Chapter 5- Overview of Shame Theories

Affect Theory

Based upon the needs assessment phase of this project, as described above, the nature of sexual shame and sex-shame binds became a central theme for Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power. While there are many approaches to shame, it remains a challenging subject in classroom discussions for two primary reasons. First, contemporary United States society lacks a well-defined language to describe the experience of shame. For example, many people conflate the concepts of guilt and shame (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Even within the field of psychology, the terms are often used interchangeably (e.g. Damon, 1988; Harris, 1989) Secondly, the discussion of shame often triggers feelings of shame, frequently causing us to avoid the topic. As Nathanson (1992) writes, “the very idea of shame is embarrassing to most people.” (emphasis his) As a result, developing a syllabus that would be able to address these issues while working within the constraints that they create became one of my priorities.

In addition to these factors, the relationships between shame and spirituality, and between sex and spirituality are also quite complex, especially since they vary among faith traditions and among communities (Albers, 1995; Green & Lawrenz, 1994; Hastings, 1996; McClintock, 2001; Nathanson, 2003; Pattison, 2000; Smedes, 1993). Although the course was designed for Unitarian-Universalist seminary learners, a common theme in the preliminary interviews was the challenge of working with people who grew up in different traditions, especially since, according to all of the Phase 1 participants, the majority of UU congregants and many UU ministers come from non-UU families of origin. Therefore, the course needed to be responsive to a wide range of experiences.

The primary perspective on shame that I used in the course comes originally from Affect Theory (Tomkins, 1962, 1963), but its roots can be traced to earlier work. Darwin (1872) noted that animals have displays of emotions that are often similar, and even identical, to those of humans. This prompted him to send a questionnaire to missionaries and other Europeans living around the world with “primitive” people, asking them to describe the facial expressions accompanying different emotions among the local people. The results led him to conclude that emotional facial expression is virtually universal. Darwin then collaborated with photographer Oscar Reglander to produce images of actors with various facial expressions. Wherever he showed these images, people consistently interpreted the expressions in the same ways.

Most other hypotheses for the mechanisms of shame were developed from the adult experience. For example, Freud’s work was based on his study of adults who came to him for relief from what was disturbing them. In his earlier writings, Freud (1953) described shame as a reaction formation against impulses of sexual exhibitionism. However, in his later work, he neglected shame and focused on guilt in relation to superego conflicts (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). A number of post-Freudians attempted to distinguish between shame and guilt, as did other researchers such as Erikson (1963), who described shame as exposed self-doubt as compared to guilt as a response to misguided behavior.

Lewis (1971) made the distinction between shame as an experience of a negative evaluation of the self, and guilt as an experience of a negative evaluation of one’s actions. This distinction between believing one is a bad person and believing one has done a bad thing has been influential in supporting a number of empirical studies that attempt to understand the differences between these experiences, many of which are summarized in Tangney (2002). However, these studies generally fail to address the question of why some people will feel guilt and others will feel shame in similar circumstances.

In contrast to these lines of inquiry, Tomkins based his work on the observation of facial gestures and body language in infants. He noted that infants engage in many of the same facial expressions that adults do, and in response to analogous situations. His observations led him to describe nine fundamental affects, which he considered to be the sources of our emotions. Each affect is associated with specific facial cues that communicate one’s internal state to others; these facial cues are part of the specific somatic responses that communicate one’s internal state to oneself. Ekman’s work (1970) showed that while there are certainly cultural differences in emotional expression, the affects seem to be universal. In Tomkins’ terminology, the affect is the somatic response to a given situation and the emotion is the sum of an affect and the memories that develop in connection with it. To approach this from a different direction, a situation or stimulus triggers an affect, which triggers memories and somatic sensations, which trigger affects, and so on; this complex interaction results in an emotion. Affect Theory says that the affects are the same for all people, but that each individual’s emotions are unique, since they are the result of particular experiences and recollections. Similarly, while all people feel hunger, each individual responds to it in unique ways depending on a specific history in relation to the experience of hunger.

One of the purposes of affects, according to Tomkins, is to amplify whatever stimuli exist; in other words, they make good things better and bad things worse. This reinforces the tendency to engage in positive experiences and encourages the development of the ability to avoid or change negative ones. In part, this is because the positive affects, such as interest-excitement and enjoyment-joy, feel good, while the negative ones, such as anger-rage and distress-anguish feel bad. As a result, we learn to create situations that feel good and avoid the ones that feel bad. (Most of the affects are given composite names to signify that they occur along a continuum of intensity.)

