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Shame & Guilt -by
© Copyright 2007 by Ernest Kurtz. Second edition,
revised and updated. This material may be copied and
reproduced by others subject to the restrictions given
Originally published as Shame and Guilt: Characteristics
of the Dependency Cycle (A Historical Perspective
for Professionals). Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden;
This work -- these ideas -- were first presented in
a booklet aimed primarily at alcoholism counselors
and people in recovery from alcoholism. Much of the
presentation in this updated revision remains couched
in that language: whatever wisdom appears here necessarily
derives most directly from the experience, strength,
and hope of members of Alcoholics Anonymous and offspring
Twelve-Step fellowships and programs.
But over the years I have discovered that these ideas
have a far wider application. For in a very real sense,
alcoholic is but "human being" writ large.
Alcoholics are human beings who are both more and
less than "merely human." And so, if you will pardon
the momentary grandiosity, the audience for this book
Which is one reason why, thanks to the generosity
of Hindfoot, it is being made freely available via
A final introductory note: although the origin of
this booklet's first edition meant that it sometimes
dipped into the vocabulary of therapy, I have attempted
in this revision to translate its ideas into the "language
of the heart" that invites identification by all.
A Lesson from Alcoholics Anonymous
Two distinct ways of feeling "bad" afflict
every human being. How those afflictions work -- and how
they can be healed -- find clearest expression in the lives
of alcoholics and addicts.a Neither experience
is unique to the alcoholic, but each has a special place
in the process of recovery from alcoholism. In this area
perhaps more than in any other, alcoholism and its healing
contribute to our knowledge of the human condition. They
do this first by revealing the importance of distinguishing
between these two often-confused phenomena. Most hurting
people could profit from learning this distinction, but
for alcoholics and addicts, learning and living it become
a matter of life and death. The distinction is between guilt
a Throughout the text, although in general
only the terms "alcohol," "alcoholic," and "alcoholism"
will be used, the concept intends to include all mood-altering
substances, all substance-dependent people, and all
forms of substance dependency.
Shame differs from guilt. Because
they differ, any effective healing of their diverse ways
of "feeling bad" must differ. Some modes of healing, for
some conditions, can afford to ignore the distinction between
guilt and shame. But such is not the case with the alcoholic
or with many other sufferers. Most hurting persons, and
certainly the alcoholic, suffer both guilt and
shame. And for the alcoholic, distinguishing between guilt
and shame and confronting each constructively is
necessary not only to attain sobriety but -- perhaps more
importantly -- to maintain ongoing recovery, to attain a
life that is genuinely "happy, joyous, and free."
Sobriety, the experience of Alcoholics
Anonymous teaches, has two phases: first it must be attained;
then it must be maintained. Attaining and maintaining --
getting and keeping -- sobriety require different but related
emphases.b As Bill Wilson (quoting Doctor Bob
Smith) told one group of alcoholism professionals: "Honesty
gets us sober, but tolerance keeps us sober."
(1) The honesty that lies at the heart of the
A.A. program forces the distinction between guilt and shame.
The tolerance that infuses the A.A. fellowship fosters continuing
constructive confrontation with both.
b "Sobriety" has been understood and presented,
over the years, as synonymous with serenity,
even with sanctity. In what follows, the reader
is encouraged to use and think in whatever term best
fits her or his condition: the effort of any of these
terms is to name that condition of living that is,
in the words of the book Alcoholics Anonymous,
"happy, joyous, and free."
Confronting guilt, though painful,
is not difficult. The beginner in Alcoholics Anonymous finds
guilt allayed, indeed, by the very concepts of powerlessness
and unmanageability that invite him to confront also his
shame. The recovering alcoholic finds further help in dealing
with guilt in the inventory and amendment Steps (Four, Five,
Eight, and Nine) of the A.A. program, which guide directly
to guilt's resolution.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol -- that
our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves
could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over
to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human
being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these
defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became
willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,
except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we
were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve
our conscious contact with God as we understood Him,
praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the
power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of
these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics,
and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The confrontation with shame, although
also set in motion by A.A.'s First Step, proves more tricky
-- and, for most, more difficult. Again, the A.A. program
-- all of it, but especially Steps Two, Six, Seven, and
Ten -- suggests shame's solution. It is Alcoholics Anonymous
as fellowship that makes real this solution, but it is only
in the conjunction with the Twelve Steps as program that
the full benefits of A.A as fellowship can be real-ized
-- made real.
The impressive success of Alcoholics Anonymous
in dealing with alcoholism and addiction flows directly
from A.A.'s effectiveness at healing shame.c
c This is also why so many other therapies
for difficulties far removed from alcoholism -- obesity,
grief, certain deforming diseases, for example --
build their programs on A.A.'s Twelve Steps. The whole
"Self-Help Mutual Aid Group Movement" owes its philosophy
and most of its modalities to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Other therapies fail, especially over time,
because un-faced shame proves much more dangerous to the
alcoholic, especially in recovery, than does unresolved
guilt. An appreciation of Alcoholics Anonymous as specifically
a modality for the healing of shame thus can offer much
. . . and not only to the alcoholic.
One: Discovering and Recognizing Shame
Definitions: Embarrassment, Guilt, and Shame
Because of the general confusion about
guilt and shame, both terms periodically tend to fall into
disuse. "Guilt" thus seems mainly a legal concept, while
the word "shame" is reserved for training children and animals.
The reasons behind this confusion are complex. In briefest
outline, modern psychology's distinctions between "rational"
and "irrational" guilt, between "true guilt" and "guilty
fear," have combined with a psychological age's mistrust
of moralism to render most people suspicious of and uncomfortable
with the word "guilt" except in contexts narrowly psychiatric
or legal. "Shame" suffers from its association with upbringing
and helpless dependency: it carries connotations of being
"caught" and the implication that a consistently mature
person will have no occasion to feel such disgrace.
But that very implication invites probing
deeper. "Shame" is tricky, even treacherous: its usual understanding
contains a trap. As commonly thought of, "shame" seems a
virtual synonym for "embarrassment"; that is, to result
from being seen by another. This misunderstanding arises,
perhaps, because as children we learn the meaning of "shame"
when someone projects it upon us. "You should be ashamed
of yourself" is a reproach of public behavior -- of something
one is seen or caught doing. But the essence of shame consists
not in being seen or being caught, but in what about
one is seen, in what one is caught doing. "Embarrassment,"
then, is not a synonym for shame, but the result of one's
shame being seen. "Being seen" or "being caught" are not
the essence of shame: we are all seen by others, often and
diversely. At times, indeed, we relish being seen: our moments
of success and triumph are enhanced by having an audience.
"Being seen," then, is not the core even of embarrassment.
The heart of embarrassment is that another sees our shame.
The sense of shame comes before the sense of being seen
-- before, then, any advertence to "other."
Shame inheres in us, in ourselves -- indeed,
literally in our self. "Others," as we shall explore,
are neither the problem in nor the source of shame; rather,
others offer the only solution for shame. This is why it
is so important to distinguish clearly between the "embarrassment"
of being seen by others and the shame that comes
in the recognition of the reality of our own self.
Both guilt and shame involve feeling "bad"
-- feeling bad about one's actions (or omissions) in the
case of guilt; feeling bad about one's self in shame. What
does it mean to feel bad? The deepest meaning of
the word bad is "unable to fit": unable to fit
into some external context in the case of guilt, unable
to fit into one's own being in the case of shame. For there
are, in human experience, two different ways of discovering
that one does not "fit," of feeling "bad." Each has to do
with the boundaries of the human condition.
An image may help to clarify the distinction
and its point.
To be human is to be surrounded by boundaries:
it is somewhat like standing in the middle of a football
field during a game. As on a football field, there are two
kinds of boundaries: side-lines and end-lines. The side-lines
are containing boundaries: to cross them is to
"go out of bounds," to do something wrong. The end-lines
are goal-lines: the purpose of the game is to cross
them. One feels "bad" (guilty) when one crosses the side-line,
the restraining boundary. Feeling "bad" about the goal-line
(shame) arises not from crossing it but from not crossing
it, from failing to attain it.
Guilt, in this image, arises from the violation
-- transgression, stepping across -- of some limiting boundary;
shame occurs when a goal -- an end -- is not reached, is
fallen short of. Guilt thus indicates an infraction, a breaking
of the rules; shame, a literal "shortcoming," a lack or
defect of being. The following schema may clarify:
A violation, a transgression, a fault
of doing; the exercise of power
A separate, discrete act, some law
or rule; one is guilty for something.
Feeling of wrong doing; sense of
wickedness; "not good"; fear of
Opposite acts, "making amends";
can be quantified.
Surmounting guilt can lead to
feelings of righteousness.
Has to do with superego.
A failure, a falling short, a fault of
the failure of power or
The overall self; some ideal or
principle; one is ashamed of self.
Feeling of inadequacy; sense of
worthlessness; "no good"; "not
good enough"; fear of abandon-
As qualitative rather than
quantitative, requires: new way
of seeing (insight), change in
Transcending shame opens to a
sense of identity and of freedom-
Has to do with ego ideal.
This understanding of guilt and shame suggests four topics
- (1) how to distinguish between guilt and shame in actual
(2) the significance of this distinction for understanding
the human condition;
(3) the specific qualities of shame that enable its identification;
(4) the nature of healing for shame.
We shall examine each topic in turn, keeping
always in mind that our effort aims to derive effective
insight from the actual experience of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Distinguishing between guilt and
The first difficulty to be confronted arises
from the fact that guilt and shame usually come mingled,
together. Although they are distinct experiences, guilt
and shame rarely present themselves separately. Most transgressions,
violations of some rule, also involve a failure,
falling short of some ideal. If I steal,
I not only violate someone else's right; I also fall short
of my ideal of honesty. The same act (or omission) can thus
give rise to both guilt and shame: one can experience
shame and guilt over the same thing.
