Shame is a negative, painful, social emotion that can be seen as resulting "...from comparison of the self's action with the self's standards...". but which may equally stem from comparison of the self's state of being with the ideal social context's standard. Thus, shame may stem from volitional action or simply self-regard; no action by the shamed being is required: simply existing is enough. Both the comparison and standards are enabled by socialization. Though usually considered an emotion, shame may also variously be considered an affect, cognition, state, or condition.
The roots of the word shame are thought to derive from an older word meaning "to cover"; as such, covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame. Nineteenth century scientist Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, described shame affect as consisting of blushing, confusion of mind, downward cast eyes, slack posture, and lowered head, and he noted observations of shame affect in human populations worldwide. He also noted the sense of warmth or heat (associated with the vasodilation of the face and skin) occurring in intense shame.
A "sense of shame" is the consciousness or awareness of shame as a state or condition. Such shame cognition may occur as a result of the experience of shame affect or, more generally, in any situation of embarrassment, dishonor, disgrace, inadequacy, humiliation, or chagrin.
A condition or state of shame may also be assigned externally, by others, regardless of one's own experience or awareness. "To shame" generally means to actively assign or communicate a state of shame to another. Behaviors designed to "uncover" or "expose" others are sometimes used for this purpose, as are utterances like "Shame!" or "Shame on you!" Finally, to "have shame" means to maintain a sense of restraint against offending others (as with modesty, humility, and deference) while to "have no shame" is to behave without such restraint (as with excessive pride or hubris).
Comparison with guilt and embarrassment
The location of the dividing line between the concepts of shame, guilt, and embarrassment is not fully standardized. According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame is a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violations of one's internal values. Thus shame arises when one's 'defects' are exposed to others, and results from the negative evaluation (whether real or imagined) of others; guilt, on the other hand, comes from one's own negative evaluation of oneself, for instance, when one acts contrary to one's values or idea of one's self. (Thus, it might be possible to feel ashamed of thought or behavior that no one actually knows about [since one fears their discovery] and conversely, to feel guilty about actions that gain the approval of others.)
Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis argued that, "The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus." Similarly, Fossum and Mason say in their book Facing Shame that "While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one's actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person."
Following this line of reasoning, Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman concludes that "Shame is an acutely self-conscious state in which the self is 'split,' imagining the self in the eyes of the other; by contrast, in guilt the self is unified."
Clinical psychologist Gershen Kaufman's view of shame is derived from that of Affect Theory, namely that shame is one of a set of instinctual, short-duration physiological reactions to stimulation. In this view, guilt is considered to be a learned behavior consisting essentially of self-directed blame or contempt, with shame occurring consequent to such behaviors making up a part of the overall experience of guilt. Here, self-blame and self-contempt mean the application, towards (a part of) one's self, of exactly the same dynamic that blaming of, and contempt for, others represents when it is applied interpersonally.
Kaufman saw that mechanisms such as blame or contempt may be used as a defending strategy against the experience of shame and that someone who has a pattern of applying them to himself may well attempt to defend against a shame experience by applying self-blame or self-contempt. This, however, can lead to an internalized, self-reinforcing sequence of shame events for which Kaufman coined the term "shame spiral". Shame can also be used as a strategy when feeling guilt, in particular when there is the hope to avoid punishment by inspiring pity.
One view of difference between shame and embarrassment says that shame does not necessarily involve public humiliation while embarrassment does; that is, one can feel shame for an act known only to oneself but in order to be embarrassed one's actions must be revealed to others. In the field of ethics (moral psychology, in particular), however, there is debate as to whether or not shame is a heteronomous emotion, i.e. whether or not shame does involve recognition on the part of the ashamed that they have been judged negatively by others.
Another view of the dividing line between shame and embarrassment holds that the difference is one of intensity. In this view embarrassment is simply a less intense experience of shame. It is adaptive and functional. Extreme or toxic shame is a much more intense experience and one that is not functional. In fact on this view toxic shame can be debilitating
Immanuel Kant and his followers held that shame is heteronomous (comes from others); Bernard Williams and others have argued that shame can be autonomous (comes from oneself). Shame may carry the connotation of a response to something that is morally wrong whereas embarrassment is the response to something that is morally neutral but socially unacceptable. Another view of shame and embarrassment says that the two emotions lie on a continuum and only differ in intensity. Simply put: A person who feels guilt is saying "I did something bad.", while someone who feels shame is saying "I am bad". There is a big difference between the two.
- Genuine shame: is associated with genuine dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation.
- False shame: is associated with false condemnation as in the double-bind form of false shaming; "he brought what we did to him upon himself". Author and TV personality John Bradshaw calls shame the "emotion that lets us know we are finite".
- Secret shame: describes the idea of being ashamed to be ashamed, so causing ashamed people to keep their shame a secret.
- Toxic shame: describes false, pathological shame, and Bradshaw states that toxic shame is induced, inside children, by all forms of child abuse. Incest and other forms of child sexual abuse can cause particularly severe toxic shame. Toxic shame often induces what is known as complex trauma in children who cannot cope with toxic shaming as it occurs and who dissociate the shame until it is possible to cope with.
