Saturday, November 19, 2011

A healing path (3) The Black Hole - invented shame

One perfect way to keep yourself in a Black Hole in order to keep your Dream alive, in the habit of  invented shame.

There is a kind of shame that bears no relationship to reality: it is the fear of shame arising out of saying a "wrong thing" or doing a “wrong thing" that inhibits a person absolutely.   Rather than experience the shame of having done the “wrong thing” the individual does nothing at all.   If he happens to do just that ‘wrong thing,” he makes an excuse such as he “wasn't aware”; “he didn’t mean it” or he is “sure he didn’t do it’ at all.  In short, he denies the fact that he may be responsible for doing something , plus the possible knock-on effects of his actions.

Now this is “invented” shame. The person is genuinely feeling shame and feeling inhibited by that shame, yet he is not at all sure what he is ashamed of.  A sure sign, in my view, that this a re-enactment of the lost twin in the Dream of the Womb, where survivor guilt is so prevalent.

I was once told that a person in therapy can be considered “healed” or ‘cured” once he can answer truthfully the following three questions:
  • What do I fear? 
  • What do I want? 
  • What am I ashamed of? 
When a person attempts honestly to face all three, and especially his own shame, it is as if he is chasing shadows: whatever he believes he should be ashamed of, once he examines it carefully he finds there is nothing to be ashamed of at all, in fact. In this process lies self forgiveness and self acceptance.

The person who then forgives himself for feeling all that invented shame, is open to the clear implications of his actual morally shameful behaviour.
I will give an example here to ilustrate what I mean.

Let us say that a married women feels ashamed if there is a smear in her windows, and in order to avoid that shame she cleans them every two weeks inside and every month outside. This practice requires a great deal of energy, which fortunately she has in abundance. It also creates anxiety, which is relieved once the windows have been cleaned.  It requires great expertise, for cleaning windows to that standard of excellence is a highly skilled task. The window cleaning exercise therefore fulfills a great many needs in this woman, to express her excellence in practical skills about the house; to apply her abundant energy; to enable her to rest assured that her house is spotless. The basic driving force behind that fruitless task is the avoidance of shame.  You can call it perfectionism, if you like, but it's driven by shame,
This is invented shame because none of the visitors to the house would come to inspect her windows, and even if they were to do so, if a smear was found it would be of no consequence.  Now this woman entered therapy to see why she often became anxious,  insomniac and depressed. All she had to do is run a little house and look after her husband and only son. As she explored the reasons for her depression it became clear that she had been driven by a fear of failure to meet her own self imposed, impossibly high standards. She had been seeking an impossible level of perfection and thus had beeen caught in a cycle of guaranteed failure and shame of that failure.

The drive to achieve the impossible is exhausting; the fear that she won’t be able to make everything perfect causes great anxiety and constant worry about trivial details; the impossibility of acheiving her dream; of there being no rest for her, causes depression.
Now this woman has been helped to see the meaninglessness of her shame, and to appreciate that the shame she feels is self imposed and invented. Now she is able to see more clearly, as the muddle of her thirst for the perfect is gradually unravelled, that there are areas of genuine moral shame in her life that have remained unaddressed.

Her perfectionism has inhibited her son who has been taught that only the very best is good enough. It has separated her from both her son and her husband as the domestic tasks have preoccupied her so much through each day. It has prevented her from developing her own personal and social skills, because she has spent so long dealing with trivial details and turning them in to major concerns. Her preoccupation with the domestic has effected all her conversations, in that she is only able to talk about domestic issues, and maybe a little of what she has seen on TV or read in the newspaper, provided always that this also is something domestic.

This women, healthy and intelligent, full of a great capacity for having fun, very loving and giving to her family and friends, and always giving small presents to others, has wasted her life in an endless pursuit of domestic perfection.

Sadly the second half of this example is fictitous: this women never did enter therapy, and after 65 years of perseverance to create the perfect home for her husnand and son she died of simple exhaustion at the age of 90. Her husband and son never managed to get close to her: she lived in a world of invented shame that eventully wore her out.

The intelligence, energy, stong will and good health of this women could be  described as “alpha” qualities. It as if this woman used those qualities in a wasteful way, as if she had to put them to one side and ignore them. It could be said that she was ashamed of being an alpha womb twin survivor, because instead of using those wonderful gifts she ignored them.  Indeed, when she died they found gifts given to her over the years placed carefully in a suitcase under the bed, unused.


  1. Dear Althea, is the woman you are talking about your mother?

  2. No, just the mother of someone I know very well.