The success of Alcoholics Anonymous testifies
that in such cases of mingled guilt and shame experienced
after a transgression that is also a falling short, distinguishing
between guilt and shame and treating first the shame are
essential conditions of therapeutic effectiveness. Let us
examine, then, how and why.
Distinguishing between guilt and shame
is not difficult: it can be heard in the accent
informing self-blame, in the dual emphasis that inheres
in any description of feeling "bad."
Guilt focuses on the thing done
and thus reveals itself in self-reproaches that run: how
could I have done that; what an injurious thing
to have done; how I hurt so-and-so; what a
moral lapse that act was!
Simultaneously, however, shame attends
to self as do-er, inducing self-reproaches with
a very different emphasis: how could I have done
that; what an idiot I am; what a fool;
how awful and worthless I am!
Those who would attempt to heal, to make
whole, persons harboring such mixed feelings -- the mixture
revealed by the differing accents in "What have I done?"
and "What have I done?" -- must be sensitive to
both components. Too often, therapists settle for the resolution
of guilt when it is the confrontation with shame that is
the hurting person's deepest need. Indeed, a superficial
reading of the A.A. Steps -- one that sees the 4th, 5th,
8th, and 9th Steps in isolation from the rest of the Alcoholics
Anonymous program -- can reinforce this too often tragic
error. Those Steps do deal effectively with guilt, but they
are only part of the A.A. program. They come embedded, that
is to say, in a life-shaping experience oriented primarily
to the confrontation with shame.
What is this confrontation with shame and
how is it achieved? The encounter involves finding, in experiences
of shame, truth about the reality of human existence. It
means learning, from experiences of falling short, wisdom
concerning the meaning of being human. Shame, as its accenting
reveals, focuses on the self: it is the perception
of not just any lack of failure, but of the deficiency of
the self as self, as human being. Shame testifies not to
wrong-doing but to flawed be-ing.
Perhaps surprisingly, despite the depth
of self involved in shame's feeling "bad," the sense of
shame itself is a good thing -- something to be cherished
and valued. If this claim that shame is "good" seems strange,
reflect for a moment on shame's opposite: indeed, think
about the opposites of both guilt and shame. "Guiltless"
is clearly a term of praise: to be guiltless, free from
guilt, is to be innocent, blameless. "Shameless," on the
other hand, is an epithet of condemnation and opprobrium.
To be shameless is to be insensible to oneself, insensitive
to one's self. One who lacks shame is impudent, brazen,
without decency. (4)
Shame, then, despite its negative side
that points up failure and falling short, also entails something
positive: insight into the reality of the human condition.
The experience of shame highlights the essential existential
paradox that inheres in be-ing human: to be human is to
be caught in a contradictory tension between the pull to
the unlimited, the more-than-human, and the drag of the
merely limited, the less-than-human. There are two difficult
concepts here -- essential limitation and the human as "middle."
We shall examine each of them in turn, carefully, in the
light shed by the experience of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The Experience and Acceptance of Essential Limitations
Alcoholics Anonymous teaches as fundamental
first truth the ultimate reality of personal essential limitation.
"We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol -- that
our lives had become unmanageable." A.A. addresses itself
not to the thing, alcoholism, but to the person, the alcoholic;
and the First Step of its program states clearly, simply,
and thoroughly that the alcoholic is essentially limited.
"Powerless . . unmanageable": the acknowledgment "I am an
alcoholic" that is inherent in these admissions accepts
as first truth personal essential limitation. The newcomer
to Alcoholics Anonymous is thus led to admit, to accept,
and to embrace fundamental finitude -- essential limitation
-- as the definition of her alcoholic human condition.
The concept of "essential limitation"
comes hard: if it poses problems for philosophers, how can
it be learned by the lowly alcoholic -- indeed, not only
learned but inculcated into the very marrow of his being?
The program and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous accomplish
this in several ways, ways that we shall explore in unfolding
detail. Here, we focus on the first two: the idea of "alcoholic"
and the significance of "the first drink."
The two are related. The "alcoholic," A.A.
teaches, is one who cannot drink any alcohol safely.
There is an essential "not" -- an inherent limitation --
in the very concept of "alcoholic." This "not" is an essential
rather than an accidental limitation, because it applies
to the first drink. We all know the gropings of the active
alcoholic who realizes that he is in trouble -- his staunch
efforts to stop drinking before drunkenness, his tortured
attempts to determine what is "his limit": two drinks? four
beers? only with meals? A.A., in teaching that "the first
drink gets the alcoholic drunk," inculcates that the alcoholic
does not "have a limit": she is limited -- and
this is the meaning of essential limitation.
To be confronted by one's own essential
limitation, to perceive oneself as essentially limited:
these are narrowing, choking, tightening experiences. We
experience these sensations in our innards, and we struggle
against their implications with all our might. But struggle
and might aggravate rather alleviate the pain. Although
anyone who has felt that pain can never forget it, the sensation
is difficult to name. Philosophers have called it Angst
or angoisse; in English, the dreads of "anxiety"
and "anguish." All of these terms derive from the same ancient
source: ANGH, a primitive root the very sound of which conveys
the sense of choked tightness gasped when something squeezes
around one's throat. Although difficult to name, this sense
is all too familiar to the alcoholic struggling with his
addiction -- the clutching feeling of dread that arises
from the recognition that one is out of control. ANGH is
the rub of finitude, reminding of essential limitation.
Alcoholism is an experience of ANGH: it
brings home the realization that to be human is to be essentially
limited. The first response to this reminder is shame. The
pain of ANGH arises, indeed, because something else within
"being human" strives to reach beyond limitation and seeks
to impose that one is not limited -- insists, in short,
that any limitation marks the failure of falling short.
Here, on the field of essential limitation, Alcoholics Anonymous
first wrestles with the alcoholic's shame.
The lesson is unwelcome and difficult;
and therefore Alcoholics Anonymous teaches in several ways
this insight that, because the first truth for the alcoholic
is essential limitation, the first act required for the
alcoholic to begin recovery is the acceptance of essential
limitation. Most striking, perhaps, because so often misunderstood,
is how A.A. inculcates this truth by applying the insight
At its very birth, Alcoholics Anonymous
departed Oxford Group auspices because the Group, with its
heritage of Christian perfectionism as revealed in its emphasis
upon "The Four Absolutes," seemed both to demand and to
claim too much. Because of this intuition that -- at least
for alcoholics -- the problem of the Oxford Group, as well
as one off-putting aspect of all organized religion, was
that they claimed to do too much, Alcoholics Anonymous focused
attention on its own limitations. Thus, A.A.'s claim that
its fellowship and program are "spiritual rather than religious"
involves not so much a rejection of religion as a profession
of the acceptance of limitation. This understanding is confirmed
by another Alcoholics Anonymous axiom, one especially dear
to the heart and pen of its only philosopher, William Griffith
Wilson. Bill made the point consistently, in many private
letters as well as in his published writings, that even
as "spiritual," A.A. was but "a kindergarten of the spirit."
(6) He intended the image both to ensure A.A.'s
own humility, its acceptance of its very real limitations,
and to encourage A.A. members to grow in sobriety -- and
spirituality -- in their own individual ways.
The fact of fundamental finitude and the
need to accept this essential limitation pervade the fellowship
and program of Alcoholics Anonymous. They are clear in the
oft-repeated A.A. mottoes, "First Things First" and "One
Day at a Time." The emphasis upon accepting limitation infuses
A.A.'s own description of "How It Works" from the "Rarely"
that opens that key fifth chapter of its Big Book, through
the "tried to" that lies at the heart of its Twelfth Step,
to its concluding qualification of its promise of "progress
rather than . . . perfection." (7)
Honesty concerning essential limitation
is therefore the core of Alcoholics Anonymous. Such honesty
thus becomes both the price and the reward, both the process
and the purpose, of the A.A. member's First Step acceptance
of himself as "powerless over alcohol." In a way suggestive
of the psychoanalytic contract, Alcoholics Anonymous has
intuited the existential truth that accepting the reality
of self-as-feared is the essential pre-condition of finding
the reality of self-as-is.
Two: Confronting Shame
Shame and the Meaning of Being Human
By its own example as well as by its core
message, then, Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that there is
a wholeness in limitation. This understanding echoes an
ancient tradition of wisdom, which saw being human as being
caught in the middle, containing a contradiction. To be
human, according to this tradition, means to sustain the
tension of always being pulled in two opposite directions:
to be more than human and to be less than human.
This vision has haunted many thinkers.
Two very different philosophers, whose thoughts span centuries,
can clarify its meaning for us; for their insights anticipate
two descriptions of alcoholic experience that may be heard
detailed at virtually any meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Their vision posits an image: man, located on the scale
of reality between "beast" and "angel," contains within
himself both "beast" and "angel." To be
human, then, is to experience from within the contradictory
pulls to be both angel and beast, both more and less than
merely human. Because of these contradictory pulls, to be
human is to live in a tension: because one is pulled to
both, one can exclusively attain neither. Yet the tension
pinches and strains; and some humans strive to resolve it
by becoming only one or the other, beast or angel.
Over three hundred years ago, the French
mathematician and mystic Blaise Pascal observed of one such
effort: "He who would be an angel becomes a beast."
(8) That is, the attempt to be more than human
leads to being less than human. Early in the present century,
the Spanish-born, Harvard philosopher George Santayana utilized
the same image to make its complementary point: "It is necessary
to become a beast if one is ever to be a spirit."
(9) To attain the heights of human existence,
one must also touch its depths.
Together, these understandings and their
point -- as both angel and beast, one cannot be only either
-- embrace the core perception and process of Alcoholics
Anonymous. In the A.A. understanding that can be heard,
paraphrased, at any A.A. meeting, the alcoholic drank in
the attempt or claim to be one or the other, angel or beast;
the essence of sobriety resides in the acceptance that one
is both -- that because one can be only both, the effort
to be only one or the other dooms one to insatiable frustration.
