome our self pride and grandiosity, and be kind and empathic to other beings.

Religion against Envy

Also a part of gaining omnipotence is the need to grab what is seen as good in other people. Read more about envy here. Religions tell us to “be thankful”. In many religions there is a kind of celebration of thanksgiving. Psychoanalysis mention too that gratefulness is an antidote for Envy.

Religion for Guilt and Reparation

Most religions have concepts of guilt and making reparations. Read about Guilt here. As human beings we often are tempted to do deeds that interfere with the wellbeing of others, and that our conscience tell us is not right. We feel guilt. Sometimes we feel guilt if we cannot fulfill our duties because we are human. Guilt is hence felt when we have humanity and compassion in us.

In pathological narcissism, guilt feelings cannot be felt by the individual. The pathologic narcissist has a mental issue that blocks out guilt feelings and empathy. When no guilt is felt, no reparation can be made.

Reparation is practiced in many religions. We are sorry and make up for it. According to psychoanalysis, reparation is the route to empowerment of the self. When we fall, we repair. We know then that we can overcome our failure and live stronger.

Read also: Making Reparation & Mourning as the Road to Mental Healing

The narcissist who cannot feel guilt and cannot repair becomes more paranoid.

Religion is our source for ethics, aesthetics, anthropology and should ideally be a cure for narcissism.

Religion and Magical Thinking

Religions also include what many may call “magical thinking”. Belief in “facts” we cannot rationalize. These are things that we will never be able to prove exist or doesn’t exists, and things that we leave to faith, because they are ungraspable.

While the wisdom and insights to human existence correlate overall in different religions, it is the content of this magical thinking that differ in different religions. This content that differs sometimes cause conflict between groups of people of different religions.

Julien Offray de la Mettrie
(1709-1751)

When Abuse of Religion cause Suffering

In today’s world, as it was in the days of the Enlightenment, people suffered because of abuse of religion by religious institutions. The ways people suffer because of religion:

  • Being oppressed by religion.
  • Being persecuted due to religion.
  • Being shamed by religion.
  • Being judged by religion.
  • Restriction of freedom /rights by religion. etc.

When this happens, we see the narcissistic side of religious institutions. The very act of omnipotence, grandiosity, pride and envy is enacted by religious institutions, and this causes immense suffering.

Psychoanalytic theory explains this as a phenomenon of the loss of ability of religions to separate the metaphors from the objects. The taking of metaphors literally. Seeing the white bird instead of peace in a dove.

In narcissist, this inability to symbolize is well documented. There is splitting of the psyche in the paranoid-schizoid position, and the person (in this case the institution) sees things in black and white. This split person is devoid of empathy and a sense of being one with humanity. Like a narcissistic person, a narcissistic institution idolizes and is concerned about its grandiose self image. It is against everything the religion it represents is about.

Put under the microscope, no religion is free from narcissism. Not even the so-called New Age or the Atheists!

Conclusion

Psychotherapists would often say that it is highly unlikely for a narcissist, especially a malignant narcissist or psychopath would ever show up for in their practice. It is usually the victims of these narcissists that seek help because of abuse. Pathological narcissism is a cause for suffering and environmental damage. It has been mentioned, that we live in a culture so terrified of tenderness, that we are drawn to pick up narcissistic traits ourselves. This too is the root of much of our mental pain.

Freud was quoted as saying that the cure for mental illness is the cure for narcissism, and in order for that to happen, one must learn to love. Melanie Klein says the antidote to envy is gratitude.

That said, I am not subscribing to adopting an attitude of accepting powerlessness, uselessness or total abandonment one’s rights. This kind of new-age mentality reflects also black-white thinking of the paranoid-schizoid position, and describes masochism, which harms more than it serves. There is, after all a concept of healthy narcissism and healthy use of envy, which serves to preserve the organism (self) and serve the environment (others).