Affect Theory describes two positive affects, one neutral one, and six negative ones. The words “positive” and “negative” have two overlapping meanings in this context; first, they describe things that feel good or bad respectively. They also describe the feedback loops that they foster. A negative affect, such as distress-anguish or fear-terror, encourages the person experiencing it to change the situation in order to reduce the affect. This becomes a negative feedback loop because it stimulates a return to the “resting” state. However, a positive feedback loop, such as interest, tends to spiral out of control unless a mechanism exists to limit this behavior. In Tomkins’ view, shame serves as the other side of the homeostatic mechanism and helps keep the positive affects in balance.

When the positive affects are triggered, attention is focused on the stimulus; for example, interest-excitement causes one to maintain eye contact with whatever has triggered it. This eye contact serves to increase the response, which increases the focus, and the positive feedback loop has formed. If something occurs that requires removal of the interest from the object or situation, shame affect is triggered. On a physical level, this occurs through the physical response: the eyes are averted, the head is lowered and the shoulders slump. By removing the gaze from the stimulus, shame affect averts the attention. This affect acts as a brake on the emotional responses to positive stimuli when the reaction is disproportionate to the situation. Since circumstances can change quite quickly, people often oscillate between shame affect and the positive affects; this can be compared to how homeostatic processes such as heart rate or body temperature are adjusted and regulated in response to constantly changing stimuli.

While this analysis of shame affect may seem counterintuitive, this confusion is because of the differences between shame as an affect and shame as an emotion. In my experience, one of the challenges in understanding Affect Theory is that it lacks a linguistic distinction between the two; I believe that this is a result of the lack of terminology to discuss shame in general, as described above. As an affect, shame serves to protect us by removing our attention from a positive stimulus that is unattainable. As an emotion, shame can be a blend of this affect with fear-terror, distress-anguish, surprise-startle, disgust, dissmell or anger-rage and these additional responses may be directed at the self or at another person. This composite of affects can make it challenging to tease out the affect responses underlying the emotion. It can be easier to understand if we look at the underlying messages of the affects: anger-rage tells us that something we don’t want to have happen has happened; interest-excitement tells us that something we want has taken place. In these terms, shame (as an affect) tells us when something we want has been taken away, or is otherwise inaccessible.

For example, imagine a child interested in joining a group of children. If the group rejects her, either she can try to change the group’s response, or she can modulate her initial affective response in order to reduce her interest. The higher her initial interest and the more sharply she is rejected, the more strongly shame affect will be triggered. If the group rejects her for personal reasons, she may also experience self-disgust or; if the group verbally attacks her, she may experience fear or anger. The exact emotion she experiences will be highly variable, but one of the central affects of her experience will be shame (Sedgwick & Frank, 1995).

Some Implications of Affect Theory

Part of what makes Affect Theory dramatically different from other perspectives on shame is that it gives shame an adaptive value. While the experience of shame as an emotion is painful, Affect Theory suggests that the reason for this is to encourage people to respond to the situations in which we experience it in order to reduce it. However, there are clearly many responses to shame that are less effective than others. Nathanson (1992) describes four common reactions that can be highly maladaptive: avoidance, withdrawal, attacking the self and attacking the other/trigger. Each of these can reinforce what he calls the “shame spiral,” increasing disconnection and actually triggering more shame rather than less. One way that many people respond to this is to develop an Inflexible Ideal (Morrison, 1996). The Inflexible Ideal is an attempt to avoid shame by living up to an internalized image of perfection. Unfortunately, according to Morrison, the Inflexible Ideal leads to a cycle of re-shaming because “if our ideals are harsh and exacting, the internalized ego ideal will remain forever unattainable, leading to chronic feelings of shame.” (p. 73) In effect, the mechanism through which people often try to avoid shame often results in further shame. An alternative is Kaufman’s (1996) practice of refocusing attention. By deliberately triggering the affect of interest-excitement on a non-threatening source, one can soften the edges of the experience of shame. Stepping away from the shame trigger and reducing its impact can allow a later return to it in order to resolve the situation. It is analogous to the practice of taking a “time out” in order to gather energy and attention for an issue, but it deepens the exercise through the deliberate stimulation of a positive affect in order to interrupt the shame affect.

