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Rycroft, C. (1960). On Shame and the Search for Identity: By Helen Merrell Lynd. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958. Pp. 318. 25 s.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 41:85-86.

(1960). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41:85-86

On Shame and the Search for Identity: By Helen Merrell Lynd. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958. Pp. 318. 25 s.)

Review by:
Charles Rycroft

Although Mrs. Lynd's expressed intention is to explore the experience of shame and its relation to the sense of identity, her more fundamental purpose is to state her position with regard to certain tendencies in contemporary American sociological and psychological thinking. Her book belongs on the same shelf as the work of Riesman, L. H. Whyte, Jr., and Wheelis, and should not, despite its title, be regarded as a monograph on a specific psychological theme.

Mrs. Lynd's thesis is that the present tendency in American thought towards notions of conformity and adjustment, ideas which, as a social philosopher committed to the liberal humanist tradition, she views with understandably deep misgivings, is in part due to the way in which uncritical use of the concept of guilt has blocked understanding of the importance of that range of experiences denoted by shame, pride, humility, and self-respect. By guilt Mrs. Lynd, like most American writers, means exogenous guilt produced by internalization of externally derived standards, and her point is really that this concept, or rather its use as an omnicompetent explanatory notion, with its 'other-directed' implications, detracts attention from those aspects of human personality which relate to self-awareness and self-evaluation. Furthermore, she argues that the two psycho-analytical explanations of shame, that is, fear of ridicule (Freud) or a sense of failure to live up to one's ego-ideal (Piers), both ignore its essence which is a painful heightening of self-consciousness, and have failed to appreciate the close connexion between shame and insight. Here Mrs. Lynd makes what is, I believe, a very fundamental point, viz. that every experience of shame contains the potentiality for an increase in knowledge of oneself and of one's relation to the outside world; that private experiences of shame, which are usually regarded as the recognition of failure to live up to one's ego-ideal, are really perceptions of aspects of oneself which are not included in one's idea of oneself and involve not so much a sense of failure to live up to an ideal as a discovery that the ideal is after all only an ideal; and that public experiences of shame are really perceptions

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