The Myth of Blood Libel III (“The Shame Game”)

These blog posts on “blood libel” have thus far attempted to introduce readers to a few ideas basic to analytical psychology, namely those of the persona and the shadow. The former idea may be a bit easier for readers to see at work in their own lives, specifically in the roles they play when interacting with others; the latter is by definition relegated to an individual’s unconscious life and/or projected onto other people. Consequently, the shadow requires vigilance, reflection, and the utmost honesty on our part if we are  to become aware of how it operates. [1]

As has been stated, the persona gives us an identity in the outer world and also protects us from any perceived threats to that identity. The last Mythfire post even suggested that part and parcel with persona creation is the identification of oneself to a certain extent with what is pure, “good,” and acceptable and a repression and projection as shadow of what is impure, “bad” or “evil,” and therefore unacceptable. Regarding this psychological dynamic, analytical psychologist Murray Stein writes: “While some things truly are evil and destructive frequently shadow material is not evil. It is only felt to be so because of the shame attached to it due to its non-conformity with the persona.”[2]

Shame, like the shadow, is a subject and an emotion that often goes avoided and unrecognized. In fact, just as with the shadow, our persona serves in no small part to protect us from shame. (“The persona protects one from shame, and the avoidance of shame is probably the strongest motive for developing and holding on to a persona.”)[3] Our first inclination upon experiencing shame often is to seek ways to feel better and more secure about ourselves. In other words, we try to return to and refortify our egoic persona. When we do this, shame remains lurking in the shadow waiting for another inevitable future appearance, and we remain disconnected from or unrelated to a significant part of ourselves and others.

Mythfire would like once again to suggest to readers that they take the time to watch Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness, a program which was re-aired on PBS in recent weeks. (The hour-long program may be watched in full through the link provided below).[4] The distinguished panelists, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, M.D., author Elyn Saks, and others, discuss some of the problems faced by mentally ill individuals and their families in the United States. In fact, one of the overarching feelings a viewer might perceive in the panelists is that of shame.

These panelists all seemingly agree that we have made incredible leaps forward in treating other kinds of illness and yet we continue to treat or view mental illness not as a sickness but a crime. The panelists ask at one point, in paraphrase, “how can we, a country that prides itself on medical advances in the treatment of disease, continue to fully neglect the mentally ill?” (Or, put differently, how can we pride ourselves in being able to treat a horrific gunshot wound to the brain and at the same time turn a blind eye to treating the ill mind of the person who fired the bullet?)[5] Time and again, the distinguished panelists on this program, which was filmed before the Tucson shooting, suggest in their language and demeanor that we should feel ashamed we are not doing better.

To come at this idea from another angle, the first Mythfire post following the shootings in Tucson discussed the idea that we must strive to be more conscious of our failure(s) and that one of the ways we usually avoid such consciousness is through “guilt-making,” i.e. laying blame at the doorstep of others. Hopefully, we are now able to identify this activity as a type of shadow projection as discussed in last week’s post. We saw much guilt-making, also called scapegoating, in the media in the hours and days following the Tucson shootings.[6]

If we are to truly move toward consciousness of failure, one thing is certain: we must leave behind the blame game for an awareness and acceptance of our individual and collective shame. The way forward moves through shame.

——

Next Monday: The Myth of Blood Libel IV (“The Chosen People”)


[1]Because of the role played by our ego and persona in defending us from outer and inner threats, including the shadow,  we often cannot see the shadow until it is pointed out to us by someone else. In therapy, the analyst has this along with many other responsibilities.

[2] Stein, Murray. Jung’s Map of the Soul: An Introduction. Chicago: Open Court, 1998: 123.

[3] Ibid., 121.

[4] http://www.mindsontheedge.com/watch/fullprogram. For the program’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/MindsOnTheEdge.

[5] Pride and its opposite, shame, correlate respectively to the persona and shadow. Additionally, one of the panelists repeatedly states that we must devote more resources to unlocking the biological roots of mental illness — as if this should solve everything. While pursuing the biology of mental illness is essential, Mythfire is convinced that the psychological roots and consequences of mental illnesses must not be neglected as well. In no small part, this would repressively keep the findings of depth psychologists such as Freud, Jung, and others in the shadow of what is currently accepted as science. Saks, for one, seems to have benefitted significantly from a combination of medication and psychoanalysis.

[6] Although this series doesn’t discuss it at length, persona and shadow exist on the collective level as well as the individual. See p. 25 of Daryl Sharp’s Digesting Jung: Food for the Journey where, in addition to referencing this fact, he also mentions the practice of “scapegoating” – which is merely another word for guilt-making.

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