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Description: What is shame? When do people feel shame or feel ashamed? How is shame different than guilt? At its simplest level, shame involves a loss of social connection or a loss of social respect. Think about what feelings, thoughts, and social scenarios would come to mind if someone opened a conversation with you by saying “Shame on you”! What sort of thing(s) might you have done to warrant that conversation opener? The developmental roots of shame are deep indeed. Shame (and even shunning) is something that communities visit upon their members (sometimes) or what parents visit upon their children. It is a form a social censure or social disapproval and often involves a withdrawal, short or long term depending upon the group or the incident that instigated it, of social connection. Developmentally infants are very attuned to the social consequences of shame. Think about a situation where a parent is interacting with their infant in a socially and facially animated way and then suddenly “shuts down” their facial expressions and simply starts at the infant with no facial expression (so neither happy or sad or angry but just blank). How do you think an infant would react to this and if they eventually start to cry why would they do that? Think about all of these questions and then read the article linked below to see a description of the, at least four, ways that shame can play out in our social interactions.

Source: A Psychotherapist says there are four types of shame – Here’s what they are and how they affect us. Lindsay Dodgson, Business Insider, Independent, UK.

Date: April 4, 2018

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So, did the descriptions of the four types of shame make sense to you? My first reaction to the simple statement that the first type was unrequited love was to say “Huh? How so?”  but if you unpack what is going on when attraction or love are not reciprocated it makes sense. Like the “infant still face” procedure I described earlier, and which is mentioned in the article unrequited love involves situations where social narratives or story lines are cut off or simply do not evolve. One sided relationships are NOT relationships and trying to move a one-sided half ignored relationship along can be heart breaking and what it produces in the unrequited “lover” is one form of shame or social casting out. Th second type of shame involves being called out socially (publicly) for an error or a mistake. These situations are more readily accessible as we all have been in situations where we or someone else was shamed or humiliated publicly.  The third example, failure, is a bit more complicated as failures are not always public and can be sources of internal motivation as well as situations that involve feelings of shame or perhaps even guilt. The fourth type of shame involves exclusion or being left out and can be viewed as an active component of all types of shame as it is social connection, standing or benevolence we are seeking, and shame is one of the things we feel when it is lost or dialed back. It is worth thinking about the impact of shame on development. A LOT is said about the potential impact of our early (pre-2 years-of-age) attachment relationships on our subsequent development (well supported by longitudinal data) but a LOT can also be said about the next developmental moment or task. This next developmental task or moment starting at around 2 years of age involves autonomy, sometimes referred to colloquially as the “terrible twos”. It involves the drive on the child’s part to start to do things for themselves (not always stated diplomatically as they are only two and have limited language skills). As Erickson suggested, the developmental downside of the Autonomy developmental moment is “Shame and Doubt”. If parents, older siblings, or the extended family or community reacts to a child’s early autonomy plays with criticism, derision or indifference the result can be shame and a shutting down of individual social initiative. You are likely well aware of the developmental downstream impact insecure attachment can have on the subsequent development of play connections, friendships, intimate relationships and eventually on parenthood. Think a bit about the potential downstream developmental impact of being shamed for your early efforts at establishing a sense of autonomy. That is an area that needs some more research work.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is shame and how is it manifest in social interactions?
  2. What are the short-term impacts and implications of being shamed or ashamed?
  3. What are some of the longer term developmental or psychological adjustment issues that could arise from shame either for children or for adults?

References (Read Further):

van Dijk, W. W., van Dillen, L. F., Rotteveel, M., & Seip, E. C. (2017). Looking into the crystal ball of our emotional lives: emotion regulation and the overestimation of future guilt and shame. Cognition and Emotion, 31(3), 616-624.

Duarte, C., Matos, M., Stubbs, R. J., Gale, C., Morris, L., Gouveia, J. P., & Gilbert, P. (2017). The impact of shame, self-criticism and social rank on eating behaviours in overweight and obese women participating in a weight management programme. PloS one, 12(1), e0167571.

Perret, V. (2017). Shame, the scourge of supervision. International Journal of Transactional Analysis Research & Practice, 8(2).

Mahtani, S., Melvin, G. A., & Hasking, P. (2017). Shame Proneness, Shame Coping, and Functions of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) Among Emerging Adults: A Developmental Analysis. Emerging Adulthood, 2167696817711350.