[Chapter 3 of Illusion and Reality]
Shyness and the Self as Object

It is almost impossible, in our culture, not to be self-conscious — that is, aware of oneself as being under the gaze of others, of being evaluated by them and vulnerable to rejection by them. We do not define ourselves as people, but are defined by those with whom we come into contact, and it is our awareness of their opinion of us which furnishes our consciousness of self.

Very early on — most probably from our parents — we start to get an idea of ourselves as being this, that or the other 'kind' of person, we discover (so it seems) that we have 'selves' which are describable in certain more or less definite terms. We cannot, as things are, escape the definitions which are imposed upon us, nor find a way to make ourselves immune to the ever-present threat of having a negative, rejecting judgment passed upon us. The person who professes not to care what others think of him, but rather to rest content in his confidence in his own worth, is simply deceiving himself: as long as one claims to be anything, the claim must in the final analysis depend on the endorsement of others if it is to be valid.

The processes whereby we, as it were, negotiate what kind of objectification will eventually be imposed upon us are, however, extremely complex and subtle, and, because they are not in themselves objective, are largely opaque to our inspection: if challenged, we would probably deny that we were engaged in such processes at all. Yet it is obvious from even the most everyday interactions between people that everyone has very sophisticated ways of coping with others, ways which imply some kind of awareness (even if it would be impossible to put it into words) of the difficulties and dangers to self-esteem involved in our relations with each other. Even a simple greeting between neighbours, or a chance conversation in a bus queue, can convey enormous amounts of information about what each participant thinks of the other, and about how they would like to be thought of. The skill and subtlety which people display in relating to each other even in such unimportant encounters as these suggests that everyone is a psychologist, both in the sense of having a highly developed practical ability to deal with other people and in the sense of having an implicit theory about the reasons people conduct themselves as they do: even if we cannot say how we do it, we show by and large great ingenuity in negotiating the relational dangers of everyday life. In order successfully to carry out these interpersonal operations, so to speak, we must rely on the most subtle and fleeting of 'cues', placing our bets on the kind of 'subjective' evidence which no self-respecting professional psychologist would touch with a barge pole. Indeed, it is almost impossible to say how one reaches the intuitions one does about other people - how, for example, one knows the difference between a true and a fake smile, catches the flash of anxiety in somebody's eye, becomes aware of a current of sexual interest between two total strangers who have only just met.

This kind of sensitivity, infinitely finer and more accurate than any of the crudely obvious insights offered by the 'body language' analysts, is, I believe, present in just about everybody, though people vary greatly in the extent to which they are willing to place their trust in it. It gives us access to a world we all share, just as our physical senses (because, presumably, of the similarity in physical structure between our bodies) give us access to a natural world about which we have built up a huge and complex (scientific) shared understanding. This is a theme which will be developed in greater detail towards the end of this book.

The world to which our intuitive sensitivity gives us access is the intricate and finely balanced subjective world in which we conduct our relations with each other, register and react to the impressions we give and receive, administer and respond to offers of love or threats of annihilation. Because of the enormous delicacy involved in our dealings with each other in these respects, and because of the extreme dangers inherent in them, we do not normally comment upon what we are up to: language, it seems, is far too crude to be allowed, as it were, to clothe our transactions in the coarse obviousness of words. Words objectify and make concrete what we seem to prefer to keep as a screened, fluid sensitivity which does not have to answer for its insights and actions, keep to its promises, or meet the crass demands of logical analysis. And yet we rely on this unexamined and mercurial faculty to tell us the truth about what is going on between us far more than on the verbal accounts we give each other and ourselves as 'explanations' and excuses. Indeed, were we to rely on our explicit psychological theories - whether lay or professional - for the conduct of our social life, we should find it virtually impossible to maintain any semblance of order or predictability in our dealings with each other, and would spend much of the time laboriously trying to work out what was happening with the aid of a totally inadequate vocabulary.

The psychotherapist, certainly, would get nowhere without a heavy reliance on the accuracy of his or her intuitive understanding of patients, since very often what patients are prepared to say about themselves is very far indeed from being the case. And it is only because the therapist knows (trusts) that the patient shares the categories of understanding yielded by intuition that he or she is able to appeal to the patient's good faith (i.e. abandonment in the safety of the therapeutic relationship of the possibilities for deception offered by language) so that the truth may be acknowledged.

There is nothing special in these respects about psychotherapists and their patients. The immediate knowledge of interpersonal 'truth' afforded by intuitive sensitivity and the possibilities for obscuring it inherent in language are universal phenomena.

It is not that the heavy hand of'scientific psychology' has not attempted to grasp this faculty and render it amenable to objective inspection. Through ponderous analyses of eye-contact, gesture, facial expression and other 'objective', 'behavioural' indices, psychologists have hoped to be able to make 'predictable' and 'controllable' the last vestiges of our subjectivity. But even in so far as this project appears to succeed (so that, for example, salesmen, 'communicators' and the socially withdrawn may be able to be trained in the secrets of 'body language') it simply renders even more recondite and invisible the springs of our subjectivity as we learn that we can no longer trust the 'behavioural cues' which formerly gave us a glimpse of our intentions. It is, therefore, a mistake to suppose that the hidden 'I' which enacts our conduct can ever be made available to objective analysis or 'scientific' description, and the attempt so to make it only widens further the arena in which we can deceive ourselves and each other.

In terms of the considerations raised in earlier chapters, intuitive sensitivity is the faculty whereby we cope with the 'real' world of dangerous and threatening relationships, and language the faculty which mediates the mythical, 'objective' world which we would all much prefer to believe in. Depending on the heaviness of a person's stake in the mythical world, it is entirely possible for him or her to disclaim any trust in or respect for the knowledge which intuitive sensitivity makes available – to disconfirm it, that is, in either the self, or others, or both.

