By Roy U. Schenk PhD, and John Everingham, PhD (1995)
Shame is a deflating feeling of personal worthlessnesslike when you’re suddenly laid off without explanation even though the company is doing well. You’re hurting, and you feel there’s nobody to blame but yourself. Yet you can’t for the life of you figure out what you did wrong. “There must be something wrong with me, but what?”
This is Shame. Not guilt, but shame. You just want to disappear, or lie in bed, hoping to wake up and find out that it was only a dream. You have to keep active so you won’t get depressed. Maybe you watch sitcoms on television and feel edgy as the men all act like fools. Shame. Or you get caught peeking in a window at a girl undressing. Shame on you! You write a brilliant story on a friend’s computer and forget to save it. You know you can never rewrite it as well. And you think, “Not again! How stupid can I get?” There’s a war going on in your guts, and both sides are losing. Shame turns to discouragement, depression, and anger at yourself.
That’s where this book comes in. You will learn here how to keep shame from overwhelming you. You won’t eliminate all shame from your life; no man can do that. But you can learn how to handle it before it breaks you spirit or manifests as a major disease. Healing shame can be an exciting adventure, and it might even get to be fun.
Shame shapes, controls, and limits men’s lives. It is men’s most powerful negative affect. It drives men to war, to uncaring pollution, and to violence. If we men are to become whole human beings, we will have to understand, confront, and surmount the shame that now creates havoc in our lives.
Women also experience shame, and are deeply wounded by it. Both men’s and women’s lives are restricted by the use of shame to enforce gender roles and to control and manipulate us. David Ault (Seattle,WA) once pointed out that the shaming epithet “Tramp!” is used against both men and women to enforce gender roles.
But from birth, males are also subjected to another devastating shame message. It tells men, with almost hypnotic effect, that we should feel ashamed simply because we are male. Whatever we may call this message -- The Shame of Maleness (Schenk) or Basic Male Shame (Gagnon) it places us in a Catch-22 predicament. We are shamed when we deviate from our traditional gender roles, but shamed also when we conform to these same roles. The book explores the sources of this shaming.
It is no accident that men are greatly outnumbered among therapy and counseling clients. Not only must we surmount the shame of not being able to go it alone, but we also face a therapeutic format and mind-set that is often alien to men’s style and mode of feeling, and is sometimes overtly hostile to masculinity.
It appears that socialization of females tends to develop fear in women, who account for more than 90 percent of clinical phobias. In contrast, many men develop a shame-driven, foolhardy fearlessness. Some may appear to be shameless, both uncaring and careless. We suspect that they really harbor a huge burden of shame inside, which is so painful that they fear to show any of it, even to themselves. Perhaps there is also a “shamelessness” that women manifest in relationships.
For centuries, shame was used in western culture to coerce both men and women into conformity with sex roles that were limiting at best, and frequently onerous. As women’s liberation worked to free women from the shame of breaking long-enculturated taboos, it became almost standard practice to blame men for the origin and maintenance of these constraints.
Now, a generation later, men are beginning the same liberation process, albeit in our own style. We, too, are sorely tempted to blame women for many of our constraints and the shaming that so powerfully maintains them. The editors view such blaming by either gender as profoundly counterproductive. We must all speak up to acknowledge our wounds, but to project blame onto others serves only to keep them festering.
Being human means that we’re not perfect. We recognize that we may not always succeed in avoiding blaming.
Roy Schenk recounts that “this book was conceived as a way to examine, confront, and heal men’s shame. Many techniques arose before their authors had a clear understanding that they were dealing with shame, but others grew out of this understanding and the internal predicament that underlies shame.”
“I came to appreciate the impact of shame on men from a social and theoretical basis, and only with time began to understand the power of shame in my own life. My co-editor, Dr. John Everingham, came first to a recognition of the impact of shame on his own life, which later grew to an understanding of the pervasive role of shame in society.” We think these contrasting approaches have contributed breadth, power, and a wider range of insights to this work. John Everingham writes, “I, too, am a shame man. I didn’t discover this until my middle years, and it dawned on me more slowly than Robert Bly recounts in Chapter 4. Like Robert, I felt great relief at the discovery. All of my life, I’ve had a strong sense of being seriously flawed. Despite twenty years of relentlessly exploring psychological and spiritual matters, the nature of this anomaly remained a mystery. It didn’t seem to be anything that I had done wrong, but like something I was born withmy fate. What a relief it was to discover that it has a nameshame. And by this time (late 1987), the work of Schneider, Kaufman, Kurtz, Fossum and Mason, and others had revealed the outlines of the modern view of shame and had suggested healing methods. At last!”
“After vowing never again to go to a psychotherapist who didn’t understand shame thoroughly, I became a client of Carl Schneider and later George Lindall. Both of these men helped me a great deal, but neither should be blamed for my blind spots. Other input comes from being a member of a 12-Step group, reading and listening to tapes, attending seminars and workshops, engaging in discussions with many of the authors cited, and interacting nonprofessionally with other men concerning personal shame.”
We’re proud of this book. The contributors share their experience with insight and passion. As editors, we have been moved or enlightened upon first reading a manuscript, and we have often felt that sense of relief that comes from new evidence that we are not alone in our wounding or dysfunction. We believe that this volume contains new approaches of considerable value to most therapists and counselors who wish to enhance their work with men. And to the large majority of readers in other lines of work we say, “Welcome, brothers. Enjoy!”
