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Biddle, S.G. (1955). Shame and Guilt. A Psychoanalytic and a Cultural Study: By Gerhart Piers, M.D. and Milton B. Singer, Ph.D. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 1953. 86 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 24:131-134.

(1955). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 24:131-134

Shame and Guilt. A Psychoanalytic and a Cultural Study: By Gerhart Piers, M.D. and Milton B. Singer, Ph.D. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 1953. 86 pp.

Review by:
Sydney G. Biddle

This essay comprises two studies devoted to closer understanding of the psychological meaning of 'shame' as contrasted to 'guilt'. Dr. Piers's metapsychological study describes in dynamic terms shame and guilt and defines them in structural and genetic language. Dr. Singer's methodological study examines psychoanalytic and anthropological theories of the roles which shame and guilt play in the formation of various cultures. The ambiguity in the clinical and anthropological use of 'shame' links the two essays. Among anthropologists the phenomenological distinction between shame and guilt is commonly used as a criterion for classifying cultures as depending on external or internal sanctions. Shame cultures are largely dependent on external sanctions, whereas guilt cultures are regulated by internalized sanctions. In these cultures the fear of being shamed is not internalized to the same degree as guilt.

The title of this treatise suggests that guilt and shame are regarded as having equal importance, a deviation from previous views. Dr. Singer points out that it is impossible to distinguish whether behavior is motivated by feelings of shame or by a sense of guilt merely by criteria which determine the degree of internalization,—such criteria, for instance, as the presence of an audience, real or imaginary, or whether the actual threat to the person is a present or past one. As an example he cites a case in a paper of Margaret Mead, in which shame has been 'internalized to such an extent that an Indian alone in the middle of a lake could be so shamed by his paddle breaking that he would commit suicide'. This failure to develop adequate criteria for distinguishing shame and guilt creates confusion and leads to oversimplification in attempts at classification. Dr. Singer assumes that there exists an 'unconscious' sense of shame just as there is an 'unconscious' sense of guilt, and that it is possible to differentiate shame from guilt at different topographical levels. This is the theoretical task which Dr. Piers has undertaken.

In his contribution two questions arise.

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