Both as a society and as individuals, it seems to me, our insistence on preserving our myths at all costs and defending ourselves from the painful realities of our social lives and their inherent threat of annihilation, means that we have become increasingly concerned to deny the evidence, if not of our own senses (though, perhaps, that is what it comes down to), then at least of our own sensitivity. (The very fact that I am driven to use such a clumsily unsatisfactory term as 'intuitive sensitivity' shows how impoverished is our conceptual apparatus for the understanding of this faculty.) Most people simply deny what at another level they know to be the case, or suffer agonies of indecision over whether to trust their experience or not. Interestingly, there is a minority of people who seem to find it impossible not to trust the experience which their intuitive sensitivity gives them, even though they would much rather abandon it: they would rather not have the pain of knowing the truth, but cannot seem to find the secret of escape from it which others have so easily developed.

A patient asked me recently whether I thought his wife really did love him. How can one answer such a question? However complete the behavioural catalogue one could build up on what she did and did not do for him, one could never be certain that his description was accurate or that she was not simply a good dissembler. His question, in fact, was asked out of utter despair, indicating really that he could no longer trust himself to judge his own experience: nobody can know (in the sense of objective certainty) what he wanted me to tell him, they can only trust what they sense - there is no other court of appeal in the final analysis. It is of course the false promise of objectivity to give us "proofs' of our world which rest on an authority (for example that of 'Science') more trustworthy than our own frail powers of perception and reason; indeed, objectivity warns us with all the solemnity which can be mustered by its collective institutions of the dire perils we run if we are so foolhardy as to trust our own judgment. Small wonder, then, that in the case of my patient (who was in fact struggling with the dawning awareness that his wife did not really love him) reliance on his own experience seemed an impossibly risky undertaking, so that he sought the 'objectivity' of my view. He might as reasonably have asked me if the desk between us was really there (indeed, more reasonably, since at least the desk, unlike his wife, formed part of my experience as well as his). There are occasions, beloved of philosophers, when it might make sense to check with another whether one's experience (even of so well-established an object as a desk) is shared, but even this is no objective guarantee of its validity - that judg¬ment remains ultimately and irrevocably personal and subjective.

This is not to say that intuitive sensitivity is infallible - perhaps in part because of the degree to which it has been spurned and ignored in our culture and consequently is as a faculty poorly understood and weakly developed from a conceptual standpoint, it is quite easily put in the service of self-deception. Even so, it is, in the last resort, all we have to go on.

The main escape route offered by our culture from the uncertainties which our sensitivity reveals to us is, then, via objectivity. The more we can turn ourselves into objects (preferably machines) the less attention we need pay to the painful subtleties of our interaction with each other, and the more we can abandon our own experience in favour of a set of socially deter¬mined myths which clearly delineate our place in the world and the ways in which we may relate to each other.

Our, as it were, 'official' psychology tells us that we consist of 'selves' which are in turn collections of more or less fixed definable attributes, describable in terms of their relative value along a number of identifiable dimensions. One of psychology's central concerns is thus to establish what characteristics people 'have' (i.e., possess as fixed qualities) and to 'measure' their relative strength or weakness. In this way, it is felt, psychology can be 'scientific', that is, can describe features of human 'personality' and endow them with dimensions which can be measured as if they were objects in physical space. By taking this approach, it is hoped that psychology - in this instance the psychology of personality - might achieve the same sort of success as that achieved by the natural sciences like physics and chemistry in the mastery of inanimate matter, but in this case in the mastery (in particular the 'prediction and control') of human 'behaviour'. Because, so the reasoning goes, natural science is among other things 'objective', and relies heavily on numerical measurement, so psychology must adopt the same standards if it is to gain scientific respectability.

Both science as a whole, and psychology in particular, are of course integral parts of our culture, and as such it is important to remember that they meet the needs we feel and tackle the tasks we set them. However much some of them might like to be, and however much they are seen as such by many people, scientists and psychologists are not creators of our culture, discoverers of ultimate truths which then shape our view of the world, but rather interpreters and refiners of our most fundamental concepts and understandings (and myths). Thus 'official' psychology's most heavy investment seems to be in the kind of 'objectification' of human beings which I argue leads often to the exacerbation of some kinds of psychological distress, but does strengthen defences against the recognition of our real and fundamental vulnerability. The psychologist, with his tests and techniques (often grandiosely called 'measuring instruments'), his power to label and categorize, becomes the very personification of the cold gaze of the Other. For the psychologist the mysteries of human nature have in principle been solved, the general scheme of things is established, and it becomes only a question of how to fit the individual most accurately into his or her allotted slot; no longer is there any need to face the agonizing uncertainties which arise out of human beings' relations with each other as they struggle to evolve a social order and a satisfactory conception of human nature (it is precisely this evolutionary nature of psychological phenomena, which by definition can have no final end point, which psychology fails to take account of).

The ways in which we bring about our own objectification are thrown into sharp relief through an examination of the psychological test catalogue of Britain's leading publisher of psychological 'measuring instruments'. Such tests are developed by psychologists, commercially published, and made available for purchase only to suitably qualified 'experts' - clearly, if people are to be restricted to their role as objects they must not be allowed to have access to the means whereby their dimensions can be measured; this is an interesting, if tacit, admission by psychologists that the objects of their study are not really objects at all, for if they were there would be little danger of their tampering with their own dimensions in such a way as to make their measurement inaccurate, and consequently little need to keep the means of measurement a closely guarded secret from them. There are in the catalogue many tests which focus on intelligence and other cognitive 'skills' related to memory, perceptual ability, and so on. These 'skills' are thus 'scientifically' established as possessed by people in finite, measurable amounts, and people may be ordered and categorized relative to each other according to the degree to which they possess them. This obviously has very practical consequences in terms of assigning people to particular strata in educational and vocational settings, much as physical objects could be sorted and graded according, for example, to their size and weight. Should people possess qualities which are not stably measurable in the way insisted upon by psychologists, or which are of no interest to, or have simply been overlooked by them, these will of course remain unappreciated and untapped. As well as intelligence and cognitive 'skills', there are many 'dimensions' of 'personality' which have become the focus of psychological testing. A cursory glance at the catalogue shows that you may, for example, be categorized according to the degree to which you are: submissive, hostile, emotional, masculine/feminine, self-sufficient, introverted/extraverted, sociable, anxious, aggres¬sive, creative, controlling, affectionate, cooperative, stable, competitive, confident, mature, healthy, conforming, conscientious, neurotic, independent, depressed, evasive, exuberant, realistic, conservative. To name but a few.