This vision of the human as both angel
and beast thus captures well the descriptions of drinking
experience heard within Alcoholics Anonymous -- the vivid
portrayal of the heights and the depths reached for and
even attained, only to have their opposites relentlessly
and inevitably recur. This understanding of the meaning
of being human emphasizes the essential incongruity -- the
inherent conflict, contradiction, antinomy -- at the very
core of the human condition. Much literature explores this
theme of inherent incongruity, sensitively delineating the
painful paradox of human aspiration conjoined with human
finitude, human hope subverted by human limitation.
Yet the paradox need not be only painful.
One of its modern students, the anthropologist Ernest Becker
in his Pulitzer prize-winning study of The Denial of
Death, has captured its essence in a striking phrase
that not only can further our appreciation of the paradox
but that can reveal the humor that lies on the other side
of its pain. And that insight into humor can deepen our
understanding of how Alcoholics Anonymous heals shame. In
Becker's vivid and memorable image, to be human is to be
"a god who shits." (10)
The humor of being human
Humor, in a definition that reflects itself,
"arises from the perception of the juxtaposition of incongruity."
We find funny the placing together of things that do not
belong together: the portly, top-hatted, distinguishedly
pompous gentleman slipping on a banana peel, for example.
Humor and laughter may, of course, be aggressive and even
cruel -- especially when the other is objectified rather
than identified with. But when humor's incongruity is recognized
as inherent -- a reflection of the essential contradiction
of being human with which one identifies -- there can be
no more healing, whole-ing, experience than the laughter
that marks identifying acceptance of that paradoxical incongruity.
Such laughter characterizes meetings of
Alcoholics Anonymous, revealing much about A.A.'s healing
power. The stories told at these meetings exquisitely demonstrate
the essential incongruity of the human condition, the humor
inherent in being human.
sit up all night, just about, watching the late late
late movies, tears streaming down my face, thinking
"Yes, that's how life really is, loveless and tragic";
and I'd toast each sad revelation with another warming
swallow of booze. During the breaks I'd go out to the
kitchen to get more ice, and passing the hall mirror
I'd look soulfully at my image in it -- with immense,
enormous self-pity, but with no realization at all that
the bleary-eyed, puffy, unshaven condition of my face
and its booze-stinking breath just might have something
to do with my being unloved.
I first came around A.A., someone suggested that I get
down on my knees each morning and ask for help to not
take a drink that day. Well, I resented that! Me, kneel
down and ask for help? No way . . . so I didn't come
back, for a while. Instead I went back to drinking,
my usual pattern, until one morning it came to me. There
I was, in my accustomed morning position, kneeling on
the cold tile of my bathroom floor with my arms wrapped
around the toilet heaving my guts out. The thought crossed
my mind that it wasn't the kneeling or the asking for
help that bothered me -- after all, that's just what
I was doing! It was that those A.A.'s wanted me to do
it on a warm, carpeted floor with a serene stomach!
And if that was what bothered me, maybe they were right
and I was "sick," and so I decided to give you
folks another try.
Such humor and the laughter that greets
it are never aimed at others as objects, but at the contradictions
within self illumined by the human experience described.
A.A. laughter expresses appreciation of the insights into
self garnered from the experience of others with whom one
identifies. Thus, humor within Alcoholics Anonymous witnesses
to A.A. members' acceptance of the paradoxical nature of
the human condition -- essentially limited but inherently
striving for the unlimited. In attempting and claiming to
attain transcendence by their use of alcohol, alcoholics
come to touch -- even to wallow in -- the depths of their
Recognizing the incongruity between that
endeavor and its result frees from both. Such humor is neither
veiled aggression nor mere compensation; it rather manifests
the central animus of A.A.'s understanding of human nature.
The human essence resides in the human condition's conjunction
of infinite thirst with essentially limited capacity. Acceptance
of this reality comes easily to the alcoholic who understands
her alcoholism; the phenomenon of alcoholism replicates
the essence of the human condition.
Two Corollaries of Shame
Its own example in accepting limitation
and the gift of healing humor that its meetings offer are
not the only ways in which Alcoholics Anonymous inculcates
in its members the acceptance of essential limitation that
enables constructive confrontation with shame. A.A.'s insight
into the human condition suggests another understanding,
one that illumines both its diagnosis and its healing of
the alcoholic. As Bill Wilson never tired of reminding,
"the alcoholic is an all-or-nothing person."
(13) The futility of this effort to deny the essential
some-ness of the human experience manifests itself in especially
two areas -- control and dependence.
In the A.A. understanding, the drinking
alcoholic drinks alcohol in an effort to achieve control
-- absolute control -- over his feelings and environment;
yet his drinking itself is absolutely out of control. Similarly,
the drinking alcoholic denies all dependence. She drinks
in an attempt to deny dependence upon others, upon anything
outside herself; but her dependence upon alcohol itself
has become absolute. The alcoholic's problem, then, involves
the demand for absolute control and the claim to be absolutely
independent. A.A.'s healing attacks this double problem
in a twofold way. First, the alcoholic is confronted with
the facts that, so far as alcohol is concerned, he is absolutely
out of control and absolutely dependent. Then, when this
reality (contained in the very concept "alcoholic") has
been accepted by the admission of "powerlessness over alcohol,"
Alcoholics Anonymous prescribes limited
control and limited dependence.
An image, an ancient posture, clarifies
the relationship between the human-as-middle and its corollaries
of limited control and limited dependence. In the original,
privately published version of A.A.'s Twelve Steps, the
Seventh Step opened with the phrase: "Humbly on our knees..."
Kneeling, the Pietist posture, is a middle
position -- half-way between standing upright and lying
flat. A.A.'s interpretation of the alcoholic condition may
be conceptualized around this image. The alcoholic is one
who, in his claim to absolute independence and absolute
control over alcohol, insists on trying to stand unaided,
only to inevitably fall flat on his face -- often literally
in the gutter. To the alcoholic lying prone, Alcoholics
Anonymous suggests: "Get up on your knees -- you can do
something, but not everything." Later, in the alcoholic's
progress toward sobriety, A.A. often has occasion to temper
tendencies to grandiosity with a similar suggestion: "Get
down on your knees -- you can do something, but not everything."
A.A.'s insight into the middleness of the human condition
-- its limited control and limited dependence -- linchpins
the fellowship's total approach to the alcoholic, drinking
The emphasis on control as limited, as
neither absolute nor to be abdicated, pervades the A.A.
program. "You can do something, but not everything": A.A.
members are warned against promising to "never drink again."
They learn, rather, "not to take the first drink, one day
at a time." They learn to pick up the telephone instead
of the bottle. They are encouraged to attend A.A. meetings,
which they can do, rather than to avoid all contact with
alcohol, which they cannot do. The A.A. sense of limited
control is admirably summed up in the famed "Serenity Prayer"
that the fellowship originally borrowed from a newspaper
obituary: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things
I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."
The "can" and "cannot" of the Serenity
Prayer well inculcate the concepts of limited control and
limited dependence. They also clarify the depth of the dedication
of Alcoholics Anonymous to human freedom. In the A.A. understanding,
alcoholism is an obsessive-compulsive malady: the active
alcoholic is one who must drink, who cannot
not-drink. Therefore the alcoholic who joins the A.A.
fellowship and embraces its program does not thereby surrender
her freedom to drink; rather, she gains the freedom to not-drink
-- no small liberation for one obsessively-compulsively
addicted to alcohol. Within Alcoholics Anonymous, indeed,
the passage from "mere dryness" to "true sobriety" consists
precisely in the change of perception -- perspective --
by which the A.A. member moves from interpreting his situation
as the prohibition, "I cannot drink" to understanding its
deeper reality as the joyous affirmation, "I can
For the alcoholic, freedom consists in
not drinking; and, as any sober A.A. member will readily
testify, there is a world of difference between the necessary
first stage of accepting the limitation "I cannot drink"
and embracing the freedom of the happy new reality "I can
not-drink." A.A.'s success derives in no small part from
the fact that it is the only modality for the healing of
alcoholics that contains a philosophy that embraces and
teaches such an understanding of the reality of human freedom.
"Limited control," however, is but one
side of the coin of human freedom: its obverse face reveals
limited dependence. Here, the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous
again subtly challenges a frequent, modern assumption. Most
therapies approach the alcoholic from a point of view that
sees all dependence -- but especially the dependence that
binds the alcoholic to his chemical -- as humiliating and
dehumanizing. They tell the alcoholic that maturity -- becoming
fully human -- involves overcoming all such dependencies.
Diagnosing alcoholism, virtually all modern therapies proclaim
that the alcoholic's problem is "dependence on alcohol,"
and they endeavor to break the alcoholic's dependence.
The larger-wisdomed insight of Alcoholics
Anonymous does not exactly contradict this understanding.
Indeed, A.A. agrees with and accepts this diagnosis that
the alcoholic's problem is "dependence on alcohol." But
Alcoholics Anonymous locates the definition's deeper truth
by shifting its implicit emphasis. A.A. interprets the experience
of its members as revealing that the alcoholic's problem
is not "dependence on alcohol," but "dependence
on alcohol." To be human, to be essentially limited,
Alcoholics Anonymous insists, is to be essentially
dependent. The alcoholic's choice -- the human choice
-- lies not between dependence and independence, but between
that upon which one will acknowledge dependence: a less
than human substance such as alcohol within oneself, or
a more than individual reality that remains essentially
outside -- beyond -- the self.
The Qualities of Shame
We seem, perhaps, to have come a long way,
a far distance, from our stated topic of shame and guilt.
Yet have we? Shame, recall, arises from the feeling of failure,
from the sense of falling short. But, in the understanding
of the human condition mediated by Alcoholics Anonymous,
to be human is to fall short. Any healing of shame,
then, must confront the inevitability of falling short that
the alcoholic -- or any other "all-or-nothing person" --
seeks to avoid or to deny by such measures as the use of
How is this to be done? The confrontation
with shame, the acceptance of self as essentially limited,
involves two stages: (1) recognizing shame for what it is,
and especially its distinction from guilt; (2) finding and
applying the mode of healing that enables one to live constructively
with one's own essential limitation and therefore with that
positive shame without which one becomes "shameless." We
turn then, first, to the qualities that characterize shame:
avenues that open to touching shame and therefore to embracing
one's own essential limitation.