Rather than deciding to be for or against religion, we could figure out for ourselves what works for us as individuals in the realm of spirituality and religion. We may also choose to look around us with unbiased eyes so that we can see what serves the world that we have and what destroys. This is probably our best guide.

Bibliography

Carveth, D. (2017). F&B 2017F Religion. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeHOKh1NCqQ

Privacy as Personal Control

“Personal control” was identified as the psychological concept central to privacy.

Definition of Privacy

Wolfe &Laufer (1974) write: “The need and ability to exert control over self, objects, spaces, information and behavior is a critical element in any concept of privacy” (p. 3).

Three aspects of privacy, all of which are concerned with control:

  1. freedom to choose or control of choice,
  2. control over how much access others have to one’s thoughts and behaviors,
  3. control over how much the environment can affect one, i.e. the ability to shield oneself from the effects of the environment if necessary.

Altman (1974) defines privacy as “the selective control over access to the self or to one’s group” (p. 6).

Definition of Personal Control

The term “personal control” is related to terms like “autonomy,” “freedom,” and “power”.

Personal Control as a Psychological Concept

Byrne and Clore (1967) : Situations that threaten a person’s perception of personal control are noxious to the person. This motivates the person with the need to attempt at restoring effective control over him/herself in the situation. The person adapts to the situation by reacting in a way to maintain personal control.

When personal control is greatly compromised, and if the situation is not improved, the individual adapts to this situation through behavioral responses, and/or psycho and somatic responses, which are part of the creative adjustment to the adverse environmental situation.

This is not different from the response of a person to traumatic situations. What are the symptoms of trauma? What are the adaptations to traumatic experiences?

Privacy may be described as two-way information control. For Altman, “Privacy is an interpersonal boundary control process, designed to pace
and regulate interactions with others” (p. 3, emphasis added).

Wolfe and Laufer (1974) suggest that privacy has three aspects:

  1. control over choice,
  2. control over access, and
  3. control over stimulation.

Westin (1967) : Privacy is the “claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others” (p. 7)

“…the most serious threats to an individual’s autonomy is the possibility that someone may penetrate the inner zone and learn his secrets … [which] would have him naked to ridicule and shame and would put him under the control of those who know his secrets” (p. 36, emphasis added).

Interesting point. What is the intention of the other to deprive the individual of privacy? Control? What is behind this behavior? Fear? misstrust? Insecurity? How does projective identification does this.

Kelvin (1973) views privacy as a kind of counterpower that one can exercise to modify or nullify the perceived power of others. “Thus privacy is not simply freedom of action due to the absence of intervention or constraint, but freedom in a context of potential power which might inhibit it” (p. 11).

In sum, privacy as control is behavior selection control. As such it is particularly immune to consistency validation. As a result, privacy concerns are more likely than many other control concerns to create conditions for stress. Research suggests that disease may be a consequence of uncertain outcome control (i.e., low behavior-selection control, Weiss, 1972). Other data suggest that suddenly losing control–as when behav- iors which previously had been adequate, fail to work in a new situation– is also highly predictive of disease (Stroebel, in Luce, 1971).

Holmes and Rahe (1967) found that chronic disease correlated highly with
the magnitude of social readjustments required of people in a given duration. The authors argue that uncertainty, especially about how to act in new situations, produces stress that contributes to disease. Certain aspects
of privacy as well (i.e., uncertainty about privacy requirements) may prove contribute significantly to disease. Some concern about this relationship has been expressed recently in the medical literature (Kornfeld, 1972). In view of these possibilities, imaginative and well-designed research into

the relationship between privacy and disease, especially between privacy and recovery from disease in hospitals and other treatment facilities, is called for.

Bibliography

Johnson, C. A. (1974). Privacy as personal control. Man-environment interactions: evaluations and applications: part2, 83-100.

Altman, I. Privacy: A Conceptual Analysis. In S. T. Margulis (Chm.), Privacy as a Behavioral Phenomenon, Symposium presented at the meeting of the Environmental Design Research Association, Milwaukee, Hay, 1974.