But what possible sense can it make to endow a person with, for example, the characteristic 'affectionate"? People are not affectionate, though their conduct might be. Of a person one would have to ask when is he or she affectionate? With whom? In what circumstances? Under what conditions? Where? In what respects? And the same is true of pretty well all the attributes by means of which this approach attempts to objectify people. Hidden behind this approach is the production-line mentality of our culture, the unquestioned assumption that human beings are to be packaged and graded and valued in the same way as the other, inanimate goods which we learn to covet. Very prominently, the competitiveness of our social organization is evident as a shaping influence on the ways in which we characterize ourselves - what you are is scarcely conceivable except in terms of how you compare with others. There is virtually no room here for the subjectivity of the person, although, of course, our subjectivity is at work behind the scenes in constructing this kind of picture of our world, and in this example is, as it were, temporarily invested in the psycho¬logists whom we appoint to choose for us how we shall be described as objects.

It is no accident that a central concern of social psychology is with 'self-presentation' and 'impression management'. Social psychologists recognize, accurately enough, that you are what you manage to persuade
others to take you as: you cannot validly claim to be something which the 'significant others' around you repudiate. What one is thus becomes a matter of social transaction, and this in turn inevitably breeds a technol¬ogy of manipulation and deceit in which the plausibility of the front you manage to present becomes all-important. This brand of social psychology reports faithfully enough on the way things are, and does its best (through 'social skills training', etc.) to make life easier for some of those who have difficulty in coming to terms with some of the more brutal aspects of social existence. What it does not concern itself with is the philosophical and moral validity of this view of 'being' - above all it does not question (as, for example, has been done in existentialist philosophy) whether it is in itself legitimate to see human beings as "being" anything. As long as we take for granted an objectifying culture and its materialistic and mechanistic principles, we quite naturally arrive at a 'reality' in which the essence of human relations lies in manipulation, exploitation, deception and competition. If, however, we took account of our subjectivity (which remains submerged and inarticulate in an objectifying culture) we might have to recognize that, though a person may do things in ways which can be described as having this or that effect or value, he or she cannot reasonably be described as 'being' anything in particular. In other words, it may not in fact make much sense to talk about people as having 'selves' — in the sense of objectively determinable or describable collections of characteristics - at all. This is not to say that people may not conduct themselves in relatively consistent ways which may be anticipated with some confidence across different times and places, but, understandable though it may be, to slip from this way of seeing their activity to describing them as such-and-such a kind of person is to rob them of their subjectivity and to deny them the possibility of self-initiated change.

A society in which what really counts more than anything else is what kind of an object one is, is almost inevitably going to end up paying particular attention to people as bodies. After all, objectivity values above all measurable physical dimen¬sions, and even if we feel some slight discomfort about the plausibility of measuring 'personality', one thing that a peson's body definitely does lend itself to is weighing and measuring; the body has the advantage of actually being an object in the physical world. Small wonder, then, that our culture is obsessed with physical appearance, and that some of the most acute and painful vulnerabilities that people experience are in connexion with their shape or size.

In recent years, of course, the feminist movement in particular has drawn angry attention to the ways in which women are exploited and abused as physical objects, and it is probably true that more women than men suffer tortures of shame and embarrassment, guilt and self-disgust over their bodies. Massive industries both fuel and feed on this sensitivity. Beauty is a possession which can be owned, or (more particularly) a commodity which can be bought. But it is not only women who suffer in this way, although they are more likely to feel unhappy about their bodies as a whole (that they are simply 'horrible' or 'disgusting' in toto); men frequently feel shame about particular parts of their body (noses, hair, genitals, hands, feet, etc.) or about their height (too short, too tall).

However much you may hide your ignoble thoughts or dissemble your baser feelings, your body can be instantly transfixed by the gaze of the Other, may become an all-enveloping emblem of shame from which there is no escape - or almost none. There is no chance of hiding your bulging stomach from your lover's eyes, and you await his judgment as a prisoner awaits the sentence from the bench. No judgment can be more cruel, no sentence harder to bear, than one about which the person can do nothing - even the prisoner can expiate his crime.

Phyllis's husband — considered in most respects a kind, conscientious man — told her in a fit of spleen occasioned by her sexual unresponsiveness that he sometimes wished she looked like the girls on the Pirelli calendar at work - their breasts didn't look like fried eggs.

Women - possibly because they are less enthusiastic objectifiers than men - seem less unthinkingly cruel in what they say to men, and, paradoxically perhaps (or simply because they are more used to it), seem quite often to receive such insults more stoically than most men would do.

Geraldine talks quite cheerfully about her husband's opinion that her 'arse is like a jelly in a paper bag", and with only a flicker of pain in her eyes. She is in fact obsessed with her physical appearance, and has consulted cosmetic surgeons on more than one occasion, but sees this as her personal concern and is unaware of the potential judgment of the Other on which it rests.

Not only may one be objectified by others into a particular bodily form, but as a paid-up member of the objectifying culture, may oneself use one's body as the objective peg onto which to hang a host of psychological difficulties: there are for example many women who would in any case by most current standards be accepted as looking unusually attractive but who themselves insist that their bodies are in some way substandard or 'horrible'. It is as if this, at least, would be a tangible difficulty, somehow easier to contemplate than the psychological complexities which in truth lie behind their anxiety. Even more paradoxically, unacceptable physical appearance may become a kind of protective shield behind which a person can shelter from the risk of engagement with the world. For example, obese people who try but fail to slim may sometimes be using what they see as their ugliness as an excuse for a dreaded lack of success in life or love: they can tell themselves that they are unsuccessful because they are fat, not because they are inept or unlovable, but to become slim in actuality would expose them to the risk of real failure. Thus although being, as it were, trapped in a body which does not come up to scratch in the eyes of the Other can be one of the most painful humiliations our culture can inflict on people, the defensive aims of objectivity may still be served, even to these people's advantage, by enabling them to use their physical shame to evade responsibility for what they do.

