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F., G. (1960). On Shame and the Search for Identity: By Helen Merrell Lynd. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1958. 318 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 29:119-121.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29:119-121

On Shame and the Search for Identity: By Helen Merrell Lynd. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1958. 318 pp.

Review by:
G. F.

Mrs. Lynd, a sociologist and philosopher, discusses a central problem of modern life, of knowing who and what we are, of our sense of identity. She suggests that the universal experience of shame, 'a sudden awareness of the incongruity between oneself and the social situation, … exposure' can throw 'an unexpected light on who one is'. Careful study of experiences of shame can, she believes, lead one to question one's evaluation of others, of oneself, and of ideas; and this questioning can bring about a necessary reorientation of oneself to the world. Mrs. Lynd shows that shame is quite different from guilt; shame results from violation of one's personal inner code of what is right and true, whereas guilt arises from violation of the code imposed from without. To evaluate one's experience of shame is therefore to appraise a truly personal ideal, a set of concepts close to the otherwise almost unapproachable core of one's being.

The author convincingly supports, elaborates, and illustrates this thesis with references to philosophy, science, literature (she draws much upon the Russian novelists), and psychiatry. Her definition of shame and her distinction of shame from guilt are valid and should be useful to psychoanalysis, about which she has much to say. Her discussion of psychoanalytic theory is honest and accurate. It is clear that she writes from large knowledge, but knowledge necessarily untempered by experience of psychoanalytic practice. She, like others, seems to exaggerate the power of the analyst and to portray the analytic process as a more drastic and more arbitrary (and hence potentially dangerous) rebuilding of the patient's character than it is in practice.

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