HOLMES, T. H., &RAHE, R. H. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1967, 11, 213-218.

KELVIN, P. A Social-Psychological Examination of Privacy. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 1973, 12, 248-261.

WOLFE, M., &LAUFER, R. S. The Concept of Privacy in Childhood and Adolescence. In S. T. Margulis (Chm.), Privacy as a Behavioral Phenomenon, Symposium presented at the meeting of the Environmental Design Research
A ssociation, Milwaukee, Hay, 1974.

WESTIN, A. F. Privacy and Freedom. New York: Antheneum, 1967.

Unraveling the Interplay of Culture, Civilization, and Social Structure: Understanding Shame and Othering

It’s possibly the case that different individuals experience the words culture and civilization differently. I can imagine that my own multi-cultural family background, and having come from multi-ethnic society like Singapore, plus being a sort of immigrant, may lead me to a different idea of what the words mean than from someone from Germany or Japan.  Culture is a phenomenological experience. 

Culture, as from the essence of being cultivated, is inherited like ethnicity or race, while civilization is the infrastructure built with the influence of culture; or a group of cultures existing in a geographical location. We cannot choose or delete from our existence the culture from our furthest ancestors, even if some may choose to disown that culture through making lifestyle choices. When different cultures come together through migration or colonization and co-inhabit a place, these cultures produce a civilization; out of which emerges it’s own hybrid culture. A large part of the Singapore economic story, and the survival of Singapore as island city-state is attributed to the management of society by its strict laws by reason of maintaining security, sovereignty and enhance economic wealth. 

Writing this, I am reminded of  what Norbert Elias wrote:

“This rationalization goes hand in hand with a tremendous differentiation of functional chains and a corresponding change in the organization of physical force. Its precondition is a rise in the standard of living and in security, or, in other words, increased protection from physical attack or destruction and thus from the uncontrollable fears which erupt far more powerfully and frequently into the lives of individuals in societies with less stable monopolies of force and lower divisions of functions.”  (Elias, 1994, pp. 440).

The social structure that is built upon laws of civilization and the culture within it has function. Human beings are oriented by nature and nurture to exist only in inter-dependent relationships, and therefore have to adjust their existence to suit the structure.  This interdependence inadvertently puts pressure on the individual to adapt and change their psychological state and personality in support of this order. In the course of human history, the progress of civilization has imposed stricter and stricter control on human instinct and drives, thus increasing the incidences of shame and embarrassment, preventing us from expressing in public or in private our emotional impulses.   Shame— as with insecurity of war, fear of punishment, guilt, fear of loss of prestige— is induced directly or indirectly in a person by other persons (Elias, 1994).   

Social Structure and Shame

Shame is a difficult to control, unwanted, and inconvenient emotion (Tangney, 1995), which is distinct from feelings of guilt, embarrassment (Miller, 1996). Feelings of shame are highly correlated with social anxiety (Leary & Kowalski, 1995).  Within society, shame arises out of evaluations of self by self and self in the eyes of others, with the concerns of falling short. There lies a lot of shame even in being ashamed, leading this emotion to be psychologically repressed. This sort of “by-passed shame” (Scheff, 1998) is a cause of psychological disorders, and in functional people, can easily elicit aggression (Lewis, 1986).

Pride is the contrasting affect of shame.  The flip sides of whatever brings pride bring shame.  The neurotic part of personality is organized around building an idealized image of the self in defense against painful experiences of shame.  Scheff & Retzinger (1991) mentions Karen Horney’s 1950 analysis of pride as defense against unacknowledged shame. This is a “false pride” that often manifests itself as destructive aggression (pp. 12).  Within the social structure, pride is the emotion that corresponds to securing of solidarity, while shame corresponds to alienation.  “Social structure, and pride and shame are reciprocally related: the repression of shame causes and is caused by alienation” (pp. 15).