In the absence of a socially accepted and agreed sphere for the operation of subjectivity (which might render physical appearance irrelevant to issues of personal worth), people who find themselves trapped in negatively valued, objectified bodies have three main options. The first is simply to suffer the im¬posed labelling - ugliness, skinniness, fatness, etc. - possibly turning it to advantage in the way outlined in the previous paragraph. Such a stance is almost bound to be associated with enormous insecurity and rock-bottom self-esteem. The second is to make use of those services in our society which offer to put the problem right in its own terms, for example through bodybuilding, cosmetic surgery, slimming courses, make-up, and so on. This course is by no means always easy, quite apart from the lack of reliability of many of the procedures involved, as it may conflict with other psychological needs: for example, obesity is often the result of comforting one's basic insecurity through eating, and in this case it becomes very difficult to slim and at the same time lose thereby the solace of food, so that insecurity, anxiety, shame and guilt (at periodically giving way to greed) all become compounded in one unhappy existence (in which, for example, binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting may play a prominent part, as may a kind of pervasive guilty secrecy and deceitfulness which extends into areas of life apparently quite unconnected with food).

Because of her parents' - particularly her father's - brutality towards her, June was taken into care at the age of seven. At sixteen, she is a sweetly pretty, somewhat overweight girl who goes out of her way to charm those she meets with a kind of gentle pliability (towards women) and a mild sexual inviting-ness (towards men). And yet her inarticulate conception of her¬self is as rotten through and through. She overeats secretly and makes herself vomit, and the staff of the home she lives in have periodically to clear her room of hidden, half-eaten tins of put¬refying food. She hoards dirty underwear in corners of cupboards and drawers until it becomes almost rancid, and she lies systematically about any aspect of her conduct (which in fact involves nearly all of it) which she thinks could put her in a bad light. Despite sometimes desperate efforts to make people love her, she is convinced that nobody could, so that sooner or later she rejects people who have grown fond of her before they get the chance to reject her. There is little in her life other than pain, veiled self-indulgence, secrecy, deceit and guilt. Her body she regards with loathing.

Because their anxieties stem often from an unhappy but unexamined subjectivity, people who seek or permit the physical modification of their body through surgery (sometimes pursuing this aim with tremendous single-mindedness) may find once their efforts have been successful that the alteration to their objectified self leaves them no better off than before.

The third course open to those who find themselves imprisoned in a body they have come to hate is to demonstrate their indifference to it by attempting to overcome matter with spirit. In some ways this comes close to acknowledging the importance of subjectivity, but nevertheless still makes the mistake of overvaluing the body as an objectified symbol of self: the triumph consists not in acting upon the world through the body as an instrument of will, but in destroying or subjugating the body as a means of proving independence from it.

After a miserable childhood, a disastrous marriage and a series of unhappy love affairs, Grace, who used to be a lively, attractive woman, and in many ways the social focus of her family and a wide circle of friends, suddenly became extremely 'phobic' (afraid under almost any circumstances to leave her home), withdrawn, and reticent about her feelings. It became a matter of honour with her not to disclose her unhappiness to anyone - even to her children to whom she was otherwise very close. She also found herself unable to eat proper cooked meals, and for years lived off tea and biscuits and the occasional sandwich. Naturally, she lost a great deal of weight, and be¬came, physically, a shadow of her former self. To her great distress, she also found that at times, especially following some kind of emotional friction with someone important to her, she would experience a compulsion to lacerate her body (usually parts of her limbs not exposed to public view) with a piece of broken glass which she kept especially for this purpose. She began to accept only after a long time in psychotherapy that her experiences and activities — which before she had found frightening and alien - could be made sense of as an attempt to establish the independence of her spirit and her will from bodily needs and the need for affection from others. It is of course by no means certain that this is a correct interpretation, but it certainly helped, for both Grace and her therapist, to clarify an otherwise extremely puzzling set of circumstances.

There are many people who display a kind of self-denying asceticism towards their bodily needs, as if any self-indulgence would swamp them with a kind of obliterating objectivity from which there would be no escape: they are aware that the objectified body is a trap, and yet are trapped in their very hostility towards it, cut off from any way of conceptualizing their subjectivity other than as a battle against the flesh, and quite unable to enjoy themselves. Several psychologists and psychiatrists have suggested that this kind of fundamental attitude may be what lies behind the puzzling phenomenon named officially 'anorexia nervosa'. Perhaps one of the most illuminating accounts of this condition is, however, not that of an 'expert', but has been written by someone who herself suffered very acutely from it.*

The fact that (particularly female) beauty is regarded as a possession in our culture, means that those who do not meet the quite narrow standards established for it, or 'lose' it through the normal processes of ageing, etc., experience a great deal of shame and pain which might be avoided if (as I shall argue in a later chapter could usefully be encouraged) its fundamentally subjective character were more widely acknowledged. It may, in other words, be much more the case that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, a phenomenon of personal relationship, rather than an attribute to be measured by the impersonal gaze of the Other.

The insistence of our culture on turning people into objectified selves, collections of measurable characteristics centred in bodies valued almost solely for their appearance, means that some form of self-consciousness is virtually inescapable. A child may just manage to exist for a few years in an unself-conscious absorption with a world to which it relates through its more or less unreflecting activity, but it cannot survive for long without becoming aware of the importance of others' opinions of it as an object, and so it must learn to dissemble its feelings, attend to its appearance, conform to official standards of education and attainment, manipulate its image so that its status relative to others can be maximized. This requires a constant monitoring of how the self appears to others, an unremitting concern with 'impression management' and a developing expertise in understanding and handling the conceptual apparatus and values of objectivity - the ingestion and acceptance, that is, of the standards of our mythifying culture. 'What does the Other think of me?' becomes the single most important question which can be asked.

