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The projection of shame

Contained in the projection of shame is the need to keep mother’s subjectivity, which carries with it a threat to his loss of self, from exploding; this becomes its own kind of enslavement. The denied feeling of smallness and dependency create Lilith the child killer, the quintessential symbiotic, omnipotent goddess of the unconscious. Not only does mother’s goodness disappear, but the vengeful dimension of the Terrible Mother is catalyzed. Mother is destroyed, and then she retaliates in the intrapsychic form of destroyer, the succubus as child and mother killer. The fear that the maternal feminine can destroy a boy persists, and serves as a feeling which justifies his need to project. Ultimately, however, he is blind to his own destructiveness which is felt as the mother’s terribleness. The psychic imbalance causes the tragic display of distortions and magical thinking to occur, described in the previous chapter.

An individual must integrate his projections in order to relinquish control and discover that it is not the mother who is the castrator, but nature herself. Winnicott (1992) put it this way:

If there is no true recognition of the mother’s part, then there must remain a vague fear of dependence. This fear will sometimes take the form of a fear of woman in general or fear of a particular woman, and at other times will take on less easily recognized forms, always including the fear of domination.

Unfortunately the fear of domination does not lead groups of people to avoid being dominated; on the contrary it draws them towards a specific or chosen domination. Indeed, were the psychology of the dictator studied one would expect to find that, among other things, in his own personal struggle he is trying to control her by accommodating her, acting for her, and in turn demanding total subjection and “love.”

(1992: 10)

I would like to change a few of Winnicott’s initial words. If there is no true recognition of the existence of the mother and the feminine, then there must remain an absolute form of shame. It can also be said that there is something really missing if a boy grows up and becomes in turn a father, but does not acknowledge just what his mother did for him from the start; remember Freud’s “oceanic feeling” being attributed to a longing for the father?

Due to the need to both receive and provide recognition, the two fundamentals towards the creation of a subjective self, the separative ego cannot ultimately erase the feminine, maternal other. Whatever is so shaming in maternal feminine power, made dark and dangerous by virtue of denied dependency, can no longer be avoided. The expectation to completely dis-identify from the mother due to her gender causes her destruction, and she does not survive. The mother not surviving her destruction means that the creative aspect of destruction is not included. The repercussions from this fact are not simple matters.

Unresolved shame can arrest psychic development into transitional space or objects. The absence of maternal elements does not allow internalization and the transition into symbol formation, the function that reunites antagonistic tendencies through the development of the ability to abstract. Benjamin describes the capacity to symbolize this way: “the key to the symbolic function is the recuperation of identification with the ‘missing half’ of the complementarity” (Benjamin, 1988: 71). The absence of the symbolic function means that true creativity is lost. The child becomes the center of his own universe, and so must struggle to enhance the intensity of those feelings. He relies on instinctual gratification as opposed to reciprocity, and the creation of difference distorts rather than fosters. Disconnection from the feminine eliminates the elements that complete, complement, and inspire human wholeness. This creates a serious psychological problem for modern man, no different than what Victor White observed with regards to religious symbolism:

Where the god is male and father only, and . . . is associated with law, order, civilization, logos and superego, religion - and the pattern of life which it encourages - tends to become a matter of these only, to the neglect of nature, instinct, . . . feeling, eros, and what Freud called the “id”. Such a religion, so far from “binding together and integrating”, may all too easily become an instrument of repression, and so of individual and social disintegration.

(quoted in Engelsman, 1979: 40)

What is more, the man gives the projections the very psychic energy they need to overtake him, and then, just like Freud and Jung said, the situation will happen outside as fate, the “revenge of the unlived life.”

Shame is the affect which sets the denial of dependence, hence recognition, in motion. Shame co-opts the need for recognition, submitting it to the powerful force of repudiation. When a man takes this route to establish his own power (his identification with maternal omnipotence), there is an absence where the feminine and maternal should be. This absence appears in images of seduction and child killing - the dual aspects of Lilith, Queen of the Succubi. The man’s very self is threatened, and so he strives to maintain power over the other, a projection syndrome characteristic of patriarchal consciousness. A man projects his feelings about the mother who loomed so powerful in his early days and then had to be dismissed. Good mother becomes the bad mother when one is attempting to keep the bad object out. A vicious cycle ensues: the more he repudiates the feminine, the less he experiences his own humanity and the more aggression the ego must deploy against himself to maintain denial. A lack of recognition for the other has far reaching consequences for the individual as well as society. Masculine rationality sabotages maternal recognition; Oedipal repudiation of the mother splits her into the debased and the idealized object.

Shame consolidates its retreat from relatedness by embracing the insularity of pathological narcissism. A narcissistic structure creates the absence of any separate subject, a fantasized supremacy over sensed helplessness that must remain fanatically inhuman. No longer enjoying the symbiotic relationship he had with his mother long ago but still clinging to it, a man feels incomplete. He seeks what he has failed to outgrow, still yearning for it in his present relations without ever being able to find it.

In caring about nothing except himself, focusing on the balance sheet of his own profits and losses, and the pragmatic considerations which govern his actions, he has no stable centre from which to act. The dimensions in which he lives and has his being are narrow: he lacks growth, the fullness of self and inner depth, leaving an internal abyss that makes him even more vulnerable to feelings of diminishment.

The need to repress and kill creates the view that the other can annihilate the subject. The more a man denies his shame over dependency, the more it intensifies and dominates his own contact with the maternal feminine, which he then experiences as even more shaming in its power. Male identification with maternal omnipotence is a narcissistic fantasy of great power that can warp into a blind complicity with evil. Sight of one’s shame does not lead to the development of conscience. Where the image of the succubus predominates, a preponderant denial of dependency has created a pathological infantile mother fixation that makes healthy life impossible. In absolute masculine shame, the psychotic core of phallic narcissism, the absence of the maternal feminine results in what basically amounts to an elimination of the entire outside world. The hold on reality in this psychic place is the creation of a personal world; he falsifies his real situation, which only separates him more from the standard level of cultural constructs. “One has so little personal ‘ballast’ . . . that he has to suck in an entire human being to keep from disappearing or flying away” (Becker, 1975: 221).

The infantile narcissism contained in such feelings as arrogance, pride, envy, superiority, and self-importance - machoisms that dismiss or repudiate others - is really a defense against, or an attempt to ward off or undo, shame. His psychosis can become so consuming, so all-absorbing, that all he can do is serve his own personal idolatry. Shame is the affect masculinity unconsciously repels in visions of evil succubi that can become his future. Deep in the heart of man’s matricidal impulses lurks a devil, a malevolent core possessed by the child-killing succubus, the shadow of a man’s identification with omnipotence in defense against the shame of dependence.

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