I am thinking a lot about criticism and blame and the function they can serve in us and in our culture at present. I have been thinking of the role shame plays in generating these two as well, especially in the midst of reading all about the inner critic and outer critic in Pete Walker’s book on healing Complex PTSD.
I went through a catholic education and I heard an interesting interview the other day with a female minister and she was speaking about the myth of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. She mentioned that it was not God who projected shame or blame onto Adam and Eve for their nakedness. What seems so sad is that as the church evolved all kinds of things became shameful which were just natural human instinctive responses (which was a projection of the split state of mind of the Catholic religion’s founders).
I read a wonderful book on the evolution of consciousness many years ago called Return of the Goddess by the Jungian author Edward Whitmont and in it he explored how our current level of consciousness to which he gave the name egoic arose out of the magical and mythical levels of consciousness of earlier times. Prior to the development of the egoic age the divine was recognised to be present in every living thing. From the time of the egoic age the concept of a God who was separate from nature and passed down his instructions from on high developed with all sorts of alarming consequences.
It is interesting to note that such a form of consciousness grew out of the time and event of what was known as the Black Plague, millions were killed by forces not fully understood at the times. The capriciousness of nature cast fear into the hearts of many. Following this time came the Witch trials and inquisitions in which scapegoats were sought and the shadow was projected onto women and others.
The other point made by Whitmont concerned the influence of the commandments of Moses which saw shame become a huge feature of consciousness, a splitting of wrong from right, good from evil, angels and gods from the devil. A huge list of “thou shalt not’s” arose, to keep everything in check and from this we lost our way really from a deeper connection to and understanding of the nature and wild elements within ourselves.
I read a lovely quote recently on a site devoted to invalidation abuse. It said that to tell humans not to have certain feelings is like telling grass not to be green or water not to be wet. The point being made was the feelings are neither right nor wrong. they just are totally natural forces. Why then do we insist that other’s don’t have certain feelings? That some feelings are wrong or bad? Why do we shame and blame people for reacting in certain ways? When we do we are committing a crime against nature and we are actually just passing off our own very real human limitations, and splits onto those around us.
A huge part of narcissistic abuse is that we don’t get to have certain feelings. We end up being shamed for them and then shaming ourselves. Or if we side with our abusers we end up shaming others and sending them into exile like the proverbial scapegoat, in an effort to keep pain outside or ourselves.
It seems to me that a lot of the shaming and blaming we do comes from unconscious pain it is hard for us to accept into our hearts. We lash out in a reaction rather than feel the pain fully. At times it may be very necessary to protest what is unfair. One of the most difficult things a parent can do to a child is to shame or squash their legitimate protest which is inherently self protective. At the same time staying stuck in a lash out mode also doesn’t serve us or our later relationships well, if our reaction is to a degree overblown or triggered earlier pain that we then dump unconsciously. Empathy will allow for and recognise this and work to do something about it.
I shared recently in a blog on the inner critic about the profound legacy of toxic shame which results in the development of a harsh inner critic which can turn against the self. There is also the outer critic that forces its outrage, pain and hurt out onto others or may seek to criticise unfairly as a way of protecting the self from further injury. This is the thorny ground of narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage that can flair up in response to perceived ‘slights’ which may have been innocuous or inadvertent comments but obviously triggered an earlier wound, or soft sore spot of shame in someone who has been narcissistically wounded.
In his book on Complex PTSD Pete Walker associates the development of an active Outer Critic with two of the four ‘F’ responses to trauma, flight and freeze. If we learned only to stuff our anger at parental injustice we may go into a freeze response of say passive aggression where we bury all our hurt anger deep inside and express it indirectly. If we learned only to fight, to come out with guns blazing and not make peace with our own tender, raw, vulnerable and hurting places we may project critical judgement onto others unfairly just as it was projected onto us. In addition if trust has been broken through lots of experiences of shame and blame we may keep up a critical defence in order not to be wounded or hurt again.
For those of us narcissistically wounded in this way we may benefit from practices such as those shared by Buddhist writer Pema Chodron, who advises us to stay with soft, sore, hurting space inside in order to lovingly tend to our own hurt, before reacting, criticising or flying off the handle.
In my last relationship I was often triggered to lash out with anger. It wasn’t always expressed face to face (often just on inanimate objects) and it took me time to see that this anger actually had a huge residue of pain from my own childhood hidden within it, a childhood in which not much time was spent just being together and having fun. The anger was necessary to know about as it was telling me essential things, but at times my way of expressing it wasn’t all that skilful.
At the same time I was in a relationship with someone who had witnessed a lot of domestic abuse and violence so innocuous kinds of tantrums (removing myself to another room to hit a pillow against the bed when angry and frustrated by him), would see a massive walk out and end in me being given the silent treatment for days and days, after which I was read the riot act of how I needed to change in order for the relationship to continue. I would add at this time I was seeking therapy and trying to address my issues, was ashamed on some level that my way of dealing with frustration was so ‘immature’ but that too was a value judgement as I had a lot of early feelings I needed to process and understand.
I was told my partner had no interest in knowing what had triggered it, I should just ‘get over it’, which was actually not possible without a lot of therapy. It was okay for him to blow off steam though by kicking my furniture and to have out of the range reactions to innocuous things like asking for the griller door to be closed while grilling things in my oven. Its actually quite humorous re-reading to consider some of our actions and reactions.
I guess the point I am trying to make is this, when we shame people or ourselves for having certain emotions, when we blame we commit a kind of crime of omission, to a degree we erase ourselves or the other person. How much better might it be to develop an understanding of the genesis of shame and blame and to take steps to get to grips with the pain or issues that underlies them. In and through lovingly tending this pain we can make great progress and leave the thorny place of blame and shame behind.
As I was considering writing this blog an image of the princess from Sleeping Beauty came to me. If you recall Sleeping Beauty was put to sleep after pricking her finger a spindle as a result of a spell which came about as a result of the 13th fairy being exiled from her christening. Shame and blame themes again : you excluded me so I a going to make you pay. Sleeping Beauty put to sleep could be a powerful metaphor for the freeze state we find ourselves in when toxic shame or pain left unprocessed and ungrieved remains frozen within us on some level. The kiss of the prince may be yet another metaphor for a loving action from the masculine part of us that has the capacity to deal with the painful legacy of shame and blame in a more skilful way than putting ourselves or others to sleep or into the deep freeze by showing love. By kissing our wounded or frozen places, maybe we can heal.
The parts of us that need to fight and need to freeze are certainly essential as defences to protect us against hurt in childhood. In adulthood they may cause all kinds of problems. We cannot expect unconditional sympathy for their continued existence that may block greater intimacy in our lives. Yet still we might hope for compassion and understanding most essentially for ourselves for shame and blame can not free us from our prison, only compassion, empathy, love and understanding can do that.