Success at the game of impression management entails an almost wilful overlooking of the experience of social life rendered by the kind of intuitive sensitivity discussed towards the beginning of this chapter. Although, certainly, one could not operate fluently in the world without tacitly making use of such sensitivity, it is perfectly possible explicitly to disavow or disown it. Everyone in one sense knows that the emperor is naked (just as, for example, everyone knows that possession of a Rolls Royce and a beautiful wife is totally irrelevant to an individual's personal worth) but it is expedient to deny what one sees and to profess one's faith in the prevailing values - and if you play your cards right you might end up with the Rolls Royce and the wife, and, most important of all, the admiration from the Other which goes with them. If, on the other hand, you insist on your knowledge of the emperor's nakedness, you may not find the ready assent from others which could confidently be expected only if you assume their good faith toward their own experience; in fact, their strenuous denial that they share your experience may leave you in such isolation that ultimately not only they but you yourself begin to question your sanity.

It is, I think, precisely the stance one takes towards experience rendered by intuitive sensitivity which determines the kind of self-consciousness one will develop (bearing in mind that, as things are, self-consciousness is inescapable).

Those people who are considered psychologically 'healthy' in our society are on the whole those who have a confident appreciation of themselves as satisfactory objects; they have learned, that is, successfully to manage the impression they give to others, and to extort from them a validation of how they wish to appear. They have also learned that to preserve the relative comfort offered by this mode of existence they must disregard or deny what their intuition tells them about its falsity (persuade themselves that the emperor is not really naked); they have describable 'selves' which can, in the best objective tradi¬tion, be broken down into a series of positively valued traits or attributes. The truth, of course, is that human existence is uncertain and vulnerable, complex and delicate, and human relationships shot through with pain and threat as well as joy and comfort. The evidence for this truth is available to all but the wilfully blind. The advantage of wilful blindness (of allegiance, that is, to the coarsened values of objectivity) is that it obviates the necessity for the kind of gentle, sensitive, risky, tentative, dangerous transactions required for the conduct of civilized, caring relationships; it replaces the agonizing difficulties raised by questions to do with the morality of our conduct towards one another with the simplified values of the market economy. It is thus in the interests of the socially 'successful' to treat people as things or commodities, and to disregard those aspects of their own experience which suggest that to do so is a distortion of the truth.

There are, however, also those who are unable to escape the evidence of their intuitive sensitivity, even although, often, they can well appreciate the expediency of doing so. Many people who find themselves unable to disregard the insights they gain into the motives and feelings of those around them see their sensitivity as a kind of affliction. I remember one patient who talked for a long time about her 'weakness' until I realized that what she meant was an unusually accurate sensitivity to the real feelings of the members of her family, and in particular to the petty dishonesties and tactical subterfuges to which they resorted in their dealings with each other. Her father in particular had spent most of his time during her childhood in trying to bully her out of her perceptions (even to the extent of threatening physical torture if she did not deny what she knew to be true). She felt confused and guilty about her empathetic ability to understand others, seeing herself as if cursed with the possession of a kind of original sin which made her unworthy of their company. And yet she could not abandon her sensitivity, despite the fact that most of the rest of the population seemed to find it easy to do so.

The affliction of intuitive sensitivity is experienced most often in the form of shyness - the form, that is, of self-consciousness negatively valued in our culture. Not all kinds of shyness stem from this origin, but it does seem to be the case that many of those who experience shyness to an excruciating degree are at the same time people who are very acutely aware of the emo¬tional currents passing between themselves and others. Very shy people often have a kind of raw, flinching sensitivity to others, so that they approach them like cats testing the bounds of their territory. The shy person's consciousness of self is nothing like that of the confident impression manager: the shy person is aware only of a painfully inadequate, useless, negatively valued self, or even of a complete lack of self ('I've got no personality'). In this respect, perhaps, shy people are close to the recognition of a truth which their more confident fellows have more successfully repressed, i.e. that in fact selves of the kind of which they so painfully feel the lack are mythical inventions of an objectifying culture. But they are not on the whole able to articulate this truth nor to gain any comfort from it; instead, they are to be found standing in corners, aching with a sense of their own futility and uninterestingness to others, searching despairingly and vainly for the words that will introduce them to others as worthy of attention and acknowledgment, enviously wondering at the apparent smoothness and ease with which others seem to fill out their existence as forces to be reckoned with and confidently conduct their relations with each other. At the same time, the shy person may secretly harbour a kind of arrogant contempt for the
shallowness and boringness of the easy socializer he or she so bitterly envies, finding solace in the view that when social contacts do materialize in his or her world, they have at least got real depth and significance. But the all too familiar experi¬ence is for two shy people, at a party for example, to end up together in a corner, each embarrassed at the obviousness to the others around them of their pathetically settling for safety in mutual support, each secretly disgusted that they could not appeal to someone less like themselves. It is hard to escape the objective culture, and thus not to experience shyness as a crippling affliction. Wherever he or she goes, the shy person feels positively magnified under the gaze of the Other, the inadequacies of self exposed even to the most fleeting glance and most casual encounter, and yet quite unable to abandon his or her intuitive sensitivity to social relations in order to join in the game of impression management.

Although unable successfully to manipulate their appearance as objects, and although the values implicit in their sensitivity have much more to do with subjectivity than objectivity, shy people's experience of themselves is often as almost completely objectified: only others, it seems, can act freely and control their own fate, only others can have opinions or attitudes or feelings which could make an impact on someone's life. For shy people the Other is everywhere, and it never occurs to them that they could be Other for others, that anyone could care what they thought about things. They are paralysed, others are free.