Three characteristics of shame -- or better,
of its occasion -- both aid in distinguishing shame from
guilt and illumine the nature of the essential limitation
that lies at the core of being human. Guilt, recall, arises
from the violation of some restraining boundary: it characteristically
has to do with moral transgression, results from a voluntary
act, and tends to be proportionate to the gravity of the
offense committed. Shame, in contrast, can be recognized
because it may be evoked by a non-moral lapse, may arise
for an involuntary act, and tends to be magnified by the
very triviality of its stimulus.
Shame may arise from either a moral or
a non-moral lapse. For some, the possibility of non-moral
shame provides the key to understanding its differentiation
from guilt. Two cases of non-moral shame are especially
relevant in the present context: failure in love and the
failure of sickness.
Perhaps the most common source of non-moral
shame is disappointment or frustration, and specifically
disappointment in love. One who seeks to win another's love,
and fails, suffers not the guilt of moral transgression
but the constricted hollowness of felt inadequacy. Experiences
of defeat, disappointment, frustration, or failure evoke
shame. Guilt, as transgression, always involves aggression:
one feels guilty about the aggression. Shame, although it
may involve an aspect of aggression, arises over the attempt's
failure rather than over the attempt itself.
Both the "disease-concept of alcoholism"
and A.A.'s emphasis on alcoholism as "malady" serve to bring
the alcoholic's drinking under the heading of shame.
(17) To be ill is not to transgress, but to fall
short. One large contribution of Alcoholics Anonymous has
been to remove alcoholism from moral categories. This removal,
of course, is more easily claimed than achieved; but distinguishing
between guilt and shame can help further that achievement.
The alcoholic who knows from experience
that she should not drink alcohol but who obsessively-compulsively
does drink it will of course and inevitably feel "bad."
If she knows only the category of guilt, she cannot help
but judge her drinking to be somehow a moral transgression.
Learning the disease concept enables transcending guilt
by inviting confrontation with shame. A.A.'s contribution
here is to distinguish clearly between the guilty feeling
of wickedness and the shamed sense of worthlessness. The
experience of Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that the alcoholic's
key problem is not that he is wicked, but that he feels
worthless. A.A.'s healing, then, touches most deeply not
guilt but shame.
The concept of disease and the experience
of many diversely sick people who are ashamed of their illnesses
also clarify the second characteristic of occasions of specifically
shame -- their involuntariness. That shame arises involuntarily,
from the failure of choice, should be clear from its very
concept as outlined near the beginning of this piece. Guilt
implies choice; haggling over guilt often focuses upon the
question of how free was the choice, but the fact of choice
is assumed. Shame, on the other hand, occurs over a falling
short, a missing of the mark, a failure
d A "missing of the mark": those familiar
with ancient languages or theological thought may
recognize the concept of hamartia -- an ancient
term for "sin."
Involuntariness is a necessary concomitant
of shame's focus upon the deficiency of self. The core of
the pain in shame arises from the insufficiency of will.
An example may clarify. One seduced into adultery might
feel both guilt and shame: guilt over the violation of the
marriage promise; shame at falling short of the marriage
ideal. The man who finds himself sexually impotent with
a woman he loves will feel predominantly shame: the question
of morality does not enter, and -- at least in his conscious
mind -- his sexual disability is anything but voluntary.
When an alcoholic says "Why?": "Why do
I drink (or do x) -- l know I don't want to!" someone imbued
with the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous knows better
than to try to probe and to prove that he really did want
to. The A.A. answer, accepting involuntariness, is simple.
"You didn't want to, but you did. You did because you are
an alcoholic. That is what an alcoholic is: one who drinks
when he doesn't want to. The answer to 'Why' lies not in
your will or in some unconscious drive, but in the fact
that you are an alcoholic . . . the simple fact that you
are 'all too human.'"
Experiences of shame are valuable because,
by their involuntariness, they teach about the limitation
of human will. The alcoholic cannot will to not-drink any
more than the insomniac can will to fall asleep. The example
is exact; for, in both cases, one can will the means, but
any attempt directly to will the end proves self-defeating.
There are, it seems, two distinct kinds of "will," two different
realms in which human will operates. In some matters, will
chooses to move in a certain direction; in others, will
chooses to possess a particular object. Problems arise when
we attempt to apply the will of the second realm -- the
utilitarian will that chooses objects -- to those portions
of life that, because they are directions or orientations,
wilt or even vanish under such coercion.
Let me try to clarify by suggesting a few
other examples, probably familiar to anyone, of this distinction:
I can will knowledge, but not wisdom; submission, but not
humility; self-assertion, but not courage; congratulations,
but not admiration; religiosity, but not faith; reading,
but not understanding; physical nearness, but not emotional
closeness; dryness, but not sobriety.e
e Several of these examples, and the ideas
in this and the following paragraph, have been suggested
and are treated at greater depth in two essays by
Leslie H. Farber: "Thinking About Will" and "Will
and Anxiety," in Lying, Despair, Jealousy, Envy,
Sex, Suicide, Drugs, and the Good Life (New York:
Basic Books 1976), pp. 3-34.
Because shame often arises from the
failure of the effort to will what cannot be willed, experiences
of shame contain an important lesson, and not only for the
alcoholic. To know shame is to realize that certain things
-- the realm of orientation and direction, as in the examples
above -- fall beyond the scope of the utilitarian will that
chooses objects. This realization is important because a
major source of anxiety is the effort to will what cannot
be willed. The addict seeks chemical relief from such anxiety
because drugs -- for example, alcohol -- offer the illusion
of healing this split between the will and its impossible
goal. Addiction, indeed, is the effort to will
what cannot be willed.
The recovering alcoholic or addict knows
that such chemical pacification is "illusion," but its remembered
attractiveness can haunt one pinched by the pain of anxiety.
Insofar, then, as will and its failure enter into the alcoholic's
problem, experiences of shame offer a potent reminder of
the essential limitation of will with which the alcoholic
-- like any human -- must learn to live.
The third and final characteristic of shame
to be examined is the apparent disproportion that renders
shame literally so monstrous an experience. Usually, the
depth and extent of guilt correlate with the gravity of
the offense: the more serious the transgression, the greater
the guilt. Shame, on the contrary, tends to be triggered
by the most trivial of stimuli, by some seemingly small
and even picayune detail. Such details, precisely as trivial,
reveal most unmistakably the deficiency of self as self
rather than as violator of some abstract code. The employee
who embezzled ten thousand dollars, when he comes to doing
his Eighth and Ninth -- amends -- Steps, tends to feel predominantly
guilt. The person who has cadged quarters off his co-workers'
desks, who has habitually ignored the office coffee-pot's
plea for coin contributions, will feel more shame than guilt.
If a sensitive therapist can tap that shame, can touch that
triviality, she will more acutely and thoroughly help one
contemplating A.A.'s Eighth and Ninth Steps to confront
himself as he is. The trivial invites examining "What kind
of person am I to have done that?" The more trivial the
"that," the more readily the emphasis moves to "person."
The disproportion that tends to inhere
in shame -- its tendency to be greater according as its
stimulus is smaller -- reveals another intriguing facet
of shame that renders it especially appropriate for the
kind of healing made available by Alcoholics Anonymous.
In one sense, albeit not technically, shame is addictive.
The disproportion inherent in it serves to magnify shame,
for one becomes ashamed at the very inappropriateness of
one's reaction, and therefore ashamed of shame itself. Perhaps
because of this insatiable quality in shame over the trivial,
it is upon the disproportion inherent in experiences of
shame that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous fastens in
turning shame to constructive use.
Alcoholics Anonymous locates the "root
of [the alcoholic's] troubles" in the selfishness of "self-centeredness"
-- in pride. (19) The drinking
alcoholic tends to deem himself exceptional, different,
special; and this tendency does not suddenly cease in early
sobriety. Thus, one trap for the newly recovering alcoholic,
freshly enthusiastic about his dawning recovery, lies in
the temptation to judge himself, as he reviews his personal
history of alcoholism, especially "wicked." As one observer
acutely noted of both drinking and sober alcoholics: "The
alcoholic's problem is not that he feels, 'I am a worm,'
nor even that he feels, 'I am very special.' The main obstacle
to recovery is that the alcoholic is convinced that 'I am
a very special worm.'" Admittedly, the telling of stories
at Twelve-Step meetings can on occasion exacerbate this
problem by degenerating into "Can you top this?" competitions.
Yet as usually and properly used, the telling of stories
at such. meetings, and especially the program's Fifth Step,
offer a healing that skirts the "very special worm" trap.
"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to
another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs." Such
confession is, of course, ancient religious practice. Yet
within Alcoholics Anonymous as within its parent Oxford
Group, this practice ministers to shame more than to guilt.
The essential point was already clear in the Oxford Group
understanding: "This sharing leads to the discovery that
sins we thought were so bad are quite run-of-the-mill. The
regard of one's sins as particularly awful is a vicious
form of pride that is overcome by sharing."
(20) A.A.'s Fifth Step, like its practice of story-telling,
serves to inculcate a similar awareness: the alcoholic,
essentially limited, is very ordinary. This is why A.A.'s
Fifth Step is presented as ending "the old pangs of anxious
apartness" and beginning the alcoholic's "emergence from
Shame, Exposure, Denial, and Hiding
Because of the disproportion inherent in
shame, because shame's stimulus is so often trivial and
shame itself therefore usually so surprising, experiences
of shame are experiences of exposure. Experiences of shame
throw a flooding and searching light on what and who we
are, painfully uncovering unrecognized aspects of personality.
Exposure -- exposure to oneself -- lies at the
heart of shame.
