The Shame Ethic in Adolescent Psychotherapy
John E. Meeks
Affiliation: Foundation Schools, 6000 Executive Boulevard, 605, Rockville, MD 20852, USA.
The shame-ethic, which emphasizes courage, disregard of personal safety and maintenance of ones social image, probably goes back to early human history. It tends to arise in social systems that view themselves as under attack and that lean toward combative, aggressive or even militaristic solutions. Cultures operating with this ethic place great importance on appearing strong and invincible; losing face and being shamed are to be avoided at all costs. In our era, the “Code of the Streets” is a modern version of this ethic, to which many inner city teenagers subscribe. This code values self-protection, self-aggrandizement, and the capacity to dominate others. It is fragile and must be continually maintained by actions that demean and victimize others. The behavior that characterizes many adolescents who come into treatment settings can be understood in terms of the shame ethnic. Treatment approaches for these young people need to take this dynamic into account and frame interventions in ways that support self esteem while suggesting pro-social behavioral alternatives. This article discusses ways that therapists can be effective with adolescents who subscribe to the shame ethic.
Keywords: Adolescents, psychotherapy, delinquency, shame, the code of the streets, ethic of Sparta, ethic of Athens, Code of the Street, self-aggrandizement, progressivism, permissiveness, social fabric, militaristic solutions, catastrophic defenses, intimidation
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