That some people seem so easily to be able to disregard their own experience in favour of an objectifying mythology while others are tormented by their inability to do anything other than take their experience seriously presents us with a mystery for which there seems to be no satisfactory explanation, particularly in view of the fact that, as I have suggested, intuitive sensitivity is often maintained despite a wish that it should not be, and in the face of constant discouragement from others that it should be. The kind of shyness which is experienced as so distressing that it drives a person to seek professional help for it seems often to stem from a particular set of circumstances (though this need by no means always be the case). The most familiar pattern is where people found themselves alone as sensitive children in relatively insensitive families, receiving no particular support from anybody for their somewhat inward (but probably psychologically quite accurate) view of things.

Never confirmed as an objective self in the same way as those around them (indeed, quite often strenuously disconfirmed as such) they end up with a strong sense of personal worthlessness but an equally strong conviction that their personal experience yields insights about people and their relations with each other which cannot be discounted. Nearly all those who complain in later life of experiencing anxiety so great that it disrupts their lives describe themselves as having been shy as children. It is thus generally felt in our culture that shyness is a negative characteristic, to be discouraged where possible in children, and treated if necessary in adults.

However, it seems to me that this is so only because of the coarsely insentitive values of objectivity to which most of us bear allegiance. Because, perhaps, of their greater awareness of the complexity, delicacy and danger inherent in our relations with each other, shy people often (though again, of course, not always) treat others more kindly and gently, more empathetically and conscientiously than their more confident fellows, and may show greater psychological honesty and perceptiveness than is possible if one is to be successful in the brashly competi¬tive world of objectivity.

Shy people are not always wrong to fear the hostility and ridicule of others, since, though painfully and against their will, they may represent a living challenge to objective values, a threat to the continued maintenance of myth. It is perhaps particularly in young male society that the shy person runs the greatest risk of teasing and humiliation, because it is precisely here that objectifying insensitivity is maintained with greatest tenacity. Broadly speaking, young men tend more than anyone else to repudiate their tenderness and vulnerability, and a shy person in their midst threatens to draw their attention to sensitivities they would rather ignore. For a shy young man there can be almost no experience more excruciating than suffering daily the hostile banter of his fellows in a workshop, office or factory, and the degree of isolation and self-doubt that can be generated in such situations, in the absence of solid confirmation or support, can be almost if not quite unhingeing.

Whether virtue or vice, social disease or (as I have tended to argue here) potential spiritual strength, shyness is certainly not comfortable, and does not make for a rewarding life. The obvious answer to this is of course to seek methods of 'treating' shyness in order either to mitigate its more painful effects or to transform it into the kind of confidence which the shy person longs for and envies so much in others. This answer is, however, only obvious if the basic values of our culture remain unquestioned. If, indeed, one were to imagine a world populated entirely by the kinds of people we tend in general to regard as most successful and 'adjusted' - for example by the kinds of 'stars' and 'personalities' whose lives are thought so worthy of our attention by gossip columnists and television producers -one might quickly find oneself longing for the presence of a little pained sensitivity and inarticulate, tongue-tying feeling in those around us, for without it we should stand in danger of being overwhelmed by the artificial and the fake. Only sensitivity to our own experience can drag us back from self-deception.

There is nothing objectively 'wrong' with shy people, it is simply that they are misplaced in a culture which cannot afford to endorse their experience. It would seem in the long run more valuable to question the standards of the culture than to attempt to change the people.

One does of course come across a fortunate, but extremely small minority of people who manage to conduct themselves sensitively and spontaneously in the world without recourse to fake objectified selves and without suffering the tortures of shyness; people, that is, who are confident in their subjectivity, guided by their own experience (their intuitive sensitivity), and yet able to relate warmly and openly to others without feeling threatened and without having to take refuge in some specialized creed or dogma to protect them from the Other's objectifying gaze. But the very rarity of such people must lead us to question the healthiness of our social and psychological climate in which the vast majority can survive only by succumbing to the prevailing mythifying standards or by aligning themselves with an opposition to those standards which convinces itself of its worth through adherence to, for example, freakish religious dogmas or a kind of uniform, organized anarchy (itself often orchestrated and exploited by the very forces it purports to challenge).

Most people, then, have given subjectivity up as a bad job.

The prevalence and force of objectivity creates conditions which make it very hard for people to exist as individual subjects, relatively easy for them to experience themselves and others as objects. We have dissociated ourselves from our subjectivity (which, however, we cannot totally eradicate, and which runs riot behind the scenes, creating the myths which we take as the objective standards which must rule our lives) and can therefore only experience life passively, as objects. As people, therefore, we are morally paralysed and powerless — rather than being responsible for our own conduct, we see our 'behaviour' as at the mercy of blind natural laws, the existence of which we may establish through the objective methods given us by 'science', but which we cannot conceive as being created by ourselves. Indeed, it has always been one of the more euphoric claims of those bewitched by the determinist and mechanist dogmas of 'modern science' that morality itself is defunct as a conception necessary to the understanding of man's "behaviour', and is relevant only to the blurred and murky intellectual scene which preceded the scientific enlightenment. The fallacy of such reasoning is, I should have thought, blindingly obvious (since our subjectivity is so clearly at work in the rejection of our subjectivity!) but its influence nevertheless pervades our lives at every turn.

Having the status of object, certainly, may promise (as it happens, I think, falsely) to release us from some of the terrors attendant on subjectivity - for example, from some forms of psychological pain, loneliness and responsibility, fragility and the threat of fundamental failure, the necessity for individual courage and decisiveness. Objective status also delivers, when it is working well, a certain kind of passive material comfort, an apparent freedom from effort in our daily lives and in the conduct of our relations with each other. The lot of the table tennis ball may not be an entirely happy one, but it is spared the tensions experienced by the players, the painful necessity for training and practice, the threat of humiliating defeat - at all times it is neutral with respect to the 'rules' which actually govern its behaviour (which are of course enacted by the players) and could, if endowed with a modicum of reflective consciousness, comfort itself with the thought that there is in any case nothing it could do to improve its situation. By placing ourselves in a universe in which we are subject to the interplay of laws objectively established as independent of us, we create conditions for ourselves very similar to those of the table tennis ball - batted to and fro, often painfully perhaps, but at least without having to take the responsibility for it.