The root meaning of the word "shame" implies
this process: to uncover, to expose, to wound. Experiences
of shame are thus experiences of the exposure of peculiarly
sensitive, intimate, vulnerable aspects of the self. The
exposure may be to others; but, whether others are involved
or not, the significant exposure is always to one's own
eyes. An incident described by Somerset Maugham in his study
Of Human Bondage vividly penetrates to the essence
of shame as the exposure to oneself of one's own weakness.
The protagonist in the story, Philip, as
a new boy at school, was ragged by his classmates who demanded
to see his clubfoot. Despite his almost obsequious desire
for friendship, Philip adamantly refused to show his handicap.
Finally, one night, a group of boys attacked Philip in his
bed, and the school bully twisted his arm until Philip stuck
his leg out of the bed to let them see his deformity. The
boys then laughed and left. And then,
- Philip . . . got his
teeth in the pillow so that his sobbing should be inaudible.
He was not crying for the pain they had caused him,
nor for the humiliation he had suffered when they looked
at his foot, but with rage at himself because, unable
to stand the torture, he had put out his foot on his
Exposure to others of his physical deformity
was less painful to Philip than the exposure to himself
of his own weakness.
Alcoholism -- indeed, any form of addictive
dependency -- often arises from and usually is connected
with the effort to conceal such weakness, to prevent its
exposure to oneself. The alcoholic or addict uses his chemical
in order to hide, and especially to hide from himself. The
endeavor to hide reveals that the critical problem underlying
such behavior is shame. (23)
Guilt moves to solving problems; shame
leads to hiding feelings. "Wanting to be absolved of guilt
is not the addict's problem." Usually, the addicted person
within herself is pleading passionately to be able to feel
guilty. Guilt-oriented therapies, however sophisticated,
fail because the addict or alcoholic cannot "mend his ways"
or, by willing it, "grow up." He must maintain his addiction
precisely to conceal his unendurable shame from himself.
Any interference with his addictive dependency threatens
to reveal that shame and therefore becomes "a primary survival
threat." In any case in which the avoidance of pain -- the
existential pain of shame -- plays a basic part in the organization
and maintenance of the psychopathology, effective healing
must address itself first to the existential nature of that
pain and shame.
This is one reason why effective treatment
for the alcoholic involves caring rather than curing.
The approach of Alcoholics Anonymous utilizes the realization
that to induce -- or, more exactly, to allow -- humiliation
can be an important initial therapeutic goal. The informal
format of A.A. meetings, their atmosphere of badinage and
humorous confrontation, is well-designed to achieve this
An often-acted-out image may help to clarify:
Any hurting person who seeks help brings to therapy a tiny,
flickering flame of self-esteem. Classic, guilt-oriented
therapies strive to nourish that tiny glimmer, to enlarge
self-esteem. The initial response of Alcoholics Anonymous
is different. The newcomer who leads from self-esteem meets
with caring confrontation: he is offered, for example, a
carefully half-filled cup of coffee. Such confrontation
of lingering denial invites the hesitant newcomer both to
acknowledge the fact of his shakes and to realize that the
coffee-server who recognizes the shakes accepts them --
and him. The message is less "It's okay" than "It's tough,
but I've been there too." Any flicker of self-esteem that
signals denial of the felt-worthlessness of shame is gently
quashed rather than nourished within A.A. Why? Because A.A.
experience testifies that, until that denial is shattered,
its own constructive healing cannot be effective. The alcoholic
must confront self-as-feared if he is ever to find the reality
This understanding captures the insight
of Dr. Harry Tiebout in his classic psychiatric exploration
of the healing dynamic operative in Alcoholics Anonymous.
(24) Tiebout distinguished between "compliance,"
which he saw as worse than useless because it obscured the
obsessive-compulsive nature of alcoholism, and "surrender,"
which he presented as the key to the process of recovery.
Tiebout's "compliance" may be understood as motivated by
guilt; "surrender," as enabled by the alcoholic's acceptance
of his shame.
Denial, Tiebout realized, could continue
despite acknowledgment of -- despite even attempts at reparation
for -- guilt. Guilt may even be a defense against confronting
and accepting what is denied, as when the alcoholic accepts
responsibility for what he has done when drinking as preferable
to admitting that the drinking itself was beyond his control.
Real guilt fears punishment and tries to escape it. The
shamed person, on the other hand, for example the alcoholic
just described, may seek and embrace punishment -- even
by admitting "guilt" -- as a confirmation aiding denial
of what is most deeply feared: his own failure of being,
his sense of having failed as a human being.
Three: The Healing of Shame
In order to get beyond this hiding, in
order to transcend this denial, in order to succeed as a
human being, any human being needs others. Despite the far
too common misunderstanding that has confused shame with
embarrassment, "others" are not the problem in shame; they
are its solution.
Because of their essential limitation,
human beings have needs. The denial of essential limitation
usually manifests itself not directly, but in the denial
of need. The alcoholic's denial of need is twofold: his
denial of his need for alcohol blends into and intertwines
with his denial of his need for others. Early in the process
of alcoholism, the alcoholic denies that it is his unmet
because insatiable need for others that leads him to seek
comfort or excitement in alcohol. "A few drinks" become
more important than the people at a party, for example,
as alcohol becomes a surer source of satisfaction than human
interaction. Later in the process, after a few failures
of "I can stop whenever I want to" (denial of the need for
alcohol) the denial becomes again of the need for others:
"Just leave me alone -- I can lick this thing by myself."
Alcoholics Anonymous breaks through these
twin denials of need. As fellowship, A.A. invites the alcoholic
to discover her own need for others by being the one place
where the alcoholic herself is needed, and needed precisely
and only as alcoholic. This leads to self-identification
as "alcoholic," and thus to admission of the need for alcohol.
As program, A.A. builds on the admission of the need for
alcohol -- "I am an alcoholic" -- ever deepening awareness
of one's need for others. The Twelve Steps of the program
of Alcoholics Anonymous begin with the word "We," and A.A.
ever emphasizes that it is "fellowship" as well as "program."
Thus, the vicious circle of denial of need -- for alcohol
and for others -- is broken and replaced by a twofold, mutually
enhancing admission of need.
The "need for others" is, of course, the
most famous facet of Alcoholics Anonymous. Those outside
A.A. often regard it condescendingly, interpreting it away
as "the substitution of a social dependence for a drug dependence";
(25) or as "accepting the emotional immaturity
of alcoholics and supplying a crutch for it."
Yet independent observers have also recognized
positive aspects in the acceptance of the human need for
others as inculcated by Alcoholics Anonymous. One psychiatrist
located the reason for A.A.'s success in this approach,
which -- as opposed to some mere disease concept of alcoholism
-- inculcates in the alcoholic and many who would help him
the "understanding that human involvement is needed."
(27) Alcoholics Anonymous itself, faithful to
its Tenth Tradition, remains silent in the midst of this
controversy. A.A. -- that is, A.A. members -- simply performs
its chosen task -- helping alcoholics get and stay sober.
And awarely or not, they do this in part by healing shame.
Shame, Objectivity, and Caring
In dealing with shame, other people are
not the problem: they are the solution. Both guilt and shame
are characterized by "shoulds," but it is the "should" of
guilt that comes from outside, from rules made by others.
The "should" of shame arises from within, from the nature
of the human as essentially limited, yet craving infinity.
Another way of stating this is to observe
that guilt is objective; shame, subjective. Because it comes
from outside, guilt arises objectively: the line that is
crossed, the rule that is broken, has objective existence
outside oneself. Shame, in contrast, is a more subjective
experience: the goal fallen short of, the self-ideal that
quests and claims unlimitedness -- these are part of one's
own nature, of the be-ing that one "owns." Because of this,
shame cannot be healed "objectively."
A funny thing about the modern world: the
term "objective" tends to have a good connotation; the term
"subjective," to be pejorative. "Objectivity" is a praiseworthy
goal: to speak "objectively" is to require credence; calling
someone's presentation "objective" is to praise it. The
parallel terms "subjectivity," "subjectively," and "subjective"
are, on the contrary, put-downs. One hears before them "merely,"
the implication of flaw and error. We live in a world, indeed,
in which "objective" equates with real, whereas
"subjective" is taken to mean false, unreal, imaginary.
Objectivity is especially desired and valued
in the medical -- curing -- model. We need think no further
than the example of the surgeon. Surgeons do not operate
on their own family members, on persons with whom they have
a caring relationship. Further, even the ordinary patient's
body is so prepared and draped for surgery that his personhood
and individuality are concealed insofar as possible. Everything
about the aura, ritual, and procedures of the operating
theater is designed to enable the surgeon to perform her
skill upon a body rather than upon a person.
In dealing with things as do the physical
sciences, or in applying the curing model to human bodies
as does medical science, "objectivity" is an obvious virtue.
Objects are "out there": how the perceiver relates to them
does not make a difference to them. As for the perceiver,
"objectivity" enhances her observations of and actions upon
But applied to human beings as
human beings, as persons who are also subjects, the subject-object
model with its demand for "objectivity" dooms to failure.
Thinking in terms of subject-object renders others "they"
-- necessarily apart from and over-against the self. Such
a result, indeed such an effort, inevitably distorts: human
phenomena are never merely objects. In dealing with human
phenomena, that is to say, the flaw of "mereness" inheres
in objectivity rather than in subjectivity.
