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Shame and Guilt: Self-Reflexive Affects from the Perspective of Relationship and Reciprocity


The understanding of shame and guilt proposed here draws upon the concept of reciprocity to extend approaches based on object relations and structural theory. Shame is understood as an interface affect manifested in the context of external interaction. It constitutes the relational structure of self-consciousness by the internalization of a reciprocal relationship between subject and object. By contrast, guilt is an affective manifestation caused by the differentiation of the subject from a fusion of self and the other. First, it precipitates a disruption between subject and object. Second, it is used to restore oneness by regression.
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Proceeding from a critical discussion of positions adopted in object-relations theory and of recent approaches to the understanding of shame (exemplified with reference to Wurmser's concept of shame), the paper demonstrates that intrapsychic structures should not be regarded as preconditions for shame but as themselves evolving in the first place from contact with experiential forms of the shame affect. The paper takes its theoretical bearings from object-relations theory and the theory of psychic structure, expanding the purview of these approaches by incorporating the reciprocity aspect and thus outlining a comprehensive "alterity theory." "Shame" is presented as an "interface affect," manifesting itself initially in the external interactional dimension and constituting the relational structure of "self-consciousness" via the internalization of the reciprocal relation between subject and object. From the angle of developmental psychology, three characteristic forms of such stages of internalization (identified by mythological figures) are described. (1) Narcissus, characterized by the absence of any reciprocal relation and accordingly termed "unreflected," (2) Tiresias, with a capacity for taking up the position of the vis-à-vis temporarily and looking critically at one's own self from that perspective, yet lacking the faculty of self-objectification without the help of the vis-à-vis. Self-objectification is therefore taking place in the interactional dimension. This stage is thus designated as "externally reflected." (3) Oedipus, who has reached the stage to be termed "self-reflected" or "self-referential." The gaze is directed initially toward the outside in search of external sources of guilt but then falls back upon the subject itself. The gaze "turns inward" (to use an experientially suggestive image) and in the mythology this is represented by Oedipus' self-blinding. The subject is capable of "critical," dissociating functions, in the sense of self-objectification, thus attaining to a capacity for self-recognition, self-criticism and self-judgement. These three stages are seen to be progressive, not mutually exclusive. Self-referentiality in the broadest sense is regarded as being hierarchically stratified.
The article describes the specific psychodynamics of ‘destructive narcissism’, a configuration which in its effects, if not in its intentions, can truly be said to be ‘destructive’. The two most widely used diagnostic manuals (ICD-10 and DSM-IV) correctly deny it the status of an illness or personality disorder in its own right, as it is more appropriately described as a fundamental anthropological dimension. As such it is similar in status to consciousness, bipersonal reciprocity or self-referentiality. Its aim is the obliteration of the subject-object relation. Destructive narcissism finds expression in a variety of manifestations differing according to context. They include some psychic symptoms and disorders. The article is also a plea for the application of psychoanalysis (enriched by a phenomenological perspective) to the discussion of anthropological issues.
The literature pertaining to the development of early superego precursors is reviewed. This development is traced through the oral, anal, and phallic levels of psychosexual development. Additional attention is paid to such significant theoretical issues as the 'auditive sphere' and the shifting nature of ideal types. Ego ideal and superego are treated as an integrated system comprised of cognitive, affective, and behavioural components. A sequential developmental scheme is proposed for understanding the evolution of superego primordia.