Shame in Context
By Susan Miller
Routledge – 1996 – 248 pages
In this enlightening and gracefully written study, Susan Miller examines shame in a variety of clinical contexts en route to a richer understanding of shame dynamics. Miller attends especially to the role of shame in creating and maintaining character pathology and devotes separate sections of the book to shame in the context of obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, and masochistic personality organizations. Within each of these clinical contexts, a chapter of theoretical discussion is followed by a chapter of engaging case examples.
Integral to Shame in Context is Miller's informed and thoughtful critique of current theories about shame, including those of Broucek, Morrison, Schore, Wurmser, Nathanson, and Kinston. In reviewing the contributions of these and other writers, she is most concerned with achieving a balanced comprehension of shame that incorporates the insights of different theoretical perspectives without embracing the selective emphases of any one investigator or school of thought. Like Freud, she appreciates the defensive utility of shame, but she attends equally to the painful and at times pathogenic acpects of shame experiences. In line with more recent shame literature, she emphasizes the pathogenicity of early shaming, but she is equally sensitive to the role of shame in sustaining character defenses. And she goes beyond the purview of other shame researchers in examining the ways in which individuals unconsciously seek to maintain shame experiences when these experiences sustain their personality organizations.
Offering a critical evaluation and synthesis of contemporary shame theories, and culminating in a balanced clinical understanding of shame in its various contexts, Shame in Context takes its place as, in the words of Frances Broucek, "the most sophisticated and definitive clinical study of shame to date."
"Shame in Context is a pleasure to read not only because of Susan Miller's well-honed writing skills, but also because she brings to bear on her subject a combination of scholarly erudition, analytic depth, and an amazing synthetic talent. She assembles the salient theories in the recent literature on shame, sifts them, affirms or challenges them, and offers her own trenchant evaluation of these often conflicting ways of understanding the role of shame in the etiology and dynamics of various clinical conditions. She does all this with admirable grace, balance, and respect for the contributions of her coworkers. I believe Miller has written the most sophisticated and definitive clinical study of shame to date - and she has done so quite beautifully."
- Francis J. Broucek, M.D., Author, Shame and the Self
"Shame in Context is a wonderful synthesis of the major ideas in the shame literature of the past several decades. It addresses many essential topics, including the clinical significance of this affect, its role in the concert of inner motives, and especially its functions in inner conflict. Miller's very readable, often poetically written book interweaves theory with ample and in-depth cases, providing us with very useful ways of dealing with concrete clinical situations involving the broad range of shame affects and shame attitudes."
- Leon Wurmser, M.D., Author, The Mask of Shame
Foundations. Shame in Obsessive-Compulsive Contexts. Shame in Obsessive-Compulsive Personalities: Expanded Contexts. Shame in the Background: Narcissistic Disturbances. Narcissistic Disturbances: Case Examples and Discussion. Shame in the Foreground: Early Roots of Moral Masochism. Masochism: Case Examples. Giving and Receiving: Gift Commerce, Shame, and Pride.
A graduate of the University of Michigan doctoral program in clinical psychology, Susan B. Miller, Ph.D., is the author of The Shame Experience and Disgust, both published by The Analytic Press. Her first novel, Indigo Rosemartin, was published by Bantam/Dell in December 2004. Dr. Miller lives and practices in Ann Arbor, MI.