Our authors work in many professions, have a variety of concepts about human growth and change, and represent several “schools” of psychotherapeutic orientation. We come from various positions in the spectrum of men’s liberation, including those who see themselves as non-aligned. Half of the chapter authors practice psychotherapy, and others work as a chemist, anatomist, poet, musician, lawyer, and psychologist. We all have advanced formal education, and roughly an equal number of us hold doctorate and masters degrees. Most of us lead experiential workshops for men or for both sexes, and many of us teach and write. We believe our most valid credential is that all of us are working on our personal shame issues and have made some substantial progress on this journey. Our writing grows out of our lives and experience, enriched by assimilation of the work of others.
We admire also those who contributed to the survey about why men don’t seek help in therapy or self-help groups more often (Chapter 7). Their breadth and depth is impressive, and so is the wide range of life experience that they share with us. As our book nears completion, the editors feel a deep sense of fulfillment for our part in bringing the voices of these men to a wider audience.
The chapters fall into five broad categories. Chapters 1 through 6 are overviews on the nature of shame, its origins and sources, representations of shame in mythology and the arts, and a broad palette of healing techniques. Chapter 7 is a survey about why men don’t make more use of therapy and self-help for emotional and behavior problems, and what might make such help more attractive to most men. In the next chapters, five psychotherapists describe innovations that they have found to be successful.
Chapters 13 through 17 are a collection of special topics relating to shame: the Rescue triangle, forgiveness, “rules” that maintain shaming among men, the goodness of men, and masculine intimacy. The final chapters contain our vision of how the world is changing as we heal toxic shame. They deal with men’s initiation and the emerging culture of initiated masculinity, the rise of self-esteem as shame declines, improvements in epistemology, and the vision of a society in which pejorative judgment is out of place.
There are some biases in this book. Our chapter authors are mostly heterosexual white men, professional and upper middle class, but diverse in religious affiliation. At one point, we considered including chapters written by a woman and a clearly pro-feminist man, but didn’t diligently pursue authors with these perspectives. John Giles’s chapter on forgiveness, and Philip Powell’s on the journey from shame to self-esteem, were both chosen for the excellence of their contents, not for the sexual orientation or race of the author.
One of our strengths is that we include authors who represent the men’s rights, mythopoetic, men’s initiation, 12-Step, and gay rights arms of contemporary men’s liberation. We welcome and respect contributors with different experience, despite occasional disagreement. At first, our attitude toward pro-feminist men was less than welcoming, for we saw them, rightly or wrongly, as committed to blaming and shaming men, themselves included. Recently, we have gained respect for the honesty and passion of some of them, especially those who are leaders in the American Men’s Studies Association. We welcome all to the joys of combating shame by facing it directly.
Another obvious bias is that our book is about men, and addressed to men. We deem it important to look specifically at the ways men are shamed, and the ways men heal shame. Both editors and many of our authors are unabashed advocates of men’s liberation. We make little attempt to balance our presentation by including feminine points of view, and we’re certainly not dispassionate. We aim for honesty, and maintain that passion is compatible with it. It’s our belief that the dispassionate stance often conceals a multitude of conscious and unconscious biases, untenable tacit assumptions, and doubtful epistemology.
The standard of validity for information presented in most of this book is not the scientific method of control/measure/reproduce that is so well suited to the physical sciences. We most commonly communicate our personal experience, and invite readers to choose what they find useful or worthy of trying out for themselves. Our experience comes from dealing with both our personal shame and that of clients, and is integrated with intuition, reading, discussion, and the arts. Although we find most of the theory presented herein to be compelling and helpful, it is offered for exploration, not as generally accepted fact. The methods we suggest are designed to facilitate further work. As with most knowledge and theory, validation of these ideas will come from men discovering their value in their own lives. A broader context for evaluating knowledge about shame is presented in Chapter 22.
Our authors use a variety of styles, and we’re not always scholarly in the classic sense. Please don’t be fooled; we’re thoroughly serious about our subject. Most of us use an informal, even conversational style, and some employ vulgarity. We planned it that way, for we value the emotional honesty often promoted by these styles.
Our aim is to speak to the hearts of men. We’re not here to prove anything in the formal sense, or to win arguments. Our model of communication is to awaken a deep longing in the reader. Most of us assume that all men have a lust for healing, wholeness, and completenessa drive to align with the world axis, the flow of the universe, the grace of God. Our styles are designed to touch this sense in the reader, and to be congruent with our true selves.
For brevity and directness, we have edited out many an “in my opinion,” “I believe,” and “in my experience.” Readers may pencil these back in if they wish, and are invited to “translate” what we write into lessor morevulgar language, as they choose. Nor should the book be seen as the definitive work on men’s shame. It is a kind of progress report, written by men whose lives are in progress. We regard the field of shame as still in flux, unconsolidated; we’re well advised to delay codification of concepts and terminology. We see ourselves in the most creative of times.
We invite you to join us in effective action impelled by our common urge for health and magnificence--the desire to narrow the gap between our true and false selvesand thereby align ourselves with the Divine, however defined. We want to speak to your heart, and convince you that healing shame is not only possible, but also well worth the effort. And you don’t have to do it alone, for now there are plenty of buddies to join you for the trip.