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Dr George Simon, PhD

“Shame, Guilt and Character Development” Comments, Page 1

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5 Responses to “Shame, Guilt and Character Development”

  1. avatar image

    You seem to be of the opinion that an individual can be *either* neurotic or character disordered, as if they are mutually exclusive rather than overlapping factors. Having read Millon and David Shapiro, I don’t think they agree with you on that and frankly, I don’t find your dichotomy nearly as illuminating. An obsessive-compulsive character style for example, with its focus on perfection, can certainly coexist with plenty of guilt and shame.

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    Keith’s comment made me realize that probably not everyone has read all the prior posts, and also made me realize how much I will need to emphasize some things in future posts. Suffice it to say that I am definitely NOT of the opinion that the neurotic vs. character disorder issue is a dichotomy. It is, rather both a continuum and a dimension of personality. And, as stated in prior posts, but as I probably should emphasize again, the term character is not synonymous with term personality, even though many use the phrase interchangeably. The obsessive-compulsive style is a personality style, not a character style. Millon refers to this pattern as the “passive-ambivalent” style of interpersonal relating because the O-C person maintains a deep-seated ambivalence about whether to set their own independent course or exceed to the expectations of and depend emotionally on others. The O-C personality maintains this ambivalence through a passive modality (not allowing themselves to cut loose so to speak). Shapiro characterizes all personality styles as “neurotic” styles. The perspective I adopt is that some personality styles are much more character disturbed than neurotic. The obsessive compulsive style (and its active-independent Millon counterpart) are among the most neurotic personality styles there are. The independent styles (narcissistic and antisocial) are among the more character disturbed.

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    Hi George,

    I agree with you that a certain amount of guilt or shame is healthy.
    I like the word remorseful. And I think it can be a motivator to change oneself. Actually as a parent if I don’t see remorse I am deeply concerned. That means more is needed to teach! It can be viewed as concern in a way.

    I often wonder in a character disordered individual if the brain has some missing wiring going in. Energetically speaking or if neural chemicals are being fired off to compensate with some kind of pain transmitter that would hinder the normal activity present in healthy individuals? Adrenaline?

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    Wow! I am getting energized by such great comments and questions. Thanks again to Keith and Diane for their posts. Diane, your comments about remorse are very timely. In one of my soon upcoming posts, I’ll be addressing the relative capacity of neurotics vs. character disorders with regard to experiencing genuine remorse. With respect to brain differences, we’re just learning. We do know that psychopaths have deficits in neuronal activity in those parts of the brain that reflect imparting emotional contexts, connotations, and connections to ideas, concepts, and even people. If we present “normal” subjects with words like table, nail, plastic, etc. and look at brain activity, areas of the brain associated with concept and object recognition fire but areas involved in emotion do not. Yet when normals see words like love, beauty, marriage, baby, humanity, etc., areas of the brain involved in both emotion and concept recognition show activity. Not so with psychopaths. Show them words like endearing or even death and the concept recognition areas fire but no neuronal firing occurs in the areas typically associated with emotion. With antisocial personalities (and the other aggressive personality types) there are some interesting “dynamics” that impair the experiencing of guilt, shame, and even remorse – but we’ll be talking a bit more about that in a future post.

    Keith, I do apologize for not being clearer in this post and possibly leaving a wrong impression. It’s so hard to pack in all of the elements of the perspective to which I subscribe. It’s also hard to remember sometimes where I have posted additional material (e.g., my own blog, website, or other comments to sites and blogs that feature my work) that helps clarify the broader paradigm. I’m so glad you gave me the opportunity to make things a bit clearer (I hope). This series is just one part of 4 other series that taken together should shed much more light on the broader picture.

    Again, thanks all for the great comments. I’m always eager to get them even if I’m not always prepared to respond in a timely manner.

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    I’m a non-professional who would agree wholeheartedly with this article. It’s great that we are living in an age where many of us are more enlightened on emotional and mental wellbeing than ever before, but I fear there are certain individuals who are happy to over-extend messages about defending one’s self esteem to the extent that they feel they should be beyond criticism, immune from guilt and never, ever at risk of shame – no matter what they do! Mistaken understanding of self-esteem has become king, without appreciating that true, healthy self-esteem tolerates some “negative” emotions or experiences allowing one to esteem oneself by responding to them positively.

    The point about people believing in mythical “defence mechanisms” is also very astute. I’ve dealt with several highly manipulative people through my life, and until fairly recently was always willing to project an explanation that these people must be feeling something underneath, and that perhaps they’d just had a “tough life” and were responding to it as best they could. It does seem natural that as humans we try to understand others based on our understanding of ourselves. But over the past few years I’ve come to realise and accept that there really are some people out there who don’t believe doing the right thing is important. There are even some people who will antagonise anyone for identifying their actions as harmful, before they will even consider whether or not they should have committed them!

    I personally think this is quite a hard thing for people to acknowledge. It’s a scary thing; like the traditional fears of mental illness, the idea that someone isn’t governed by or likely to behave according to the “normal” social rules poses a threat to our security on many levels. But I’m not really satisfied with leaving it at that. I can’t help but wonder what can (or should) be done with someone who feels no guilt or shame, or who fundamentally doesn’t care at all if their success comes at a high price to those around them. Is it ethical to impose our “normality” on them, by use of drugs or therapy? Is it wrong to exclude people from the benefits of a social group if they clearly are incapable or unwilling to adhere to its behavioural expectations? Many might argue it is, on the “we are all human beings” basis, but if exclusion gives the excluded individuals the choice of whether they wish to benefit from the community and adopt appropriate behaviour or remain excluded and do as they wish, perhaps that is the fairest option?

    If there is a person who feels no guilt or shame, to me that poses a natural question – what is to be done, both for that person and about that person in the context of wider society?

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