This, indeed, is how many people seem to experience their lives - so used to responding passively to the force of circumstances that when called upon for some kind of stance, some kind of directing, subjective moral initiative of their own, they are left limp and confused, searching helplessly for a directive from somewhere else, for the requisite objective solution to release them from their dilemma. This is particularly evident, for example, in the sphere of child upbringing. Since we have forgotten that children are subjective, and therefore moral beings, we expect them to develop like objects manufactured in stages or, nurtured only by the provision of material necessities, like plants or vegetables which can be relied upon to produce the desired characteristics at the appropriate time. As far as giving direction to their children is concerned, many people seem to feel that this is none of their business, and can only be done by reference to the appropriate experts and authorities, since how people ought to be is, like everything else, a matter to be established and programmed objectively. Thus grown men and women will expect their children to achieve that same estate without any moral guidance or example from them - satisfactory upbringing in this sense will, it is expected, be achieved through the school, the experts, the television, material indulgence, etc., no matter what the extent of parental neglect of or indifference to their children's spiritual development, and independently of whatever kind of example of how people are (and should be) the parents themselves knowingly or unknowingly set.

It is perhaps a sign of the very times I am criticizing that I am likely to be misunderstood as suggesting here that children should be more severely disciplined and strictly trained in the conventional moralities than they are. But in using the word 'moral' I do not mean to be moralistic, but to point rather to the necessity for taking a deliberate stance (as opposed to occupying one unwittingly and accidentally) towards questions of how we should conduct ourselves with each other, of taking an interest in and being concerned with the way a person develops, recognizing and trying to meet their spiritual and emo¬tional needs, making room for them to develop their special interests and abilities, advocating those standards which seem truly in the person's best interests and have been confirmed in the parents' own experience, and so on. For the objectified individual, all such questions (and they are, of course, certainly not unproblematic!) and fraught with threat and difficulty, so that the easiest choice in bringing up children is either to oppress them or indulge them and leave the process of 'socialization' to those (mythically) better trained to deal with them. The end result, naturally enough, is a generation of hostile or bemused adolescents who have even less conception of themselves as subjective people, as moral beings, than the parents who presided so helplessly and non-committally over their development.

To stand for something, whether in child rearing or any other sphere, is of course to risk error; it is also to challenge one's status as object and to become conspicuous under the gaze of the Other, to give away one's position and to invite rejection. But it is also the only way through which social evolution can take a truly moral direction; it is the inescapable consequence of recognizing and taking seriously the fact that it is we who make the world, not 'it' or 'them'.
In the prevailing conditions it is of course quite likely that anyone who does take a stance will stand out as eccentric in some way, or will certainly feel in danger of so doing; in any case he or she is likely to find it a lonely experience.

Annette is one of those people who have been unable to abandon their own experience. She observes others with an acute intuitive sensitivity which she communicates with great warmth and humour, and her descriptions of what passes be¬tween herself and those she is close to strikes me often as highly perceptive. She can at times be movingly passionate about what she sees as valuable or suspect about the way people treat each other, and takes, for example, a deep interest in her own and others' children, so that she might find herself reflecting for hours at a time on the significance for her of a relatively fleeting (and by others unnoticed) event. Though she had a less than average education and comes from what most would consider a rather deprived background, there would clearly, were she given the chance, be few intellectual tasks beyond her. But despite all this she experiences herself as a kind of ludicrous simpleton, feeling that people regard her as a mildly contemptible oddity, impractical and unable to deal sensibly and stably with the ordinary demands of life. Partly, certainly, she is blind to the degree to which people do in fact appreciate her, but partly also she is an isolated moral force in a sea of objects who see her propensity for taking stands as mere foolhardiness.

Our culture seems to have much to offer those who opt for an objective existence: libraries and popular bookshops, for example, are full of advice on what objective rules to follow to bring about a wide range of desired end results, from becoming slim and beautiful to achieving sexual joy, phenomenal powers of memory, ability as a creative writer, successful motherhood, and so on. You simply practice the 'skills' which the experts have managed to distil from their objective knowledge of things. But there is very little on offer at the same level of availability to those who seek help in enlarging their understanding of what their own experience tells them to be the case, in elaborating and enriching the stand they feel bound to take - indeed, they might well find themselves admonished for their temerity and advised to leave any such dangerously subjective enterprise to those better qualified to understand such things. Thus whoever takes a stand does so in fear and trembling, and no doubt their risk of error is greater because of their isolation from any confirming culture which acknowledges the value of subjectivity. Moral support is in short supply.

Drained of subjectivity, we are deprived of all those potentialities which are associated with it - instead of acting we can only react, we can consume but not create, follow but not initiate, conform but not determine. Objectivity devalues and ultimately nullifies the abstract, the spiritual and the moral, replacing them with a coarse materialism which brutally asserts its own justification as simply self-evident. Nothing which is not concrete and measurable is held to exist - ideas, meanings, emotions, wishes, intentions, are dismissed as pre-behaviourist, 'mentalistic' clap-trap. Thus the person finds him or herself as a mechanism in a machine world, confused, helpless and morally paralysed because out of touch with any means of influencing that world, frightened and bewildered when personal experience suggests that the myths of objectivity do not in fact confer the blessings expected of them, but still unable to harness that semi-articulate experience to any effective form of intervention as the world becomes more and more dehumanized.

Security and passive stimulation through consumption have become our primary preoccupations. To escape the annihilating possibility of an entirely negative objectification and to enjoy the material "benefits' of a mechanized existence constitute, respectively, our greatest anxiety and our foremost aim. The operation of these concerns is clearly to be seen even in what ought otherwise to be our most delicate and tender transactions: for example, sexual love becomes in part a battle to hide and protect one's most vulnerable, tender sensitivities from the partner at the same time as extorting from him or her the maximum of physical stimulation. Not seeing that tenderness and sexuality are inextricably related, and that denial of the former leads to impoverishment of the latter, the objectified 'lover' is seized by a craving for stimulation which becomes the more desperate in proportion to the emotional anaesthesia which underlies it - an anaesthesia which is likely to be mis-identified as arising from, perhaps, a lack of 'expertise', or an unduly prudish attitude to what, it is thought, ought to be the limitless opportunities of sexual licence, in which pornography, mechanical aids, 'sex therapy' and so on all have their proper part to play. Only someone prepared to abandon his or her subjective experience in favour of an objectifying, mechanizing mythology would find him- or herself supporting this kind of sexual philosophy; the solemn reverence in which sex therapy is held by professional psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as the enormous economic success of the sex-aid and pornography 'industries', suggest that such abandonment of experience is on no small scale.

