[personal profile] nemorathwald
It has taken me a long time to learn the social dynamics of shame. Do you know when I feel shame? When I ignore the voice of past-me and future-me telling me "you know you'll regret this". I did it during 2015 for several months. Then I noticed something: that is the only time I feel shame. When someone else tells me their needs and asks me to meet those needs, I usually just do that, without involving my self-image. So, I need to learn what it's like to be the kind of person whose self-image comes from outside, and who feels external shame intensely.

I've always regretted involving another person's self-image in any conflict. You know I've done it repeatedly over the years. How did that work out for me? Poorly. It worked out poorly.

When you need something, and someone else is in the way of it, shame will often get them to double-down in order to defend their self-image. It's best to avoid making their self-image seem to be at stake, when really what you want is an alliance: you need their help with something they are doing or failing to do that you don't like.

When shame does not result in defensiveness, it usually results in the paralysis of despair. When I ask someone for what I need, and all they hear is their own shame, the last thing I want to hear is "I'm a terrible person". That is kind of like telling me I will never get what I need. They are focused instead on their goodness or badness.

Even if you succeed in inflicting shame, and it does not result in despair, it is likely to result in groveling. This will serve only to annoy you, as it becomes clear this person is not paying attention to your needs, and is focused on their self-image. They want to get back to thinking of one's self as a good person. Why? Because that's where you put their attention.

Another consequence of shame is that my use of shame sets a context for what to expect from future interactions with me. From then on, everything else I ask for will be perceived as an attack, no matter how gently I word my requests. This is difficult to undo. In some circles, that is the bed I have made, and I must sleep in it indefinitely.

The saddest intimacy I can think of is two enemies who are married to each other. I watch a highly-shame-filled couple leave their needs implicit, or sort of vaguely gesture toward them, and instead attack each other's self-worth. "If only my partner has sufficient self-hatred, I'll get my needs met." All they get from this is a sort of generalized, nebulous, mutual capitulation.

Attempts to provoke shame in me usually result only in expressions of sympathy like "that sounds hard", followed by attempts to determine what the plaintiff needs in case I can provide it.

I have started to notice several people in my environment appear surprised when they see no shame. In that case, their goal (usually) is a sense of vindication, or the attainment of personal power through the moral high ground. Usually such a person loathes themselves-- they perceive mere disapproval from others as if it were a threat to the survival of their self-image. Whereas I am nearly unassailable.

"When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't." - Louis C.K.


You don't get to convince them that you didn't. The truth in this quote is that you do not get to unilaterally resolve the conflict. However, if I accuse you of hurting me, you actually do get to decide that you didn't. Consider what Louis C.K. is proposing in the above quote. If you believe the above quote, and if I wanted to keep you in an abusive relationship with me, I could do so with a series of groundless accusations.

So where is the balance to be found?

We each must hold ourselves accountable to hear people out when they complain. Sometimes they have a solid case, but sometimes they feel entitled to get whatever they want for no good reason. Carefully ask questions, then make up your own mind about whether the problem is caused by you. Sometimes you'll be wrong, but there's no good alternative. The only true sincere remorse is in an accurate understanding of how you caused the problem, so you can stop causing it. You cannot offload that responsibility onto your accuser.

Sometimes if I'm seeing a lot of disapproval from a person, and they can't express their needs, or their demands are based on groundless entitlement, I'll either ignore them, or just politely remove myself from the sphere in which I can negatively influence that person.

Your needs probably seem easy and obvious to you, as they usually do to most people. They are rarely easy or obvious. Conflict resolution requires sincere curiosity on the part of the defendant and communication on the part of the plaintiff.

So let me tell you something that I need: please send me a message or drop me a line and tell me what you need, and if you would like something from me that's different from what I'm doing, which you think would cause your need to be met in some way.

If you also wish to tell me about the reduction in self-image you want me to have, you may. Sometimes it's necessary to just let you be mad, and stay mad for as long as you need. Self-validation might be a kindness you need to give yourself. A kindness of validation for which you are starving. Feel free to do that for yourself as well, and I will try to respond compassionately. But I won't feel shame.

Date: 2016-09-26 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-leewit.livejournal.com
I think I'd comprehend this essay better if you defined what "shame" meant to you. If I read it with one eye closed, it reads like you don't feel bad when you realize you have hurt people, but if I read this with the other eye closed (metaphorically speaking), it sort of reminds me of a recent Dr. Nerdlove column on how self-acceptance and the drive to improve are not actually incompatible. Either way, it doesn't feel like you believe your thesis statement, that you feel you need to learn to feel shame more deeply.

