Toward authentic self-esteem

The Origins of Shame

One of the great fallacies that many scientists have is that everything that is before birth is genetic and that everything that is after birth is learned. This is not the case. Read More


This has some of the most profound implications, both on an individual and on a societal level. This knowledge needs to be shared with every new and expectant parent, because the stakes are so high. Often, parents are still being given information that is incongruent with this research by their physicians, family, and friends. New parents are especially vulnerable to misinformation because they are naturally looking to authority figures for wisdom as they navigate early parenting. One of my favorite sites for parenting styles that support optimal emotional and neurological development is It has given me a lot of confidence in my decisions and parenting style, which is very much in line with this research. Thanks for the great blog!


And thanks for sharing that link. It's a valuable resource.

"Either your caretakers are

"Either your caretakers are emotionally attuned to you and you develop (neurologically) the capacity to empathize with other people; or those caretakers let you down and as a result, your constant struggle for a sense of your own worth and importance powerfully limits your ability to empathize with other people."

This is so true. This stuff gets passed down across generations.


Sad, but true. If I'm in a more pessimistic mood, it also seems to me that it gets worse over the generations. At least, it seems to be that way in my extended family. But there's also hope. People do grow, even without therapy, and some amazing people emerge from incredibly bleak childhoods.

Unpopular but Honest

When the double-bind theory was dismissed from treatment for schizophrenia other voices chimed in that mothers were tired of being blamed. The fact remains, however, that parenting and development begin at inception and a child who is unwanted and unloved will suffer the consequences.
It is a fine line in targeting mothers, as opposed to mothers and fathers, especially now when both parents are working out of the home (whether those parents are hetero or homosexual couples), or single parents, whether they've elected to be a single parent or not.
What can civilized, egalitarian parenting look like? Are we destined to always be animals?...reproducing for the sake of instinct? fear of death? social acceptance? altuistic love?
I continue to wonder why...why my neighbors bought a dog who spends 8 hours a day on the porch barking and alone...why young couples give birth to offspring and then spend upwards of $500 a week on infant daycare...


That will make you crazy...

Unpopular but Honest

I think I will have that written on my tombstone:

He was unpopular but honest.

I fear that is my lot in life, but I can live with it.

I have read many of your

I have read many of your articles on the afterpsychotherapy website and they have been very informative and important for me to read. I understand the concept of basic shame. Understanding the origins of basic shame are important. There is a feeling of heaviness that I experienced as a child and teenager and now working through as a young adult of feeling less then and unworthy.... the feeling lingers like a tightness in the chest... I think this is basic shame. Sometimes the feeling passes like a wave while interacting with others. I want to say that I want to continue carrying hope that the affects from childhood (first 2 years) are not permanent and not view the interactions as having permanent damage. I would say defining "damage" is tricky. I remember reading a popular book on neuroplasticity and the author wrote how other parts of the brain take over and perform a missing function (in the adult brain). Maybe a similar process occurs as a person goes through long-term psychotherapy while interacting with the therapist...connections form and neurons already present take on new functions (functions of neurons that should have been saved and not lost during the first two years). I think there has to be room for hope to see how each individual finds ways to heal the basic shame. I want to see what happens as I go through long-term psychotherapy. There is an assumption that the lack of neurons and connections between them (the lost neurons from the first two years) lead to basic shame. Maybe the connections formed from the neurons that were left that lead to the basic shame response during the first two years are difficult to access and alter. Just as I have difficulty remembering my childhood because of the pain and shame, having had a traumatic experience(s) because of being emotionally overwhelmed. I am slowly remembering as I begin to feel my emotions. Maybe the experience was so traumatic for a a newborn that the mind prevents itself from accessing those feelings/responses because there is a buried belief that the mind can not handle this response (even though now it can as an adult). If there is a way to access the response/memories from the first two years...then the feelings can be integrated like a traumatic event. Maybe the mind of the newborn buries that experience so deeply that the feeling of shame/unworthiness from those first few years washes over as a response throughout ones life (there is difficulty integrating that unspoken experience from the first two years...I wonder what kind of an experience it is). Can this be called damage, though? I want to stay open to other explanations. I think I understand what you are saying though...maybe that feeling of basic shame lingers throughout ones life (is this what you are saying, by the way?). I think learning what one should have received takes hard work and doesn't come as easily. Healing from a lack of attunement and nurturing feels like slowly stepping out of a bubble you were in which you saw as the whole world. Projecting everything outward felt unbelievable lonely when I was a child and teenager. I have read articles about narcissism on psychologytoday where narcissism was equated with narcissus and how he fell in love with his own reflection, where narcissism is defined as exaggerated self-love. I do not think narcissus fell in love with his own reflection, I think he could not move from the position of seeing the world as his own reflection and wasted away in that position (staring at himself in the pool of water). Seeing the world as a reflection of oneself hides profound pain and shame.

Healing Shame

I sometimes sound more pessimistic than I feel. I do believe in healing, but it's like any kind of healing where there has been a deep wound -- there is scar tissue. Sometimes the scar tissue is so extensive that it will limit functioning in certain ways BUT that doesn't mean enormous growth isn't possible. What I try to do in my writing is to counter the sentimental false belief that you can make everything as if that awful childhood never happened. You can't, but you can still grow in ways that are deeply meaningful and fulfilling and that lead to genuine self-esteem. That's the subject of the current book I'm writing.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree about Narcissus -- it has nothing to do with self-love.

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Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist, Psychoanalyst and Author of the Popular Blog "After Psychotherapy."


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