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Morrison, A.P. (1999). Shame, on Either Side of Defense. Contemp. Psychoanal., 35(1):91-105.

(1999). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 35(1):91-105

Shame, on Either Side of Defense

Andrew P. Morrison, M.D.

DEFENSE WAS SEEN, in traditional analytic thinking, as an impediment to the work of treatment, diverting access, and precious time, from the real task of unearthing unconscious fantasies and organizing principles. A gradual shift has taken place, such that defensive processes have been seen, more benignly and respectfully, as part of the trajectory of a person's life, important to his or her adaptive armamentarium. For example, Schafer (1983) has looked at defense and resistance in its adaptive, action-oriented context; Kohut (1984) considered defenses as attempts to preserve the integrity of the self. Writing from a Jungian perspective, Donald Kalsched (1996) speaks of the archetypal defense, composed of trickster-demon, which both undermines and torments the vulnerable soul of the person, but also protects a person's essence against potential abuse and humiliation at the hands of the outside world.

At the same time that current approaches to defense analysis have become more pliable and creative, interest in shame has burgeoned, beginning with works by H. B. Lewis (1971) and L. Wurmser (1981), and followed by those of Nathanson (1987), Morrison (1989), Broucek (1991), Lansky (1993), Miller (1985, 1996), and others. Shame has been seen in these works variably as affective experience, character elements, manifestations of narcissistic vulnerability, and, occasionally, as a defense against other affects. Each of these contributions pays attention to the various ways that shame is hidden from view or from experience—that is, to the defenses against shame—and, in some instances, how shame itself can protect against awareness of some other affect or thought. As far as I know, no paper has focused primarily on the interplay between shame and defense. In this work, I try to do so.

Shame has been described as the “master emotion,” the “dysphoric affect underlying states of narcissism and vulnerability” (Morrison, 1989). Several of my patients have said over the years, “Shame (and humiliation) are the most painful feelings I know.”

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