Weapons of Shame


As we live in community, shadow energies have the tendency to establish repetitive patterns that create hierarchical orders and at a most basic level, establish alliances and enemies.

Often these behaviors manifest unconsciously in casual interactions, most especially when conversation centers on a third that is not present.

Without wanting to sound preachy (the word slander can quickly constellate a seven deadly sins association) I’d like to propose that slander functions as a tool or weapon of unconscious shame.

Stewart, in his work on archetypal affects, identifies that shame needs to be seen as a shame/contempt duality.  The hurling of a comment, true or false, which carries contempt activates a scapegoating complex which attempts to place one’s unconscious shadow onto another to carry.  Even a subtle comment, like the one just spoken at the next table in the cafe as I write this (“You know how he is.”) can be the vehicle if this dynamic.

With an agreement of another party (collusion), our slander functions to bring one person into alliance while pushing the target of our contempt further into the desert.  This distancing establishes, or attempts to at least, categories like us/them, insider/outsider, and citizen/alien, and like the immune system, attempts to isolate and destroy the infection of the other.

Contempt in the end can be interpreted as a projection of unconscious shame in the individual that employs slander to wound the targeted scapegoat.  Becoming conscious of these dynamics is not the same thing as calling from a pulpit “thou shall not slander.”  All projection functions autonomously.

The power of these unconscious forces and the means they invisibly slip into the most “innocent” of conversations, is truly overwhelming, but the unconscious functions through us this way, the darkness even more insidious when we are too identified with consciousness and defended from even entertaining that such unconscious dynamics can infiltrate our “good intentions.”

Finally we must entertain the question to what purpose? In his work Integrity at Depth, John Beebe proposes in a “Dialogue with Shame,” that shame is a powerful defender of that what is most precious and sacred within us.  This would hold for both sides of the dynamic, for both the contemptuous one and the one shamed. In each, the affect, like a mother defending her cubs,  encapsulates what Kalshed in Trauma and the Soul defines as the soul-child, “the germ of wholeness in the personality.” (Pg. 55). The stakes of our vulnerability are this great, for soul death engenders as much terror as physical, and depending on one’s spiritual orientation, the results of soul death are far more devastating.

Author: Richard Reeve

I'm the Senior Director of Development at Panthera, a global conservation organization committed to stemming the population decline of cats in the wild. I enjoy rural living with my wife Judith and our two children in the Catskill Mountains of New York.