On a group level, the emotion of shame and our maladaptive responses to it can create social dynamics that are quite common. McClintock (2001) describes them and the way they affect groups of people through her Rules of Shame:

“Where shame operates: 1) you don’t know what the rules are; 2) there are plenty of rules, but no one names them; 3) you’ll know you’ve broken the rules by the shame you receive; 4) the rules don’t apply to everyone in the same way; 5) if you break the rules, you are unworthy to receive forgiveness and 6) no one talks openly about breaking the rules.” (p. 85, italics hers)

The links between Nathanson’s Compass of Shame, Morrison’s Inflexible Ideal and the Rules of Shame are fairly clear. The Rules of Shame become potent tools to control behavior in other people that trigger shame in ourselves. According to Foucault (1977), “[t]he perfect disciplinary apparatus would make it possible for a single gaze to see everything constantly.” (cited in Rabinow, 1984, p. 191) However, as literature on the nature of shame demonstrates, a more effective disciplinary tool is to have each person internalize the gaze so that even if the external apparatus is not always present, the effect is still felt.

Sexual Shame and Social Shame

The Rules of Shame have often been used to enforce the myth of the “normal,” especially with respect to sexuality. The belief that the body, pleasure and sexuality are inherently sinful and degrading has a long history. Codified in Western Christian thought by Augustine in the 4 th century CE, this belief has roots that actually run much deeper (Clark, 1996; Highwater, 1990). Without delving into a topic outside the scope of this dissertation, it is important to acknowledge the ways in which Augustine’s writings affect all of Euro-American culture. The balance that Augustine struck was between the first commandment attributed to God in the Torah, “Increase and multiply, Fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28) and his belief that sexual sin is inherent in the human heart and will, regardless of instruction and virtuous practice (Clark, 1996). Augustine concluded that sexual pleasure is a result of the first sin that took place in the Garden; if Adam and Eve had not eaten the apple, they would have been able to procreate without lust. Augustine decided that any manifestation of sexual pleasure is a sign of sin. Over the centuries, this led to major revisions in the Christian Church’s doctrines, including Mary’s virginity and the Immaculate Conception. It wasn’t until 451 CE that the Christian Church decided Mary must have been the mother of God; one consequence of this was that she must therefore have been a virgin since the mother of God could not be less pure than His chaste devotees were. Similarly, in order for Mary to be sufficiently stainless to enable her to give birth to Jesus, her history was rewritten to make her conception by her parents free of all pleasure and lust: since her parents were virtuous in their reproduction, Mary was pure enough to be able to give birth to Jesus. While the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception developed over time, the Catholic Church did not formally accept it until 1854 (Goldberg, 1958). The history of Church doctrine is a fascinating study in ideology and politics, but is necessarily a larger project than will fit here. Nevertheless, it highlights some of the ways in which sexual shame has been codified in Euro-American thought. (In this context, I refer to “American” rather than “United States” deliberately in order to reflect some of the influences of European colonization throughout the Americas.)

The impact of these and other beliefs on childhood sexuality is only beginning to be recognized. In fact, even the recognition that children are sexual beings is challenged by the desire to make childhood a time of “innocence” and therefore untainted by sex, which clearly assumes that sex is degrading. Unfortunately, this requires avoiding sexual topics when they are connected to children in any way. For example, many children are never taught their basic sexual anatomy. When children are taught the names for the rest of their body parts, but never given the terms for anything between their waists and knees, they often internalize this silence as an indication that there is something “wrong” with their sexual organs. Even the ways in which caregivers choose to touch children is linked to their internalized sexual shame; these choices have profound impacts on sexual development (Levine, 2002; Zolbrod, 1998).

One of the assumptions underlying practices in raising children in United States society is that shame is an effective mechanism with which to teach children appropriate behavior (Llewllyn, 1997) . This is certainly not limited to sexuality; in fact many caregivers use shame as an all-purpose tool to train children. However, sexual shame often starts earlier than other shames; instead of waiting for a child to violate the rules, when it comes to sexuality, people often use shame in a much more proactive manner. If a child steals from her sister and her parents use shame to teach her not to do so, they are responding to her actions. However, United States society is sufficiently threatened by childhood sexuality that shame is often used as a preemptive strategy. This may be due to an underlying Augustinian belief that our bodies are inherently sinful that influences all of United States society regardless of an individual’s religious heritage, or perhaps to an intuitive understanding that we are sexual beings from the moment of birth, if not earlier, and that sexuality needs to be controlled from an early age. Whatever the motives, the early use of shame has major consequences for individuals, families and social groups.