- Vicarious shame: refers to the experience of shame on behalf of another person. Individuals vary in their tendency to experience vicarious shame, which is related to neuroticism and to the tendency to experience personal shame. Extremely shame-prone people might even experience vicarious shame even to an increased degree, in other words: shame on behalf of another person who is already feeling shame on behalf of a third party (or possibly on behalf of the individual proper). The Dutch term for this feeling is 'plaatsvervangende schaamte' and in the Spanish language as 'verguenza ajena'.
Consequences of shame
Gershen Kaufman summed up many of the consequences of shame in one paragraph of his book on the psychology of shame:
...shame is important because no other affect is more disturbing to the self, none more central for the sense of identity. In the context of normal development, shame is the source of low self-esteem, diminished self image, poor self concept, and deficient body-image. Shame itself produces self-doubt and disrupts both security and confidence. It can become an impediment to the experience of belonging and to shared intimacy....It is the experiential ground from which conscience and identity inevitably evolve. In the context of pathological development, shame is central to the emergence of alienation, loneliness, inferiority and perfectionism. It plays a central role in many psychological disorders as well, including depression, paranoia, addiction, and borderline conditions. Sexual disorders and many eating disorders are largely disorders of shame. Both physical abuse and sexual abuse also significantly involve shame.
Also, "...shame has been found to be a very strong predictor of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder...".
It has been suggested that narcissism in adults is related to defenses against shame and that narcissistic personality disorder is connected to shame as well. Psychiatrist Glen Gabbard suggested that NPD could be broken down into two subtypes, a grandiose, arrogant, thick-skinned "oblivious" subtype and an easily hurt, oversensitive, ashamed "hypervigilant" subtype. The oblivious subtype presents for admiration, envy, and appreciation a grandiose self that is the antithesis of a weak internalized self which hides in shame, while the hypervigilant subtype neutralizes devaluation by seeing others as unjust abusers.
Shame is considered one aspect of socialization in all societies. According to the anthropologist Ruth Benedict, cultures may be classified by their emphasis on the use of either shame or guilt to regulate the social activities of individuals. Shared opinions and expected behaviours and potential associated feelings of shame are in any case proven to be effective in guiding behaviour of a group or society.
Shame may be used by those people who commit relational aggression and may occur in the workplace as a form of overt social control or aggression. Shaming is also a central feature of punishment, shunning, or ostracism. In addition, shame is often seen in victims of child neglect and child abuse.
A shame campaign is a tactic in which particular individuals are singled out because of their behavior or suspected crimes, often by marking them publicly, such as Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In the Philippines, Alfredo Lim popularized such tactics during his term as mayor of Manila. On July 1, 1997, he began a controversial "spray paint shame campaign” in an effort to stop drug use. He and his team sprayed bright red paint on two hundred squatter houses whose residents had been charged, but not yet convicted, of selling prohibited substances. Officials of other municipalities followed suit. Former Senator Rene A. Saguisag condemned Lim’s policy.
Psychologists and other researchers who study shame use validated psychometric testing instruments to determine whether or how much a person feels shame. Some of these tools include the Guilt and Shame Proneness (GASP) Scale, the Shame and Stigma Scale (SSS), the Experience of Shame Scale, and the Internalized Shame Scale. Some scales are specific to the person's situation, such as the Weight- and Body-Related Shame and Guilt scale (WEB-SG), the HIV Stigma Scale for people living with HIV and the Cataldo Lung Cancer Stigma Scale (CLCSS) for people with lung cancer. Others are more general, such as the Emotional Reactions and Thoughts Scale, which deals with anxiety, depression, and guilt as well as shame.
- Bradshaw, J. (1988) Healing the Shame That Binds You, HCI. ISBN 0-932194-86-9
- Gilbert, P. (2002) Body Shame: Conceptualisation, Research and Treatment. Brunner-Routledge. ISBN 1-58391-166-9
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- Goldberg, Carl (1991) Understanding Shame, Jason Aaronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ. ISBN 0-87668-541-6
- Hutchinson, Phil (2008) Shame and Philosophy. London: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 0-230-54271-9
- Lamb, R. E. (1983) Guilt, Shame, and Morality, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. XLIII, No. 3, March 1983.
- Lewis, Michael (1992) Shame: The Exposed Self. NY: The Free Press. ISBN 0-02-918881-4
- Middelton-Moz, J. (1990) Shame and Guilt: Masters of Disguise, HCI, ISBN 1-55874-072-4
- Miller, Susan B. (1996) Shame in Context, Routledge, ISBN 0-88163-209-0
- Morrison, Andrew P. (1996) The Culture of Shame. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-37484-3
- Morrison, Andrew P. (1989) Shame: The Underside of Narcissism. The Analytic Press. ISBN 0-88163-082-9
- Nathanson, D., ed. (1987) The Many Faces of Shame. NY: The Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-705-2
- Schneider, Carl D. (1977) Shame, Exposure, and Privacy. Boston: Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-1121-5
- Uebel, Michael. (2012) Psychoanalysis and the Question of Violence: From Masochism to Shame, American Imago, 69.4: 473-505.
- Vallelonga, Damian S. (1997) An empirical phenomenological investigation of being ashamed. In Valle, R. Phenomenological Inquiry in Psychology: Existential and Transpersonal Dimensions. New York: Plenum Press, 123-155.
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- Brene Brown Listening to Shame, TED Talk, March 2012
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