To understand shame is to understand human nature, according to Lewis (Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Psychology/Robert Wood...


SHAME: The Exposed Self

To understand shame is to understand human nature, according to Lewis (Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Psychology/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School), who here presents his theories about this normal, universal emotion. In Lewis's view, to feel shame requires being able to compare one's self with one's standards or beliefs. When failure to meet a standard is seen as ""global"" (a failure of the whole self, i.e., ""I am bad""), shame results, but when failure is seen as ""specific"" (i.e., ""that action of mine was bad""), guilt results. The self must be exposed to itself, in Lewis's terminology, in order for shame to be felt; thus very young children do not experience it. He traces the developmental processes that allow for the emergence of shame, analyzes how it differs from related feelings, examines ways of coping with it, and looks at how the sexes differ in their experience of it. Females, he says, experience more shame than males, and when the emotion is prolonged, females are more likely to respond with depression and males with rage. In fact, Lewis links the violence in our society to an out-of-control shame/rage spiral. In extreme cases, prolonged shame may even produce narcissistic and multiple-personality disorders, both of which the author sees as on the increase. Although primarily concerned with shame in contemporary Western society, Lewis also looks briefly at other cultures. Throughout, he conscientiously provides as a framework for his own ideas the views of other psychologists, psychiatrists, scientists, and philosophers. Numerous anecdotes, written in a loose, conversational style that contrasts sharply with the rather textbookish tone of the main text, illustrate his ideas. Sensible scholarly analysis of an emotion that has an enormous impact on how individuals relate to each other and to society.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 1992

ISBN: 068482311X

Page Count: 285

Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1991