When sexual shame is examined on a wider scale, such as the community or the larger society, different patterns emerge. However, these trends are still based on the same intrapersonal affective responses that Tomkins enumerates. For example, in her discussion of shame within Christian church congregations, McClintock (2001) describes certain dynamics that often exist. These include social shame, perfectionism, self-denial, and unworthiness. While these do not apply only to sexual issues, they are particularly strongly reinforced around topics related to sex, as McClintock discusses.

Social shame refers to the strategies used to silence those whose actions violate community expectations that arise in a shame based culture, i.e. a culture in which repeated shame experiences are used to control the group’s norms. These strategies include naming people who transgress as deviant, belittling them for their actions and silencing them by denying them the opportunity to respond to accusations (Whitehead and Whitehead (1998) , cited in McClintock (2001) ). These techniques have all been used to silence people who do not fit the expected sexual roles that United States society defines as acceptable. A partial list of groups that fall into this category includes queers, women who make sexual choices, the disabled, survivors of sexual abuse, youth, elders, and people in interracial relationships. However, social shame is used to limit sexual choices of all people. In Nathanson’s model, this technique can be viewed as a blend of avoidance and attack other.

In a shame-based community, perfectionism is also likely to be strong. Perfectionism is a group manifestation of Morrison’s Inflexible Ideal. Not only “should” everyone conform, but the need to be told what the group’s expectations are is itself a sign of imperfection. This often leads to self-denial, in which the needs of the self are deprioritized in favor of the perceived needs of the community in order to reduce the risk of discovering that one’s needs are transgressive. When self-denial is added to sexual shame, the community’s rules are internalized and pleasure is made difficult, if not impossible. As a result, significant challenges to overcoming shame are created. This can easily turn into unworthiness. The conflict between one’s individual desires and needs and the allowable actions as defined by the larger group is a perfect example of the conflict between a positive affect and a barrier to its fulfillment, as described by Tomkins. If the impediment is impossible to overcome, the only way to reduce the shame response is to reduce the investment in the positive affect. As a result, one may decide that the desire is unworthy, and therefore that one is unworthy for holding that desire, even if it is never acted upon. In essence, it can be easier to decide that the self is wrong than it is to decide that the group is wrong because the costs of ostracism seem larger than the costs of inauthenticity. McClintock also includes other dynamics that apply to religious communities specifically, but examining social shame, perfectionism, self-denial, and unworthiness more in particular is useful since they apply to sexual shame in other groups as well.

According to Rubin (1992), there are at least five “ideological formations whose grip on sexual thought are so strong that to fail to discuss them is to remain enmeshed within them.” (p.278) This is consistent with the observation that McClintock and others have made that speaking the truth is the first step in overcoming the rules of shame. Rubin’s five concepts are sex-negativity, the fallacy of misplaced scale, the hierarchical valuation of sexual acts, the domino theory of sexual peril and the lack of a concept of benign sexual variation.

Sex-negativity is the assumption that sex is inherently degrading and sinful. While it may be redeemed through procreation, ideally without pleasure, sex is still damaging. This concept rests in part on the belief that the sexual organs are less holy than the heart and mind, much less the soul, and in part on the belief that anything that involves them is guilty until proven innocent. As Rubin points out, “such notions have by now acquired a life of their own and no longer depend solely on religion for their perseverance.” (p. 278)

The fallacy of misplaced scale is a corollary of sex-negativity. When transgressions of sex “standards” and laws are considered as deserving particularly harsh punishments, sexual acts become burdened with an excess of significance. Not only are many consensual sexual acts punishable as felonies in the United States (Posner & Silbaugh, 1996), but outside legal contexts, differences in sexuality frequently provoke anxiety, fear and rage to a degree that differences in diet, hobbies or clothing do not. Clearly, sexuality triggers stronger responses than almost any other aspect of our lives. The hierarchical system of sexual value refers to the pyramid of possible sexual acts in which married, reproductive heterosexuals are given erotic privilege. People who engage in non-reproductive sex, are unmarried, or deviate from this standard in any other way occupy lower positions. The closer one is to the apex, the more one is rewarded as mentally healthy, and given respectability, legality, physical and social mobility, material benefits and institutional support.