Othering and Shame

Cultural identity defines one group of people from another. Like a line at the boundary of two different entities, that which separates the entities also provides contact between them; each side feeling the difference of the other.  In the 1807 book, Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel (2004) explains that consciousness of the self comes to being only through the recognition of a different other – “he is consciousness existing for itself and mediated by an other consciousness“— that which is not the self.   In the sub-chapter entitled, Lordship and Bondage, he makes an analogy of the power relationship between master and slave. The master has the power over the slave, and uses the slave as a tool without awareness that his (the master’s) very own identification of self is dependent upon this relationship. The slave, meanwhile, aware of this dependency, plays along with this role in order to gain security from the power wielded by the master.  Hegel points out that both oppressor and oppressed reinforce the relationship.  This inter-relationship forms a kind of a looping effect, as defined by Hacking (1995). This master-slave relationship is played out between groups of people. Groups that are subjugated are found within and between civilizations.  It is also the cause of conflict, prejudices, stigmatization, dependency and violence (Staszak, 2008). 

The oppression within Hegel’s master-slave dialectic is an aggressive one, albeit this aggression often eludes the consciousness of both sides. But what does aggression serve?  Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 publication, The Second Sex, may tell us something:  she says that unlike any other type of “other”, women have, from the very beginning, been subjugated.  This relationship between the sexes has been so insidious that even Freud, with all his wisdom and understanding of the psyche had fallen into its trap (De Beauvoir, 1956).  Using Beauvoir’s thread on the alterity of women as example of othering, the next literature to consider would naturally be the Book of Genesis 1:26-3:24 (Vatican.va, 2015).  Is the story of Adam and Eve not the justification of aggression against women?  The alterity of women in this story is clear: she is an off-shoot of man  (2:21-22), she is created to as helper to man (2:18), she cannot be trusted to follow orders because she listen to a serpent (who, incidentally, unlike God, told her only the truth), she pursued knowledge of “good and evil” (which, for maintenance of patriarchy, was not allowed) (3:3-6) and so on; and alas, the consequence of this whole fiasco is shame.  Adam had lost his honor, and is punished forever since, as God put it, “you have listened to the voice of your wife” (3:17).  The need to overcome shame thus becomes a good reason for punitive action and oppression (hence aggression) against the “other”, in this case, the woman.

Othering as Self Defense Against Shame

Othering is an aggressive demonstration of one group of people projecting dis-owned feelings of shame on to other groups of people.  “Projection” is a psychological defense mechanism where by one puts upon one’s own disowned and repressed emotions onto another person (Perls, 1969. pp. 188). Shame is a relational phenomenon and a regulator of social interactions, brought about by one’s experience of certain aspects of being that one perceives to be unacceptable in oneself or the other (Lee, 1994). Hence, for example, if I were a man and am proud of being strong, then I would be ashamed of being physically weak.  In order to identify myself as strong, I would project this shame on people of whom I perceive as weak. This could be men of another race, or women.  I would identify myself as strong by pointing out how the “other” is not like me because of their “weak” characteristic.  If I were obsessed with this, I would set up campaigns using the ideology: weak is bad, they are weak, therefore they are bad. This ideology functions as means to all kinds of ends, like (and not only) make meaning, create a value system for society, put forth false ideas to help legitimize discrimination, create forms of thought motivated by social interests, create identity thinking and socially necessary illusions (Eagleton, 1991).

