Friday, October 5, 2012

Shame and The Grandiose Self

The Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc emphasizes an analytic attitude as much as any other parameter of the frame. An important component of the analytic attitude is striving to avoid shaming or humiliating a patient, and so we devote an entire course to shame. This past week, the second year class in its Developmental Issues course, Narcissism and Development of Shame Throughout the Life Cycle, read Broucek’s 1982 paper on Shame and its Relationship to Early Narcissistic Developments. I found this paper most interesting, not the least because it supplemented my own psychoanalytic training which had been from a very traditional ego psychology point of view.

Traditionally shame had been seen as a relationship one has to one’s ego ideal or vis a vis one’s parental/societal expectations, shame a consequence of not living up to them. The traditional view took into account the development of the capacity to have self consciousness, such as a child considering itself in the mirror at about 18-24 months, as a necessary prerequisite for shame. Broucek, relying on the ideas of Tomkins (1963) recounts that shame arises “in the wake of disrupted or negatively attenuated interest, excitement or joy…activated on the neurophysiological level by a decrease in the density of neural firing.” This places shame at a much earlier age, as early as when an infant, able to distinguish its mother’s face from a stranger’s, “is disappointed in his excited expectation.” An infant in an “acute distress state associated with the inability to influence, predict, or comprehend an event which the infant expected” experiences not only shame but a disruption of its sense of self. (As an aside, ‘optimal’ shame may facilitate individuation, excessive shame may impede it.)

Broucek also diverges from the classical idea of shame as a reaction formation, stating that “In some cases it may be more accurate to view exhibitionistic trends as reaction formations to shame rather than the reverse.” He goes on to elaborate the grandiose self -- something which Kohut viewed as part of the normal self and ego ideal and needed to be, through mirroring, integrated into the Self, and Kernberg viewed as pathological, to be interpreted for its aggressive (manipulative) components. Broucek, calling to mind Bach’s later 1998 on being a subject or an object, posits that the “egotistical narcissist” privileges the grandiose self, denying the actual self, and is “unabashedly self-aggrandizing and is utterly shameless” while the “dissociative” narcissist denies the grandiose self.

Clinically, therapists often find the entitled, easily slighted, egotistical narcissist more difficult. The class waged dialogue on setting protective boundaries for oneself when the raging patient hurls an onslaught of denigration our way. Some suggested meeting, in a controlled manner, the patient’s hostility with our own. My preference for the best boundary is to ‘survive,’ neither withdrawing nor retaliating (ala Winnicott; and I think survival fails on Kernberg’s part with his proscriptive contracts. It is survival which bounds the omnipotent grandiosity of a patient who expects her/his vitriol to destroy us. Kohut might agree that it is only when the grandiose self is no longer dissociated through fear of its omnipotence which allows it to be integrated and then its energies used to facilitate the growth and creative activity of the self.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The inculcation of shame gave us Hitler. See "Wounded Monster" by Dorpat.