Freud and shame

I made a mistake in my last posting. I’d said that Freud said that the depressed person doesn’t behave in the same way a person with low self-esteem behaves, but he doesn’t say how it’s different.

I just discovered that there was more to that paragraph that I was missing. Freud was talking about how there is something different in how the melancholic has low self-esteem and another person who may have low self-esteem, but is not depressed. He then says

“Feelings of shame in front of other people, which would more than anything characterize this latter condition, are lacking in the melancholic, or at least they are not prominent in him. One might emphasize the presence in him of an almost opposite trait of insistent communicativeness which finds satisfaction in self-exposure.”

It sounds like Freud is saying that the difference is in shame. People who have warranted low self-esteem but not depression feel shame. He says that people with depression don’t feel shame but actually the opposite, a persistent need to talk about how their depravity.

I think Freud has this all wrong. I think people suffering from depression very often feel shame. I think the problem is that the common response to shame is suppression, which requires a certain amount of energy. I think that the depressed person often feels shame but the depression has so exhausted them that they no longer have the energy to suppress or conceal that which they are ashamed of. At some point depression has us give up on our usual coping techniques because they plainly aren’t working and out of desperation we try talking about what is going on inside of us. Sometimes that talk gives some relief.

So is it that the definition of shame has changed since Freud’s day or maybe I’m misunderstanding something? It sounds to me that for Freud, shame is something that would prevent one from talking about the issues that give one low self-esteem. I suspect it’s opposite what Freud claims. Not that the depressed person feels no shame, but that the shame they feel is so constant that it’s worn down the ability to contain it.

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