Primary shame, mortal wound and tragic circularity: Some new reflections on shame and shame conflicts

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Abstract

Invited to contribute some thoughts on recent developments in psychoanalytic thinking about shame, the author starts off with Aristotle's prescient analysis of shame and then focuses on accumulating experiences in the psychoanalytic treatment of patients with severe neuroses, in particular the close relationship of severe traumatization and chronic states of shame, and how this is reflected in shelfdestructive repetitions. Reminiscent of what we know from tragedy and the tragic dimension of human existence, this repetition compulsion shows a built-in circularity. These circular dynamics have at their core struggles with deep woundedness that can variably be conceived of as primary pain, primary shame and primary anxiety.

Consequently, throughout the experiences with these patients goes the absoluteness both of their conscience and of their ideal, what we know as the “archaic superego:”

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