Accepting persons as ends-in-themselves,
the Kantian imperative, is impossible in a Cartesian world
of subject-object relationships. Such acceptance of persons
as persons becomes possible only in a world-view that transcends
the subject-object dichotomy -- a world in which human relationships
can be reciprocal and mutual because the subjectivity, the
personhood, of each individual is accepted as first truth.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not the only entity to postulate
such a vision, such a reality, such a model of caring. But
it is specifically the A.A. world-view that concerns us
here, and therefore it is the understanding of human relationships
that is witnessed to by the experience of Alcoholics Anonymous
that we shall examine in this exploration of the healing
Complementarity and the Mutualities that Heal Shame
Within Alcoholics Anonymous, human relationships
are characterized by complementarity and mutuality. Complementarity
means that individuals fit into each other, thus
enhancing each other rather than merely "bumping into" and
so chipping away at, diminishing, self and others. In such
relationships, each is to each other according to the needs
of both. Mutuality underlines this back-and-forth-ness:
the two-way, reciprocal nature of relationships that are
Such relationships furnish the invitation
and the opportunity to grow and to expand; they are, indeed,
the only way to grow as human. As one profound student of
the phenomenon of shame has observed:
- The ability to enter
into relations of intimacy and mutuality opens the way
to experiences in which the self expands beyond its
own limitations in depth of feeling, understanding,
and insight. One's own identity may be not weakened,
but strengthened by the meaning one has for others...
and by respect for these other persons as distinct individuals.
This experience involves the risk of trusting oneself
to other persons instead of regarding them in object,
status, or audience relations. It also means not allowing
disappointment in response from another person to lead
to a denial of the expectation and possibility of love
. . . . A person who is unable to love cannot reveal
Members of Alcoholics Anonymous achieve
this ability and experience -- this vision of complementary
mutuality -- by deriving their awareness of their need for
others from the fundamental realization that they, as alcoholic,
as essentially limited, can be fulfilled, made whole, only
by other essentially limited beings who also accept that
limitation . . . by other alcoholics.
The acceptance of essential limitation
is not merely privative, the recognition of a lack. A.A.
members find a positive identity in their essential limitation.
Within Alcoholics Anonymous, the identification, "I am an
alcoholic," is spoken not hesitatingly, in shy embarrassment,
but as a joyous affirmation. For within that setting of
individuals who accept their own essential limitation, one
realizes not only that one needs others, but that one is
oneself needed by those others: thus the foundation for
mutuality is established.
Making a difference
It is this perception and acceptance of
mutuality that enables transcending the "self-centeredness"
that members of Alcoholics Anonymous understand to be "the
root of our troubles." The mutualities that Alcoholics Anonymous
teaches, enables, and lives out are especially three: they
involve making a difference, honesty and dependence.
The sense that one is able to make a difference
is a deeply basic human need; indeed, Alcoholics Anonymous
very unintentionally founded its fellowship upon this vital
need. For five months after A.A.'s chronologically first
co-founder stopped drinking, he found no one willing to
accept his help. Then, alone in "the hick-town" of Akron,
Ohio, in May 1935, William Griffith Wilson, the sophisticated
New Yorker, discovered that he needed another alcoholic
if he himself was to stay sober, and so he began the series
of telephone calls that led to his first meeting with Doctor
Robert Holbrook Smith, not for the purpose of helping Doctor
Bob, but for what Bob, as another alcoholic, could give
him. Perhaps an even more significant moment occurred some
days later at the bedside of the alcoholic who was to become
"A.A. Number Three." Wilson and Smith told Bill D. that
talking with him was the only way they could stay sober.
Bill D. believed them, and therefore he listened:
- All the other people
that had talked to me wanted to help me, and my pride
prevented me from listening to them, and caused only
resentment on my part, but 1 felt as if I would be a
real stinker if I did not listen to a couple of fellows
for a short time, if that would cure them.(30)
Later wise men have shared the same insight.
The psychoanalyst R. D. Laing, for example, criticized the
classic therapeutic approach as defective precisely because
of the model that classic therapists present: "A prototype
of the other as giver but not receiver...tends to generate
in self a sense of failure... Frustration becomes despair
when the person begins to question his own capacity to 'mean'
anything to anyone." (31)
Elsewhere, Laing goes further, suggesting explicitly that
the sense of being "not able to make a difference" issues
in shame and despair rather than guilt: "the person experiences,
not the absence of the presence of the other, but the absence
of his own presence as other for the other."
To appreciate the human necessity for a
feeling of efficacy, the human need to make a difference,
is to touch the depths of the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Precisely here, A.A. taps one of the few unchanging facets
of the essence of the human condition. Ponder, for example,
in this context of how A.A. works, this insight (again Laing's)
into the nature of the thirst of modern mankind:
- Every human being,
whether child or adult, seems to require significance,
that is place in another person's world . . .
. It seems to be a universal human desire to wish to
occupy a place in the world of at least one other person.
Perhaps the greatest solace in religion is in the sense
that one lives in the Presence of an Other.(33)
And, one might add, in "the Presence of
an Other to whom what one does makes a difference."
Mutuality means making a difference not
by "giving and getting" but by giving by getting,
getting by giving. This reciprocal conjunction
of the experience of giving and the experience of receiving
characterizes not only Alcoholics Anonymous, but all expressions
of human love. This reality of love is one deep reason why
Alcoholics Anonymous works.
- We ourselves want to
be needed. We do not only have needs, we are also strongly
motivated by neededness . . . . We are restless
when we are not needed, because we feel "unfinished,"
"incomplete," and we can only get completed in and through
these relationships. We are motivated to search not
only for what we lack and need but also for that for
which we are needed, what is wanted from us.(34)
Honesty with self and others
The second mutuality taught by and put
into practice within Alcoholics Anonymous involves honesty.
A.A. experience teaches that there exists an essential mutuality
between honesty with self and honesty with others: both
may be present or both may be absent, but neither can exist
for any length of time without the other. Most newcomers
to Alcoholics Anonymous come to understand the necessary
mutuality between honesty with self and with others precisely
from their personal experience of the inevitable mutuality
of dishonesty with self and others.
- Those who deceive themselves
are obliged to deceive others. It is impossible for
me to maintain a false picture of myself unless I falsify
your picture of yourself and me.
. . . it is a form of self-deception to suppose that
one can say one thing and think another.
As with the mutuality of making a difference,
of giving and getting, the mutuality involved in honesty
and dishonesty with self and others is not a unique discovery
of Alcoholics Anonymous. The most profound description of
the process underlying this mutuality has been offered by
the research psychoanalyst who was called "the poet-philosopher
of the current human condition," Dr. Leslie H. Farber. His
insight merits quotation at length, for it captures a theme
heard often in the personal histories narrated at meetings
of Alcoholics Anonymous -- and not only at meetings of Alcoholics
- As a child grows gradually
aware of the absolute separateness of his being from
all others in the world, he discovers that this condition
offers both pleasure and terror . . . To the extent
that he must -- or believes that he must -- toy with
his own presentation of himself to others to earn the
attention and approval he craves . . . he will experience
a queer, unnamable apprehension . . . . This uneasy
state is both painful and corrupting.
It is commonly believed that this pain and corruption
are consequences of his low self-esteem and fear of
others' indifference and rejection, that these cause
him to project himself falsely. It seems more likely
that once this habit begins to harden, the crucial source
of pain is his corruption. In his constant inability
or unwillingness to tell the truth about who he is,
he knows himself in his heart to be faking.
Not merely is he ashamed of having and harboring a secret,
unlovely, illegitimate self. The spiritual burden of
not appearing as the person he "is," or not "being"
the person he appears to be -- the extended and deliberate
confusion of seeming and being -- is by and large intolerable
if held in direct view. If the integrity he craves is
to be denied him, at least he will have its illusion.
If he cannot publicize his private self, . . then he
will command his private self to conform to the public
one. This beguiles to a loss of truth; not only "telling"
it, but knowing it.
There are some things it is impossible both to do and
at the same time to impersonate oneself doing. Speaking
truthfully is one of them. (37)
There is, thus, a mutuality between honesty
with self and honesty with others: it is necessary to avoid
self-deception if one is to be honest with others, but at
the same time one must be honest with others if one is to
avoid self-deception. The drinking alcoholic, if she glimpses
this realization at all, finds in it only the most vicious
of circles. One gift of A.A.'s insight is the revelation
that this mutuality can enhance growth rather than hasten
self-destruction. How to live its paradoxical wisdom becomes,
for the sober alcoholic, an essential part of her continuing
participation in Alcoholics Anonymous as both fellowship
Dependence and independence
Both mutualities already examined -- making
a difference and honesty -- flow into the third mutuality
inherent in A.A.'s healing: that between dependence and
independence. Here also, A.A.'s insight into the essential
connection between personal dependence and personal independence
derives from its central focus on the reality of essential
limitation as the first truth of the human condition. It
is because the human is somehow the juncture of the infinite
with the limited -- because to be human is to be both angel
and beast -- that human dependence and human independence
must be mutually related, not only between people but within
Mutuality means that each enables and fulfills
the other. To speak of a mutuality between human dependence
and human independence, then, is to point out not only that
both are necessary within human experience, but also that
each -- dependence and independence -- becomes fully human
and humanizing only by connection with the other.
As already noted, most therapeutic approaches
aim to make the alcoholic independent, viewing personal
dependence and personal independence as contradictory rather
than enhancing. Their goal of independence is not unrelated
to their ideal of objectivity and their hope of curing.
Yet, as we saw in our treatment of the A.A. goals of limited
control and limited dependence, the alcoholic gains the
freedom to not-drink only by acknowledging that his problem
is not "dependence on alcohol," but "dependence
on alcohol." The experience of Alcoholics Anonymous
suggests that dependence is no more "cured" than is alcoholism:
rather, the alcoholic's dependence comes to be healed --
to be integrated into her whole personality in a way that
enhances her humanity -- by the mutuality of caring.
For specific reasons within the history
of psychological thought, the study of continuing human
dependence has not found a central place in any theory of
human development. (38)
Not too long ago, this surprising lacuna began to be filled.
At least one school of analytic psychiatry achieved success
by building on the fundamental insight: "Dependence versus
independence is the basic neurotic conflict." According
to Donald Winnicott, one leader of this school of thought
that has given rise to "personal relationship therapy,"
for the truly mature person, "dependence and independence
do not become conflicting issues, rather they are complementary."
The truly mature person, that is, experiences
"ontological security." For the individual whose own being
becomes secured in this primary experiential sense, to be
related with others is potentially gratifying and fulfilling.
