Shame and Anger: The Criticism Connection
Major Book Themes
"We are highly evolved animals, but we are animals nonetheless. Our brains, nervous systems, hormonal systems, and musculature have evolved into a complex system that provides us with automatic rapid responses to situations that are important for our physical survival. We are aware of this intricate system of nervous and physical responses as emotions or feelings. We notice the sensations associated with these emotional states and learn to name them. We may even realize that they guide our decisions and behavior constantly, often without our conscious awareness. They (joy, excitement, distress, fear, shame, anger ) are hardwired in us from birth. A baby must immediately begin the long process of learning how to use them in the environment she will soon discover, just as she must learn to use arms and legs and fingers and brain to solve the challenges of life. For most people the most difficult and misunderstood of these emotions is shame. What is the survival value of shame? Why are we hardwired with this uncomfortable emotional response?"
Biological evolution and the surrender affect
Cultural evolution and the advent of tribal identification and social values
The shame and anger connection
"Many a friendship or family relationship has foundered on the shoals of major, minor, or even anticipated criticism. Performance evaluations at school or work are minefields of misunderstood criticism. Adolescents subjected to teasing in the brutal social competition of middle school can form distorted self-images based on the careless criticism of their peers. Patterns of criticism and reaction to criticism between young adults and their parents or in-laws can establish negative expectations that freeze the relationships in habits of mutual avoidance or conflict that can last for years. Intimate relationships with the people we love most deeply, once contaminated with real or anticipated criticism, can be poisoned with hurt or anger."
Why is criticism so painful?
The origin and importance of social standards from our primitive past
Personal values and value conflicts in modern relationships and societies
Shame and disrespect
"For thousands of years, and in every generation of humankind, confident individuals have exhibited a response to criticism that minimizes shame and anger and gives them the best chance of learning from the critical feedback of others. A very few seem to be able to react patiently even when attacked with malicious and unjustified scorn. They appear to have learned that their own internal responses are potentially more damaging than the words of the critic. By calming their internal responses, they maintain their balance in the situation and can judge for themselves the truth or value of the criticism."
Clarifying and owning your personal values
Limiting habits of negative thoughts
New techniques for quieting powerful emotions
A neuro-linguistic model for constructing a new response to criticism
"Children come into the world equipped with feelings-powerful emotions-for which they have no words. In the course of their infancy and childhood they will learn how to manage these emotions for better or for worse, and of course, their first teachers are their parents and siblings. The more you understand about these emotions and how to manage them, the better you will cope with the frustrations and challenges of family life and the more you can teach your children about how to cope with disappointment, hurt, rejection, and criticism."
Self-awareness in parents
The role of shame in basic human socialization
An infant's experience of shame
Shame, anger and the "terrible twos"
Teasing and bullying: shame on the playground
"Mistakes" and the young child
Shame in adolescence: sexual awakening
Criticism and the challenge of independence
"Most of this book is directed at understanding the emotional impact of receiving criticism and learning how to moderate our responses. But the fact is that we all deliver criticism as well. There are many good reasons for giving criticism to those who share our world and some that are not so good. Our goal here is to focus on how we can give criticism as effectively as possible under a wide variety of circumstances, without shaming or alienating the person we are criticizing."
Good and bad motives for delivering criticism
Careless and controlling criticism
Defining "constructive" criticism
Critiquing creative work of all types
An assertiveness model for criticism
Practical rules of time, place and attention
"Shame has been used as a form of overt social control for as long as there have been societies....We find our identities and play our roles in the numerous communities in which we live - our neighborhoods, towns, states, and nations - but also in our race, gender, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, and socio-economic group. We participate in society as part of the great public mass that assigns or accepts the shaming of segments of our population. We are also members of groups that are, or could be, shamed by others... Attributes such as skin color, sexual orientation, learning disabilities, physical handicaps, less than perfectly formed bodies or faces, intellectual limitations, and myriad other characteristics are deemed by particular societies to be less than acceptable. Once again, the fear of the different, the "other," the "not like us" - this time vastly magnified on a societal scale - carries us to emotions of distain and disrespect"
Hiding in a large social environment
Shame and discrimination in the context of society
Shame and the polarization of political debate
Alternatives for an emotionally intelligent society
"One cannot read for very long in search of answers to the questions of human pain and suffering without encountering the vast literature of religion and spirituality... Although much that has been written on the spiritual realm deals with a very different set of concepts than those of brain function and evolutionary psychology, it is intriguing to notice how much common ground exists between the two areas. This is especially evident when we look at the activities and expectations in what is usually called 'spiritual practice'...The spiritual practices to which I refer are means by which individuals seek meaning and value in the experience of a life that inevitably also involves pain, loss, and danger. They are often found in scriptures and teachings that are the foundations of institutional religion, but they can also be read and understood independently of the religious institutions associated with them."