As a result of these tenets, United States society also believes in a domino theory of sexual peril. Only through constant vigilance can one climb up the pyramid of sexual value, much less remain at the peak. Any deviation from allowable sex can cause one to slide down to the unregenerate depths. In addition to having a firm grip on popular culture in the United States, this belief has been reinforced though sex education books (Melody & Peterson, 1999) and films (Eberwein, 1999) throughout the 20 th century. The last facet of United States sexual beliefs that Rubin traces is the lack of a concept of benign sexual variation. As she describes, “most people find it difficult to grasp that whatever they like to do sexually will be thoroughly repulsive to someone else, and that whatever repels them sexually will be the most treasured delight of someone, somewhere.” (p. 283) Further, United States society “discriminates against diversity” (Roughgarden, 2004, p. 3) in general and with respect to sexual diversity in particular.

Each of these five postulates of our cultural sexual ethics is reinforced by the others. For example, at its extreme, sex-negativity holds reproductive sex without pleasure as the ideal; while this is no longer the viewpoint of the majority of United States society, it still informs the beliefs that sexual pleasure needs to be redeemed by the possibility of reproduction, romantic love, or both. From here, it is easy to develop a hierarchy of sexuality. Since the further away from the top of the pyramid a sexual act is, the more sinful it is, a misplaced scale develops and “lower” sex becomes a temptation from the path of virtue, leading to the domino effect. Lastly, benign sexual variation is incompatible with the hierarchy and sex-negativity since it implies that no moral distinction exists between sex acts.

In addition to being mutually reinforcing, Rubin’s sexual ideologies are all intertwined with shame. The rigidity with which these ideas are policed is indicative of Morrison’s Inflexible Ideal. Many of the strategies used to enforce these principles clearly fall under Nathanson’s scripts of attack other. The misplaced weight given to violations of sexual standards is demonstrated by the disproportionately heavy punishments meted out. These penalties are one way to attack the person whose behavior has triggered a shame response. By distancing the triggering person and his actions from the shamed person, both emotionally through denigration and physically through prison, the shamed person can reduce the experience of shame. In this way, attacking the other blends with avoidance as a strategy.

Finally, sexual shame is woven into many forms of oppression in a variety of ways. When a group is considered a threat, sexual shame can be used to trigger moral panics. A moral panic exists when “there is strong, widespread (although not necessarily universal) fear or concern that evil doings are afoot, that certain enemies of society are trying to harm some or all of us.” (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994, p. 11) A moral panic creates a distraction from understanding the actual situation because the trigger is seen as being so problematic, threatening or wounding to the social fabric that it creates a crisis that must be controlled and repaired, and the perpetrators punished. In almost all such situations, either the basis for the threat is non-existent or, if the basis is real, the threat is imaginary or grossly exaggerated. Sexuality has been used to fuel moral panics against queer men, women, people of color, Jews, youth, the poor and many other target groups. Since sexual shame is easily triggered and widespread, the links between sex-negativity, sexual shame and oppression are easily reinforced.

On the other hand, groups that are labeled as asexual, such as “good” women, children, elders and the disabled, are forced to hide their sexualities in order to be acceptable (e.g. Levine, 2002; Shakespeare et al., 1996). Not only must they hide themselves from the dominant group, but they are also denied access to resources and information, which increases their risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections. As with the groups labeled as sexual threats, people considered asexual are forced to police their sexualities in order to avoid triggering other people’s sexual shame.

Responding to Shame

Based on Affect Theories and the other literature described above, there are approaches that allow for more adaptive responses to shame. For the syllabus of Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power, I chose to focus on embodiment skills and non-defensive communication. Embodiment skills are techniques that increase somatic awareness of the internal messages that our bodies offer (Davidson, 2002). According to Tomkins, the affects trigger a series of somatic and kinesthetic reactions which one may not even be aware of until they become quite intense. Embodiment skills can help people become aware of affective reactions more easily and allow a response to them before they escalate.