What happens, then, to the “other”? As Hegel—and de Beauvoir— explains, the relationship works both ways. The “other” plays a role in perpetuation of the phenomenon. Gestalt therapy theory explains this via another psychological defense mechanism called “introjection”.  Perls (1969), describes introjection as “preserving the structure of things taken in, when the organism requires their destruction” (pp. 153). In a toxic relationship like that of Hegel’s master and slave, the slave swallows whole the ideology that binds him to the master, while not being able to spit the “toxin” out.  Introjection, like projection, is a psychological (in this case neurotic) defense mechanism that causes one to unconsciously take in self-deprecating social ideology in order to maintain social status quo in order to gain protection from the stronger party.  Rory O’Neil (a.k.a. Panti Bliss), drag queen and gay rights activist, says, “I do know what it feels like to be ‘put in your place’… I check myself to see what is it about me that gave the gay away.” Eloquently he laments on how the non-gay part of society feels that it has the right to decide how much rights a gay person gets, or whether he/she is qualified to be a parent. On the same breadth, he admits to checking himself and his cringing at the appearance of his gay companion “because he is being so gay”, and how O’Neil himself would try to “butch-up a little” in order to compensate for his friend’s “gayness”. The oppressed not only feels the punishment of shaming, but he/she also feels the shame of self-discrimination through the phenomenon of introjection.

Our Way Out of Othering

Shame as the underlying force psycho-social issues caused by othering can be seen in relation to social status (Lichtenberg, 1996), homosexuality (Singer, 1996), female body image (Fodor, 1996), in corporations (Bentley, 2012), plus not to mention countless examples of shame in race relations.  

Today’s internet-connected society that thinks itself as being more enlightened and more aware of prejudice is even more aggressive with othering and shaming. In his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed highlights the damaging phenomenon of Internet shaming and trolling (Ronson, 2015).  Popular opinion has taken the place of religion and government; crowd trolling has become the new weapon of aggression. Now we feel entitled to shame those whose behavior and words we don’t like because we still cannot come to terms with shame itself. All of a sudden the racists, homophobes, sexists and all deviants of our newfound sense of righteousness are our “other”.  Are we better?

Looking at individual’s relationship to shame is a logical way out of many social issues. Working through what causes shame feelings in individuals can disperse the stress caused by shame.  Oftentimes there is lots of shame in shame itself. Working with this will diffuse the fear of recognizing shame and the need to suppress feelings of shame. Bringing feelings of shame to consciousness prevents shame being channeled into aggression.   Social forces shape the way we find pride and where we find shame; and form our lived experience. By the same token, it is the “we” that shape social forces. Through awareness of our unconscious experiences and psychological defense mechanisms we can find the freedom to shape the civilization in which we live.

References:

Bentley, T. (2012). Shame in Organisations. Gestalt Review16(1).

De Beauvoir, S. (1956). The Second Sex. H. Parshley (Trans.). London: Jonathan Cape.

Eagleton, T. (1991) Ideology: an introduction. UK: Verso

Elias, N. (1994) The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and psychogenetic Investigations. Trans. E.Jefcott. Blackwell.

Fodor, I. (1996). Woman and her body. In R. Lee & G. Wheeler (Eds.). The Voice of Shame. Silence and Connection in Psychotherapy.  pp. 229.

Hacking, I. (1995). The  looping effects of human kinds. Causal Cognition: A multidisciplinary debate.  pp. 351-394.

Hegel, G. W. (2004). The Phenomenology of Spirit (The Phenomenology of Mind). Digireads. com Publishing.

Leary, M. & Kowalski, R. (1995).  Social Anxiety. Guilford Press.

Lee, R. (1996). Shame and the Gestalt Model. In R. Lee & G. Wheeler (Eds.). The Voice of Shame. Silence and Connection in Psychotherapy.  pp. 7-11.

Lewis, H. (1986). The role of shame in depression. In M. Rutter and C.E. Izzard (Eds). Depression in young people: developmental and clinical perspectives.

Lichtenberg, P. (1996). Shame and the making of a social class system. In R. Lee & G. Wheeler (Eds.). The Voice of Shame. Silence and Connection in Psychotherapy.  pp. 209.

Miller, R. S. (1996). Embarrassment: Poise and peril in everyday life. Guilford Press.

O’Neil, R. (2014). Panti’s noble call at the Abbey Theatre.  Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXayhUzWnl0.

Perls, F. S. (1969). Ego, hunger and aggression: The beginning of Gestalt therapy.

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