Although you are of course the superior mind and I do not get anywhere near your point when I read, due to your intellect being way more developed than mine.

Date: 2016-09-26 07:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-leewit.livejournal.com
Also, obviously, it's not your job to explain yourself to me.

Date: 2016-09-27 12:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matt-arnold.livejournal.com
Most of this is inspired by the book "Non Violent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg. The Dr. Nerdlove article on this subject is also fantastic.

My thesis statement is definitely not that I need to learn to feel shame. It's not constructive for those around me. It would lead only to defensiveness or paralysis. Or I would annoy the person I hurt by seeking forgiveness first, rather than actually solving the problem.

My actual premise is that I am trying to understand others, and recognize when this counter-productive cycle is happening. I would love to find better ways to distract someone else off of their shame, away from their defensiveness, and away from getting my forgiveness, and onto solving problems and creating cool projects.

I use a couple of useful definitions for shame. Shame is a reduction in self-image and a blow to the ego. Notice it is not a desire to do something good for others, or avoid harm to others. There is this illusion that shame is a form of love for others, but it's not. Love is desire to help someone. Desire is about opportunity; shame is about obligation. I define shame as losing sight of harm-avoidance and goal-seeking, and re-focusing onto one's self.

I do good things for others and avoid doing things that hurt them, when I like them. Now you might ask what difference my motives make as long as the actions are the same. Why not use threats to make people behave? Because, if I do good things because I'm afraid of you, or for my own self-image as a good person, then it wouldn't work well because I would be all focused on myself.

As much as possible, I'm trying to see all situations through a lens that replaces the shame motive with the motive of seeking goals and meeting needs. That is to say-- a lens that replaces obligations with opportunities. Let's practice right now. You said you understand it's not my job to explain myself to you. I wrote this whole essay not as a job, but because I had a goal-- to be understood. So I see explaining myself to you not as an obligation, but an opportunity.

When I hurt others, I don't want to feel shame; I want others to succeed, and therefore, I don't feel shame when I hurt them any more than when I fail at anything else. Instead what I try to do is in this order:

First, I express sympathy without seeking to restore the relationship.
Second, I carefully describe the cause and effect relationship between my actions and their problem, and I ask them if that's accurate.
Third, I get to work fixing the actual problem.

After that, they may-- or may not-- seek to restore the relationship with me. I can't get too hung up on pressuring them to restore the relationship before they're ready, or the whole process fails. Nobody likes it when someone is just trying to get off the hook. The hook is shame, and shame is beside the point.

Date: 2016-09-28 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] atropis.livejournal.com
The ideas you're describing seem sound and reasonable.

However, the item that seems to be missing from this essay is accounting for feelings. What they are as an internal experience, and compassion for that, and realizing that most of the time people who are pushing a shame agenda aren't aware of that perspective on their behavior.

All they know is that they feel negatively. Attempts to address that using shame are reflexive rather than calculated.

That surprise you mention your recent awareness of might turn out to be a useful thing, since it's a easy point at which to break the reflexive movement.

Whoever is addressing you in such a way is likely - based on what I've seen/experienced - seeking one of two things.

One of those things is compassion - as in, pay attention to me, show me you like me, confirm that you understand where I'm coming from or at least want to - which also lets you know that you are in a position to show them that they are not alone when they are in your company. Which arguably is one of the potential real messages in that. That's the friendlier version, the non-malignant possibility.

The other thing they might be seeking is power - as in, if I can show myself that I can strongly affect another person based on nothing more than my selfhood and proximity to them, that proves for a moment that I am not nothing, and proves that there are things in the world that I can push for control on and win. Maybe if the deck is really stacked in my favor, I might be able to gain an ongoing support structure in the form of lackeys who respond to my needs with small (or large) offers of bond-servant-hood. (Unfortunately I've known at least two or three too many people with that as a source of inspiration.) Think politics and/or religion on this one.

In any case, it's awfully difficult to address any emotional issue adequately without bringing the actual emotional experience into the discussion.

I'm not asking you to lose any self worth points about that, in case there was any question; it's just a point that I think is worth thinking about in relation to this topic.
Edited Date: 2016-09-28 12:35 am (UTC)

Date: 2016-11-01 12:51 am (UTC)

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