The "ontologically insecure person," on the contrary, one
who has not come to terms with the complementarity of dependence
and independence, is pre-occupied with preserving rather
than fulfilling self: he becomes obsessed with the task
of preventing himself from losing himself. Such an ontologically
insecure person reaches out to others in self-seeking dependency,
out of the same needs that drive the alcoholic or addict
to seek chemical relief. Ontological insecurity undermines
any possibility of true mutuality.
To be not-God, to be both beast and angel,
is to be neither "all" nor "nothing": one is rather some-one.
The acceptance and affirmation of some-ness closes
the door to the infantile claim to be "all": "His Majesty
the Baby," in the Freudian term of Dr. Harry Tiebout. The
embrace and cherishing of one-ness invites to the
joyous pluralism of complementarity that is the essential
dynamic of Alcoholics Anonymous: the shared honesty of mutual
vulnerability openly acknowledged.
Dependence and independence, then, are
mutually related. Independence is enriched by dependence
just as our waking hours can be fruitful only if we obtain
adequate sleep. Likewise, constructive dependence requires
independence just as healthy sleep requires adequate waking
exercise. The very rhythms of human life reflect the mutuality
inherent in human nature. In a sense one "charges batteries"
by dependence, thus enabling independent operation. The
reverse of the analogy proves equally true: being dependent
without exercising independence is like over-charging a
battery rarely used -- destructive of both the self and
Alcoholics Anonymous, both in its suggestion
of a "Higher Power" and in the way its meetings work, invites
and enables the living out of this mutuality between human
dependence and personal independence. The First Step of
the A.A. program establishes the foundation for this understanding:
only by acknowledging continuing dependence upon alcohol
does the A.A. member achieve the continuing independence
of freedom from addiction to alcohol.
Being "Both": The Nature of Freedom
Any true healing of shame will accept the
necessary mutualities that flow from the essential limitation
of the human condition. It will recognize that "others"
-- other individuals aware of their own essential limitation
-- play a twofold role in this healing: (1) their example
facilitates the acceptance of one's own limitation; (2)
their presence enables a degree of transcendence of limitation,
for they invite living the mutualities of making a difference,
honesty, and dependence-independence.
Shame contains a "not"-- the "not" imposed
by essential limitation. That "not" is to be neither severed
nor undone: it is lodged in the very essence of our human
be-ing. To be honestly human is to be aware that one falls
short -- to accept that the ability to be is also the ability
to be not. Thus, to be human is to experience shame
-- to feel "bad" about the not-ness lodged in one's essence.
Why this feeling-bad of shame? Because of the anomalous
nature of the human as beast-angel, as essentially limited
yet craving unlimitedness. The anomaly is inherent, for
to be human is to be "both/and" rather than "either-or."
Confronted with the task of being human, one must live both
its polarities: one cannot be only either. The shame
of "feeling to blame" arises from the necessary imperfection
of such both-ness: inevitably one falls short of being either
beast or angel -- neither can be total so long as both are
Within Alcoholics Anonymous, within any
group based on the shared honest of mutual vulnerability
openly acknowledged, the individual in the process of recovering
her humanity learns that there exists a necessary connection
between being limited and being real. The practice of mutuality
-- and it does take "practice" -- inculcates the truths
that to be real is to be limited, and that to be limited
is to be real.
This necessary fact of the human condition
is perhaps clearest in the matter of the alcoholic's "freedom"
in relation to alcohol. The recovering alcoholic learns
first in Alcoholics Anonymous that his freedom, although
real, is limited -- and that his freedom, although limited,
is real. Free to drink, the alcoholic is not free to not
drink. To attain the freedom to not drink, the alcoholic
accepts limitation of his freedom to drink. But this realization,
important as it is, does not suffice for true, joyous sobriety.
The alcoholic in recovery must come to see, however hazily,
that this acceptance is not a concession. The word "although,"
that is to say, must be replaced by the affirmation "because":
because real, freedom is limited; because limited,
freedom is real.
The ongoing experience of recovery continually
reminds the alcoholic how the apparently unlimited freedom
to drink inevitably leads to increasing bondage and ever
greater losses of freedom (to work, to love and to be loved,
to live). The same experience of recovery also progressively
reveals, on the other hand, how the limited freedom to not
drink brings in its wake ever increasing freedoms. The recovering
alcoholic within Alcoholics Anonymous thus learns a profound
truth: with freedom as with any other human phenomenon,
to be real is to be limited, for limitation proves
reality. This understanding enables joyous acceptance of
the human condition as well as true recovery from alcoholic
addiction. It enables these "both" because, at depth, that
acceptance and that recovery are one and the same.
In some almost incomprehensible way, the
words sobriety, serenity, and, yes, sanctity
name the same reality.
Pluralism, Tolerance, Complementarity, and Love
This is the profound lesson of Alcoholics
Anonymous: truly human living begins with the creative acceptance
of the reality of essential human limitation -- with the
embrace of the not-ness, the "shame," that inheres at the
core of human be-ing. Two final concepts carry that insight
to its conclusion as that is lived out in groups rooted
in the shared honesty of mutual vulnerability openly acknowledged:
pluralism and complementarity.
Pluralism means accepting that, among those
essentially limited, there can be no one way of
being that is perfect or "best." "Easy Does It," cautions
A.A.: "Live and Let Live."
Complementarity suggests that imperfect
beings can aid in completing or fulfilling each other. The
"experience, strength, and hope" of each alcoholic enhances
the experience, strength, and hope of every other alcoholic
Alcoholics Anonymous enables -- indeed
thrives on -- pluralistic complementarity because each member
not only accepts limitation but finds in that very limitation
("I am an alcoholic") the basis for relating to others within
their fellowship. Because they relate to each other so consciously
from shared weakness (their alcoholism), A.A. members give
and get without threat: alike in weakness, they find in
their differences only strength. Most other human associations
are formed on the basis of some strength, some positive
quality by which one contributes to the group. Members of
Alcoholics Anonymous belong to their fellowship because
of their weakness, something they cannot do -- imbibe alcohol
in a way their culture deems normal.
Alcoholics Anonymous arrived at its acceptance
of pluralism honestly. The insight, and its implications,
were at first uncongenial to a fellowship whose members
were characterized by obsessive-compulsive behavior -- alcoholics
who, as co-founder Bill Wilson never tired of reminding,
tended to be "all-or-nothing people." Yet Alcoholics Anonymous,
largely through Bill Wilson, learned the lesson of pluralistic
tolerance from early on:
- In the early days of
A.A. I spent a lot of time trying to get people to agree
with me, to practice A.A. principles as I did, and so
forth. For so long as I did this . . . A.A. grew very
A.A. works for people with differing views -- that is
Honesty gets us sober but tolerance keeps us sober.
Very early in A.A. history, indeed, Wilson
intuited and skillfully inculcated the unshakeable basis
for the fellowship's tolerance of even apparent perversity
as well as of every diversity:
- The way our "worthy"
alcoholics have sometimes tried to judge the "less worthy"
is, as we look back on it, rather comical. Imagine,
if you can, one alcoholic judging another!
Tolerance flows naturally from A.A.'s central
focus on human essential limitation. Because human beings
are essentially limited, any individual's possession of
truth must be limited, if it is real. In fostering such
tolerance, Alcoholics Anonymous teaches not only an openness
to pluralism that accepts difference, but the sense of complementarity
that welcomes and values diversity. ". . . tolerance keeps
us sober." And without differences, after all, there could
be no tolerance.
Because of the essential limitation of
human existence, because of the mixed nature of the human
condition as not-God, as beast-angel, as essentially limited
yet craving "more," each human being is incomplete. Because
of this incompleteness, each needs others. Because of this
essential incompleteness, indeed, each person most clearly
discovers and reveals his own nature by the particular ways
in which he needs other essentially limited human beings.
Because any "other" is also essentially
incomplete, any constructive human relationship is characterized
by complementarity -- the sense that each fulfills the other.
Complementarity, because it is founded on the essential
limitation of both, involves acceptance by each of the other
as an-other who is also person, and therefore as concrete,
unique, different, potentially enriching individual. This
awareness of complementarity opens to the mutual sense of
mutual fulfillment. The sense of complementarity consists
in the realization that the existence of both is affirmed
by each other, that the differences of each enrich rather
than threaten the other.
This understanding reflects the model of
love hymned throughout the ages by poets and philosophers:
biological heterosexuality, the complementarity of male
and female. Most obviously in this prototype, love -- the
mutuality of giving and receiving that enhances and fulfills
-- flourishes because of difference rather than despite
it. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches love because love itself
derives from the acceptance of essential human limitation.
The denial of essential limitation renders love impossible,
for denying limitation and therefore rejecting complementarity
leads to demanding in "love" only likeness -- a demand that
results either in narcissism or in the destructive attempt
to impose likeness, and neither of these can be love. The
pluralistic insight, the kind of tolerance that derives
from the acceptance of essential limitation, on the other
hand, finds difference enriching rather than threatening:
it thus opens to the love that flourishes not despite difference,
but because of it.
Recognizing, admitting, and accepting essential
limitation can be terrifying. Consciousness of essential
limitation can raise the defenses that wall off others and
therefore preclude love. But it need not, as the experience
of Alcoholics Anonymous testifies. Members of Alcoholics
Anonymous seem not only to grasp but to improve upon Goethe's
maxim: "Against the superiority [difference] of another,
there is no remedy but love. (45)
Enlarging the possibilities of mutuality
-- of pluralism and complementarity -- requires risk. Expanding
the scope of mutual love depends upon risking exposure:
the honesty that reveals essential limitation and thus admits
need must confront shame. The program and fellowship of
Alcoholics Anonymous enable such risk and confrontation
by inculcating the qualities of hope and trust that permit
truly free choice. Accepting contingency (not-God-ness)
equips one to survive and even to flourish in a world of
possibility. Such acceptance cures addiction, in the sense
that it reveals addiction's inherent untruth.
