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Miller, S.B. (1989). Shame as an Impetus to the Creation of Conscience. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 70:231-243.

(1989). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 70:231-243

Shame as an Impetus to the Creation of Conscience

Susan B. Miller


Shame 'absorbed by' guilt is an issue that was flagged for consideration by Erikson. The most compelling reason for using guilt to obscure shame is that guilt is associated with a sense of the self as strong, though burdened and culpable, whereas shame brings with it a painful sense of vulnerability. Erikson described the way in which compulsive ordering-about of the self allows a child to feel less helpless and less vulnerable to the shame affect. In instituting this type of self-directive behaviour, the child is developing conscience. The irony of this type of self-manipulation is that ultimately the child, or adult, finds himself again burdened by impotence, though it is the impotence of guilt rather than that of shame. The topic of shame yielding to guilt is of interest in part because it demonstrates the highly interactive relationship between narcissistic concerns and superego responses to impulse-expression, and the role of such interactions in the formation of psychological structures.

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