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Freudian Dictionary

The age of childhood, in which the sense of shame is unknown, seems a paradise when we look back upon it later, and paradise itself is nothing but the mass-phantasy of the childhood of the individual. This is why in paradise men are naked and unashamed,. until the moment arrives when shame and fear awaken; expulsion follows, and sexual life and cultural development begin. Into this paradise dreams can take us back every night; we have already ventured the conjecture that the impressions of our earliest childhood (from the prehistoric period until about the end of the third year) crave reproduction for their own sake, perhaps without further reference to their content, so that their repetition is a wish-fulfilment. Dreams of nakedness, then, are exhibition-dreams.[1]


The word shame encompasses: 1) the raw emotion linked to a loss of one's bearings; 2) judgment about this state (the perception of shame as such resulting from the comparison of oneself with a model); and 3) judgment about both this emotion and the possible causes of shame (implying possibilities for action). In all cases, shame is a sense of anxiety about being excluded, that is, not only fear of a withdrawal of love, but even withdrawal of any form of interest.

In "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality" (1905), Sigmund Freud linked shame to the action of the forces of repression (what was initially an object of pleasure becomes an object of modesty, disgust, or shame). By contrast, in "La honte comme angoisse sociale" (Shame as a Social Anxiety; 1929), Imre Hermann described shame as a "social anxiety" linked to attachment.

Shame always has two aspects: one relating to individual mental functioning (anxiety about mental disintegration), and the other relating to relations with the group (anxiety about being excluded). Pathological shame is to be distinguished from shame as a signal of alarm. Coping with shame involves both naming it and reinforcing the secondary processes to limit its disintegrative effects. It can be displaced or masked, especially by resignation, anger, guilt, or hate.

To a certain extent, shame was a "blind spot" for Freud and, in his wake, for many psychoanalysts who reduced it to a pathological affect linked to the ideal ego and opposed to the guilt associated with the oedipal superego. However, it is a concept that is essential to the understanding of the dynamics of social bonds (it protects people from engaging in nonhuman actions) and intergenerational secrets.

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.