Dinosaur Shame: Emotion and Self

Prof. Heather Macintosh spoke last week at McGill on Childhood Trauma and Emotional Regulation in Psychotherapy.  She was talking about shame and jokingly differentiated between "felt shame" and "dinosaur shame," primordial shame at a level largely inaccessible to language or cognition.  She talked about the difference between feeling shame and shame as an identity. 

Shameosaurus (a.k.a. "Afrovenator abakensis dinosaur" by Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afrovenator_abakensis_dinosaur.png#/medi /File:Afrovenator_abakensis_dinosaur.png)

Shameosaurus (a.k.a. "Afrovenator abakensis dinosaur" by Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afrovenator_abakensis_dinosaur.png#/medi /File:Afrovenator_abakensis_dinosaur.png)

I am curious about how emotion, intense emotion, our own, or another's can overtake our sense of self.  Virginia Goldner, who I have mentioned before, talks about how anger, for violent spouses, can often feel dissociative.  Emotion can displace a sense of self for a while; the person becomes lost to him/herself through emotion. This reminds me of the line in the final scene of the (exploitative, yucky, though gripping) film "Seven," where the killer, John Doe, played by Kevin Spacey, urges the hero to "become Vengeance, become Wrath."  The conceit of the film was the Catholic doctrine of the seven deadly sins being incarnated in different people, but that line, and the experience it encapsulates of a self- and world-eclipsing embodiment of wrath reminds me more of Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita "Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds" when reflecting on the detonation of the atomic bomb.  

Oppenheimer had studied the Bhagavad Gita and knew that the context was Krishna's injunction to Arjuna to destroy men in a cataclysmic battle, both friends and enemies with selflessness, for the sake of the Divine who had per-ordained their deaths.  It is a wonderful encapsulation of the sense of the self vanishing in the face of forces that feel transcendent and wildly violent.  As far as we know, no dinosaur ever experienced shame, either as an emotion or as an identity.  I love the way "dinosaur shame" evokes how primordial shame and other intense emotions can be, prior to and remote from language, as well as the feeling of destructiveness they come with.  But given that shame is a human legacy, -- "man hands on misery to man" -- perhaps a more accurate description would be from the other end of the time line; "atomic shame".