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By Melvin D. Hugen & Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.


Naked and Exposed, Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

The literature on shame all gets around sooner or later to one of its most characteristic and troublesome features, namely, that it often detaches from reality. Thus, some folks shrug off real disgrace while others needlessly beat up on themselves. Blissful drunks, for example, feel no pain and (for the time being) no shame. The same may be true of happy-go-lucky strippers, the literally impudent. On the other side, highly motivated but only moderately accomplished students who feel like failures when they do not become class valedictorian need a dose of reality therapy. Leaving aside their pretentiousness, they are in better shape than they think.

Some false shame stems from the sin of conceit--the overestimate of one's abilities or worth. Conceit, like all sin, is not only wrong, but also foolish. One of the reasons (besides its detachment from reality and its alienating effect) that conceit is so foolish is that it sets us up for a fall. It sets us up for shame. The generative idea in conceit is that my life is and ought to be superior.

I ought never to forget a name or mispronounce a word in the company of the lexicographically elite. I ought never to act like a nincompoop, not even accidentally. Nincompoopery is for losers. So are moderate praise, limited recognition, humble relatives, and middle income. As for me and my house, we deserve to dwell at the peaks.

In narcissism, a psychiatric disorder that incorporates at least self-centeredness and that often includes some degree of conceit as well, shame precedes and follows grandiosity. The grandiose narcissist tells a lot of tall tales about himself, but they are desperate and improbable attempts to cover shame--a "badly made toupee," as Nathanson remarks. Narcissism is full of twists away from reality. Donald Capps observes that when narcissists detect envy or one of the other deadly sins in themselves, they use the language of guilt ("I feel guilty when I want Fred to drive his new Beemer ...

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