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On Betrayal, Shame, Guilt and Remorse by Julie Bondanza, Ph.D.

Friday, January 15, 2016 9:13 AM | Jung Society of Washington

That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy…these are undoubtedly great virtues… But what if I should discover that the poorest of beggar and the most impudent of offenders are all within me, and that I stand in need of my own kindness; that I myself am the enemy who must be loved? What then?
- Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Both shadow and persona are archetypes conceptualized by Jung that affect behavior towards others and ourselves which can result in betrayal, shame, guilt and remorse. In other words, can cause suffering.

First a brief definition of shadow: It includes all the repressed content that is in the personal unconscious as well as unconscious material from the collective unconscious. It includes unacceptable components of psyche whether those be dark affects like envy and anger and fear or lighter aspects that were not available to us as we developed.

Here’s a quick example from classical literature: Oedipus, besotted with his own bravery, intelligence and rationality who has solved the riddle of the sphinx and become king of Thebes, after unknowingly killing his father, the former king, and marrying the queen, his own mother, reigns over the kingdom with wisdom until plagues start to besiege the city. Oedipus refuses advise from the shadow of the blind soothsayer Tiresias who told him to cease searching for explanations for the plagues. Consequently, Oedipus learns that he, himself, is the cause of the plagues—that his unconscious act of killing his father and marrying his mother has created chaos in his world. This causes Oedipus great shame and guilt; he has betrayed his beloved city and himself.  Consequently, he blinds himself making literal his unconscious blindness.

Persona is the second archetype that can give rise to betrayals, particularly of ourselves. In simplest language, persona is like a social mask. When it is working in concert with our authentic selves, it is a presentation of that authentic self in ways that are appropriate to the situation one is in. When it is not the presentation of authenticity, it comes closest to the psychoanalytic concept of the false self, developed by D.W. Winnecott.  It develops primarily because of others’ expectations especially when the infant’s or small child’s needs and feelings are encroached on by the adult caregiver’s needs. As Thomas Merton said, “ The false self is the self that is fabricated because of social compulsions.”

A perfect example comes from Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a perfectly beautiful and soulful example of the redemption of a man who has lived his entire life in the persona of a pompous bureaucrat. It is only on his deathbed that he re-discovers his spontaneous child self, capable of love and creative being through interaction with his innocent and loving servant.

Whether from shadow, persona or some other personality flaw we have betrayed our own moral sense and committed some transgression against another or ourselves and we become conscious of the transgression, guilt or shame result.

Guilt is a cognitive or emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes, whether accurately or not that he or she has compromised his or her own standard of behavior and bears significant responsibility for that violation.  In The Oresteia, revenge murder abounds.  Clytemnestra kills her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter, Iphigenia, in order to start the war with Troy. Consequently, her son Orestes must kill his mother.  Orestes loves his mother and really does not want to avenge his father’s death, but exhortation from his sister, Electra, finally convinces him to do it.  This deeply offends Orestes’ moral code that differs from the social code, which condones the killing.  The third play in the trilogy, The Eumenides, finds Orestes pursued unceasingly and ferociously by the furies, an embodiment of the self-cursing that is the result of guilt.  As Tara Brach, a teacher if Insight Meditation and the teach of a popular podcast says: Guilt’s strength lies not in the failure of others to grant forgiveness, but in our failure to forgive ourselves.”

Shame, on the other hand, is a painful emotion that can, like guilt, result from a comparison with one’s standards and one’s behavior, but the more damaging shame comes from the feeling that one is so bad and so damaged that one really has no real right to existence.  This latter type of shame, called by some, primary shame, is the result of early childhood injury either from abandonment. parental disengagement, or childhood abuse, either sexual, physical or emotional. Healing from this type of shame requires an understanding that responsibility for the transgression lies outside one’s self.  Self-understanding and self-forgiveness are required.

A Jewish teaching tells the following story: The son of a rabbi went to worship on the Sabbath in a nearby town.  On his return his family asked,” Well, did you learn anything different from what we do here?”  “Yes”, replied the son, “I learned to love the enemy as I love myself.”  The parents responded, “That’s the same as we do here.  So how is that you learned something new?”  He replied, “They taught me to love the enemy within myself.”  This teaching story tells the same thing that Jung tells us in the above quote from Memories, Dreams and Reflections: “ that I am the enemy who must be loved.”  According to Jung, the acceptance of oneself is the solution to the whole moral problem and the culminating point of an entire outlook on life.  Religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh agree that our capacity to make peace with others and the world requires that first we make peace with ourselves.

From a psychological point of view our mistakes, our pathologies can contribute to the individuation process.  As Jung says in Volume 13, Alchemical Studies, “The king constantly needs the renewal that begins with a descent into his own darkness.”  Consequently, an examination of our own dark sides, our own mistakes, our guilts and shame, our betrayals of self and others can lead us on a path to self-forgiveness and ultimately transformation.   Brene Brown, the social psychologist made famous by her TED talks on vulnerability and listening to our own selves, points out that owning our own story, our whole selves, the dark and the light, and loving that inner rascal as well as that inner angel is a brave and consequential act which leads to inner peace.

Attending to our own mistakes and transgressions is not a pleasant task, however, these, like our acts of generosity and kindness, of creativity and love, shape us and ultimately, create who we are today. Self-forgiveness is based on acceptance of responsibility for an objective transgression directed at oneself or another may require a conscious effort to accept oneself.  That effort can result in self-love and self respect in the face of a wrong and, ultimately, recognition of one’s essential self worth.

Not wallowing in our mistakes, but creatively dealing with them are resources for a vital life - the prima materia of the alchemists.  We arrive not at a shallow self acceptance, but with a profound love of soul with its rich mixture of the good and the bad are the starting point of a creative life.
- Thomas Moore

Julie Bondanza, Ph.D. is a Jungian analyst practicing in Takoma Park, MD. She trained at the CG Jung Institute in New York where for many years she was on the teaching faculty. She has been the director of training for both the New York Institute and in Philadelphia. Currently she is the program director for the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York whose goal is to bring Jungian ideas to the public. Dr. Bondanza has taught in many Jungian venues across the country both to the public and to analysts-in-training. Currently she has focused on teaching many semesters on the archetype of tragedy. She is also teaching about the connection between attachment theory and Jungian psychology. For the public she teaches courses that have an archetypal basis to everyday issues.


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