The model of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) is one which reframes “power from within,” rather than “power over.” (Ellison, 2002) This is a distinction that others have made as well (e.g. French, 1986; Glasser, 1984; Hawkins, 2002; Lorde, 1978; Starhawk, 1997; Tiffany & Tiffany, 2000). Ellison’s model offers specific formats for interaction that allow the speaker to step outside what she calls the “war model” of communication, in which being right is a zero-sum game. PNDC avoids the Compass of Shame, the Inflexible Ideal and the Rules of Shame by returning the interaction to the personal. Because shame is both a cause and effect of a disruption in the interpersonal bridge (Kaufman, 1992, 1996), PNDC helps to break the cycle of shame and fosters connection through explaining one’s internal process and taking responsibility for one’s reactions, rather than proving one is right.

In addition to asking the learners to explore these skills, I wanted them to have the opportunity to both demonstrate their personal relationships with the material and to experience the pride of sharing their inner experiences in a safe setting. The final third of the semester was devoted to learner presentations. The format for the presentations, along with a general description of my observations, is described below.

Shame and Authenticity

The basic relationship between shame and authenticity is quite simple, although it can result in patterns that are incredibly complex. At its most fundamental, shame outlines the borders of authenticity, and there are several ways in which this can be understood. First, it is my observation that being shamed for expressing authenticity is a universal experience, although the frequency and degree of these experiences varies greatly. This presents us with the dilemma of being our genuine selves or being protected, valued and cared for. As a result, when we try to move into authenticity, or even just consider the possibility, what holds us back is often an anticipatory shame, i.e. a shame that we anticipate experiencing. Whether we have been actively shamed out of authenticity or we expect that we will be shamed if we move into authenticity, shame is one of the strongest barriers that prevent us from moving into our genuine selves. Given how shame is woven into childrearing practices (Miller, 1990), as well as how few of us have the language to describe either the somatic or the emotional experience of shame, I am hardly surprised at how often shame blocks the ability to connect with authenticity. I believe that learning to recognize and understand shame can help us find our learning edges and return to authenticity.

The experience of being shamed out of the genuine self is not the only relationship between shame and authenticity. Our authentic selves change over time and as a result, we often need to return to them through self-reflection and transformation. However, the more strongly we are invested in our now-outdated self-images, the more we will experience (or anticipate experiencing) loss when we let go of old perspectives and meaning schemes. This feeling of loss can trigger many different emotions including those based on the affect of shame, even when we are fully aware that these changes are positive. This is another way in which moving into authenticity often means moving through the shame that borders it.

In addition, since authenticity takes place within the context of a relationship and that shame is both a response to, and a cause of, a severing of relationship, the process of moving into authenticity is frequently the process of healing shame within the setting of interpersonal connection. Whether the shame that is being healed has emerged within a given relationship or it predates it, shame will inevitably be triggered by the natural oscillations in connection that occur between people. However, the relational aspect of authenticity can lead to a situation in which one person’s shame triggers the other person’s shame. This is an organic consequence of the affective resonance that occurs in all relationships, as well as the defensive reaction of attacking the perceived cause of shame. The fact that is a common experience certainly does not make it easy and when people find themselves in these circumstances, the complexity of the relationship between authenticity and shame increases exponentially.

One of the consequences of these patterns is that shame can be one of our greatest teachers. When we are able to listen to it, be present with it and inquire of it what it at its root, we are able to let go of outmoded shames, learn new languages for describing our experiences and move through the discomfort into authenticity. My observation is that listening to shame and moving through it is comparable to other skills and that the more we work with it, the greater our skill becomes. Thus, authenticity is a practice, rather than a goal. I also observe that many people believe that shame is inherently maladaptive; my impression is that this is often partly because most people lack the language to describe and analyze shame. Labeling shame as maladaptive frequently results in shaming people for feeling shame, which I don’t believe is helpful. I prefer to see shame as a message that something in our emotional experience requires attention, just as pain is a message that something in our physical experience requires attention. Both shame and pain have been used as tools of abuse for untold generations and for people who have lived through such experiences, learning to listen to the present-day messages that these signals are trying to tell us can be incredibly challenging. However, the fact that pain has been used in abusive ways does not make it inherently bad; I believe that the same can be said of shame.

I anticipated that some of the learners in Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power would be survivors of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and that several of the learners would not have had opportunities to develop their own languages for talking about shame in general and their shames in particular. I also expected that the people who would choose to register for the course would do so because they were drawn to the topic for both professional and personal reasons. As a result, there were multiple issues and motivations that I predicted that I would need to support and plan for. My experiences while developing a syllabus that would help the learners take their next steps in the practice of authenticity is described in the next section.

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