Men and their relationship to shame

Andrew Campbell - Tuesday, June 09, 2020

I believe no person is born into the world in a shamed state. Whatever differences of personality or endowment appear among newborn babies, every boy and girl child is born into the world equipped and ready to be itself. Babies are born whole and vital. Basically then, Shame must be taught, learned.

I am convinced that Shame is generated from the shaming behaviors, visited upon us, consciously or unconsciously--as we grow from infancy through childhood to adulthood. However invisibly they do it, shamed caregivers pass on their Shame to the next generation. In a word, Shame begets Shame. And, its "educational impact" is especially powerful during our early years. It is during childhood that we encode into our own unconscious the feelings and emotional patterns we are made to believe have meaning and are useful for the world we are entering. And as children, we learn swiftly and well.

At this point, understanding Shame’s origin in either aggressive or passive rejection allows us to pass in review several of its most important characteristics. Realizing them is crucial for any efforts at healing Shame to be successful. The first is that the act of shaming must not be confused with the tone or manner of an interaction between people or indeed with any one method of inflicting it. Gruff, derisive, or brutal words that imply rejection or contempt, physical or sexual abuse, are easy to spot as shaming. But, a sweet, kind, or humorous tone may actually inflict Shame in a far more destructive way witness how what small children really feel is routinely invalidated by all sorts of "kindly distractions." Simply having the subject repeatedly changed or avoided whenever one speaks may inflict devastating Shame. The point here is that a lifetime of “polite,” well-spoken interaction may be as devastatingly shaming as any pattern of overt rudeness. The only true measure of Shame is its actual impact upon feelings. If I feel shamed, a profound loss of something really mine, or that ought to be mine, then my Shame is real.

Speaking concretely, men who had an obviously abusive father accompanied by a kindly, long-suffering mother are often at an incapacitating loss to grasp the nature of their present Shame. Wounds from such a father are usually obvious. But, just what did their kindly, long- suffering mother cost them? On the other hand, men who have had an obviously abusive mother may find it fairly easy to become aware of the profound needs or qualities their mother shamed. But these men are equally likely to have a very difficult time realizing the harmful effects of their distant, silent fathers.