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Ikonen, P. Rechardt, E. (1993). The Origin of Shame and its Vicissitudes. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 16(2):100-124.

(1993). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 16(2):100-124

The Origin of Shame and its Vicissitudes

Pentti Ikonen, Phil-Mag and Eero Rechardt, M.D.


During recent years, it has been noted that shame is a neglected area in the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. Our clinical experience has drawn our attention to the subject. We have noticed that many psychoanalyses draw considerable profit from the identification of shame and dealing with it.

We shall present here our own view, that shame is a reaction to the absence of approving reciprocity. The basic form of shame is the stranger anxiety of an infant. When the infant trustingly reaches his arms toward an adult, and then notices that it is not his mother, he interrupts the approach, turns his head away, hides his face, and starts to cry. As development proceeds, the demand for reciprocity has become more defined: when the infant notices that he does not meet the mother's gaze which he had taken for granted, he is ashamed of his false expectation.

A Literary Survey

Literature describes many psychic states and incidents, which contain a particular predisposition for shame or are connected with the experience of shame. These descriptions vary, usually in accordance with the current phase of psychoanalytical thinking Abraham, 1913, Alexander, 1938; Erikson, 1963; Fenichel, 1945; Freud, 1905, 1926; Jacobson, 1954, 1964; Levin, 1971; Piers & Singer 1953; Rank (ref. Steinberg, 1991); Reich, 1960). According to traditional views, shame does not merit special attention nor a theory of its own, because it is an inseparable part of the relationship between the ego and the superego and the ego ideal.

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