Many people who seek help for sexual 'problems' view themselves in this way - with, that is, a kind of bemused objectivity which utterly fails to place their sexuality in the context of a relationship (although 'relationship' is a word all too glibly used to characterize the unexamined situation in which two nervous or hostile strangers find themselves in bed together). Sex has become a mechanized commodity (in which failure of the sexual 'equipment' is seen precisely as mechanical breakdown), and the pursuit of sexual satisfaction a feverish campaign which, because it misperceives the nature of intimacy, is doomed to empty frustration. Sex is, indeed, our sad substitute for intimacy: the last shred of comfort which can be extracted by some of those (frequently women) most damaged and objectified by our depersonalizing culture is through their being physically arous¬ing to another.

Apart from a somewhat coldly critical concern that she should conform to conventional standards of behaviour, Margaret’s mother had been largely indifferent to her as a child, leaving the practical aspects of her upbringing to an older sister, who herself had taken on the job none too willingly. Her step¬father, on the other hand, was viciously punitive towards her, and was particularly suspicious and censorious about possible sexual misdemeanours, even before she had reached puberty. Margaret's primary conception of herself is as an obstacle, a nuisance, a bad object, there only to inconvenience the lives of others. She is shy, slightly awkward and ungainly in her movements, and has an underfed, pinched air about her. Her clothes have a distinctly second-hand look, suited more to a maiden aunt than a girl of nineteen. She has no friends of either sex. Surprisingly, in view of a rather incongruous primness and conventionality about her manner, she confesses with anguish that she considers herself morally beyond the pale, as she is virtually addicted to a disco club in town, following attendance at which she almost invariably finds herself having sex with someone on the building site which adjoins it. The boys or men are never the same, and they never take her home or ask her out. Following these episodes she always feels shame and disgust with herself, and vows never to go back. A lot of things in her experience of her past life seem to contribute to this almost compulsive pattern, but not the least important factor is that these brief, sad and in many ways degrading sexual encounters provide the only warmth in her existence: even she can stimulate someone else's body to some kind of interest in her, and be wanted for a moment. It is important to note that Margaret feels no sexual satisfaction or excitement in these 'relationships', and indeed in this respect feels positively anaesthetized.

Freud did us no great service, perhaps, in suggesting that the origin of intimacy and tenderness is to be found in sexuality, but this view still holds sway despite the arguments which have been levelled against it, forcefully and cogently, by several influential psychologists and psychiatrists since Freud's time**. Only the adult who has overlooked what it was like to be exposed to the full blast of what H.S. Sullivan called the 'lust dynamism' could mistake the child's need for an expression of tenderness as 'really' sexual, and Freud's views have always stretched the credulity of those who have paid serious attention to their own and others' experience of sexuality as it makes itself known in puberty. This is not, of course, to say that non-sexual love and tenderness do not entail their own powerful and potentially destructive forces, nor that hatred and jealousy form no part of the child's experience. The appeal of Freud's view can in part be understood in the opportunities it presents for objectifying the otherwise subjective, and in some respects abstract concept (faculty, experience) of love. Though only indirectly a concern of Freud's, the possibilities for measurement and reduction to physical properties offered by the identification of love with sex were too good to be missed, and an uncomfortably subjective phenomenon was turned into a manageably objective one. Freud thus played into the hands of a concern for objectification already rampant in our culture, the subsequent achievements of which are readily to be seen all around us. These include the belief (which of course engenders the appropriate 'behaviour') that a 'good' sex life will provide the foundation of happiness and satisfactory relationships, as well as the confused response to the discovery that this does not actually happen. In fact, sex out of the context of an intimate and loving relationship is not usually found to be particularly satisfying at all, but because of the power of the myth of the primary importance of sex, experience of this is attended most often by an increasingly desperate attempt to extort validity for the mythical proposition. In this way an anaesthetized sexuality has to be increasingly stimulated and heated up if it is to be preserved at all in its mythified role as the foundation of our psychological structure and the origin of our possibilities of relationship.

The fact that we must relate to each other as objects, the continuous presence of the Other's gaze which threatens almost literally to turn us to stone, mean that real intimacy is indeed almost impossible to achieve. Intimacy would involve an effort to explore each other's subjectivity, to listen charitably and experience empathetically, to shun labels and categories, to be alert to uniqueness, to allow the possibility of evolution in the psychological and relational spheres, to acknowledge uncertainty and creativity while trying to articulate and examine in good faith the stance we take to each other and the world. Instead, the characteristic and familiar way we relate to one another in our objectified interpersonal space is to bristle with suspicion and hostility as we seek to evade and impose our labels on each other. We listen to each other only with ears cocked critically for objective fallacies in argument, itching to anchor the struggle for meaning in some concretely measurable error. Most conversations between two people are double monologues in which each party seeks to establish for him- or herself a kind of massively impregnable solidity of 'being'. We project our safely established objective evaluations over each other, anxiously attempting to expunge every trace of ambiguity or uncertainty, only satisfied when we have pinned down and categorized each other like so many dead butterflies, suitably varnished with the viscous language we have developed to prevent the last possibility of change.

*See Sheila MacLeod, The Art of Starvation, Virago Press, 1981.
** See, for example, I.D. Suttie, The Origins of Love and Hate, Penguin Books, 1960; H.S. Sullivan, The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, Tavistock Publictions, 1953; E. Fromm, The Art of Loving, Allen & Unwin, 1957.