- Whenever the desire
for emotional security becomes primary over all else,
for whatever reason, addiction sets in . . . . Because
he is so vulnerable, what the addict is ideally striving
for is perfect invulnerability. He only gives himself
in exchange for the promise of safety.
But there is no absolute safety, not for
the alcoholic, not for the addict, not for any human being.
For the human condition admits of neither perfection nor
invulnerability. The "experience, strength, and hope" of
the members of Alcoholics Anonymous suggest that it is precisely
the crack of imperfection, the admission of vulnerability,
that reveal -- un-veil -- the reality of human be-ing.
And if this be true for alcoholics, perhaps all of us might
glimpse its truth for us in a brief meditation:
- Honesty involves exposure:
the exposure of self-as-feared that leads to the discovery
of self-as-is. Both of these selves are essentially
vulnerable: to be is to be able to hurt and to be hurt.
But something tells us that we should not hurt: that
we should neither hurt others nor hurt within ourselves.
Yet we do -- both hurt and hurt, both cause and feel
When we cause pain, we experience guilt; when we feel
pain, we suffer shame. The pain, the hurt, the guilt
of the first is overt: it exists outside of us, "objectively."
The pain, the hurt, the shame of the second is hidden:
it gnaws within, it is "subjective." Neither can be
healed without confronting the other. A bridge is needed
-- a connection between the hurt that we cause and the
hurt that we are.
That bridge cannot be built alone. The honesty that
is its foundation must be shared. A bridge cannot have
only one end. Without sharing, there can be no bridge.
But a bridge needs a span as well as foundations. This
bridge's span is vulnerability -- the capacity to be
wounded, the ability to know hurt. "I need" because
"I hurt" -- if deepest need is honest. What I need is
another's hurt, another's need. Such a need on my part
would be "sick" -- if the other had not the same need
of me, of my hurt and my need. Because we share hurt,
we can share healing. Because we know need, we can heal
Our mutual healing will be not the healing of curing,
but the healing of caring. To heal is to make whole.
Curing makes whole from the outside: it is good healing,
but it cannot touch my deepest need, my deepest hurt
-- my shame, the dread of myself that I harbor within.
Caring makes whole from within: it reconciles me to
myself-as-I-am -- not-God, beast-angel, human. Caring
enables me to touch the joy of living that is the other
side of my shame, of my not-God-ness, of my humanity.
But I can care, can become whole, only if you care enough
-- need enough -- to share your shame with me.
Could the same be true for you?
1. [William Griffith
Wilson], "The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous," in Alcohol,
Science and Society (New Haven CT: Yale University
Press, 1945), p. 472.
2. Often, the kind
of fellowships described here are referred to as "Self-Help
Groups." As students of these groups are increasingly recognizing,
that term is a misnomer: fellowships such as Alcoholics
Anonymous are far more accurately named and understood as
"Mutual-Aid Groups." Some reasons for this will be made
clear in the concluding part of this presentation.
3. Cf. Helen
Merrell Lynd, On Shame and the Search for Identity
(New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1958), pp. 35-36.
4. Cf Lynd,
5. Cf. William
Barrett, Irrational Man (New York: Doubleday, 1956),
pp. 225-227; on the root, angh-, cf. The American
Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, rev. and
ed. by Calvert Watkins (Boston: Houthton Mifflin, 1985),
6. Letters in which
Wilson used this phrase or "spiritual kindergarten" include
(all from New York City) to Caryl Chessman, 3 May 1954;
to Dr. Tom P., 4 April 1955; to Walter B., 1 July 1958;
to Father K., 28 July 1958; to Betty L., 8 December 1967.
7. Alcoholics Anonymous
(Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. New York: 2001
rev. ed), pp. 58-60.
8. As quoted by Lucien
Goldmann, The Hidden God (New York: Humanities
Press, 1964), p. 188.
9. As quoted by Morton
and Lucia White, The Intellectual Versus the City (New
York: Mentor, 1964), p. 188.
10. Ernest Becker,
The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press,
1973), p. 58.
11. Cf. Lynd,
pp. 94-96, 145-147.
12. On alcoholism
as a metaphor for the human condition, cf. Ernest
Kurtz, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous
(Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1991 rev. ed.), pp. 200-202.
Wilson (New York) to Howard Clinebell, 15 November 1960;
to Patricia N., 7 January 1963; to Bob C., 23 June 1964.
14. The original wording
of A.A.'s Seventh Step may be found in the "Pre-Publication
(Multilith) Copy of the Big Book(1939)": Alcoholic's
[sic] Anonymous (Newark, NJ: Works Publishing, 1939),
p. 26; this version and adaptations of it are now (2007)
plentifully available on the internet.
15. For the story
of A.A.'s discovery and adoption of "The Serenity Prayer,"
cf. Alcoholics Anonymous /comes of Age (New York:
A.A. World Services, Inc., 1957), p. 196; As Bill Sees
It (New York: A.A. World Services, Inc., 1967), p.
16. Cf. Helen
Block Lewis, Shame and Guilt in Neurosis (New York:
International Universities Press, 1971), pp. 81, 84.
17. On "the disease-concept
of alcoholism," cf E. M. Jellinek, The Disease
Concept of Alcoholism (New Haven: College and University
Press, 1960; Mark Keller, "The Disease Concept of Alcoholism
Revisited," Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 37:
1674-1717 (1976) Cf. also Ernest Kurtz, Not-God:
A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN:
Hazelden, 1991 rev ed.) pp 22-23 on A.A.'s use of the term
malady and Part Two on the "disease-metaphor of
18. Cf, Lynd,
On Shame, pp. 40, 64, 235.
Anonymous, p. 62.
20. H.J. Almond, "Moral
Re-Armament: The Oxford Group," unpublished Master's thesis,
Yale University, 1947, p.12. [A copy of this thesis, with
no further identification, was made available to me by a
member of Moral Re-Armament during my own dissertation research
that became the book, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics
21. Twelve Steps
and Twelve Traditions (New York: A.A World Services,
Inc, 1978), pp. 57, 62; note that this is according to the
"Sixteenth Printing, February 1978"; the pagination of this
book differs in different printings; earlier than 1978,
for example, these quotations appeared on pp. 59 and 63.
22. On the root of
shame, cf. Joseph T. Shipley, The
Origins of English Words (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins,
1984), p. 363; also Lynd, On Shame, pp. 27-32;
the excerpt from Maugham appears on pp. 29-30.
23. For a deeper exploration
of this idea, cf. David G. Edwards, "Shame and
Pain and 'Shut up or I'll Really Give You Something to Cry
About,'" Clinical Social Work Journal 4: 3-13 (1976);
for the quotations in the next paragraph, 7-12.
24. Harry M. Tiebout,
"The Act of Surrender in the Therapeutic Process," Quarterly
Journal of Studies on Alcohol 10: 48-58 (1959); "Surrender
Versus Compliance in Therapy," QJSA 14: 58-68 (1963).
25. Stanton Peele
(with Archie Brodsky), Love and Addiction (New
York: Taplinger, 1975), p. 232.
26. Francis T. Chambers,
Jr., "Analysis and Comparison of Three Treatment Measures
for Alcoholism: Antabuse, the Alcoholics Anonymous Approach,
and Psychotheraphy," British Journal of Addiction
50: 29-41 (1951).
27. William Glasser,
The Identity Society (New York: Harper and
Row Perennial, 1976), p. 58.
28. I am aware of
Heisenberg and the insights others have brought especially
to the world of sub-atomic physics, also of the various
vagaries of post-modern imaginings; but as stated here,
the point is valid for ordinary people dealing with ordinary
realities in ordinary daily life.
29. Lynd, On Shame,
Anonymous [1976, 3rd ed.], p. 185.
31. R. D. Laing, Self
and Others (Baltimore: Pelican, 1971), pp.84-85.
32. Laing, Self
and Others, p. 138.
33. Laing, Self
and Others, p. 136.
34. Andras Angyal,
quoted by Milton Mayeroff, On Caring (New
York: Harper and Row Perennial, 1971), frontispiece.
35. Laing, Self
and Others, p. 143.
36. R. D. Laing,
The Divided Self (Baltimore:
Penguin, 1965), p. 18.
37. Leslie H. Farber,
Lying, Despair, Jealousy, Envy, Sex, Suicide, Drugs
and the Good Life (New York: Basic Books, 1976), pp.
38. A brief summary
of this point may be found in Willard Gaylin, "In the Beginning,"
in Gaylin et al, Doing Good: The Limits of Benevolence
(New York: Pantheon, 1978), pp. 12 ff. Readers will also
find helpful on this and related topics Philip Cushman,
Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A Cultural
History of Psychotherapy (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1995).
39. This line of thought
is best summarized in Harry Guntrip, Psychoanalytic
Theory, Therapy, and the Self (New York: Basic
Books, 19731), cf. especially, and for he quotations
here, pp. 115, 118, 126, 190.
40. The dangers inherent
in the alcoholic's craving for inappropriate dependence
were a constant theme of A.A. co-founder Bill W.; cf.
Kurtz, Not-God, pp. 210 ff. and the sources cited
41. Wilson (New York)
to May M., 24 August 1964.
42. Wilson (New York)
to John G., 9 October 1967.
43. [William G. Wilson],
"The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous," in Alcohol,
Science and Society (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1945), p. 472.
44. [Wilson], "Who
is a Member of Alcoholics Anonymous -- by Bill," The
A.A. Grapevine 3:3 (August 1946), 3.
45. Gegen grosse
Vorzuge eines andern gibt es kein rettungsmittel als die
Leibe: Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Gedenkausgabe Der
Werke, Briefe Und Gesprache (Zurich: Ernst Beutler,
1949), p. 176; a translation may be found in Johann Wolfgang
Goethe, Elective Affinities; tr. Elizabeth Mayer
and Louise Bogan (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1963), p. 191.
46. Peele, Love
and Addiction, pp. 111, 67.
Copyright 2007 by Ernest Kurtz. From the Hindsfoot Foundation
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