shame fastness


Shame is, variously, an affect, emotion, cognition, state, or condition.

It is thought that the word shame arose from an older word meaning to cover. Covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame.

Characterizing shame

Aspects of shame

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 be also be assigned externally, by others, regardless of the 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 while to "have no shame" is to behave without such restraint.

Shame vs. guilt

There is no fully standardized distinction between shame and guilt; instead there are a number of points of view.

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, it is possible to feel ashamed of thought or behavior that no one knows about and to feel guilty about actions that gain the approval of others.

Helen B. Lewis says in her book Shame and Guilt in Neurosis 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.

Gershen Kaufman, in his book Shame: The Power of Caring, does not make the distinction between having a focus on one's self versus having a focus on one's actions. Kaufman's view of shame is aligned with that of Affect Theory, namely that shame is one of a set of instinctual short-duration physiological reactions to stimulation of a given kind (i.e., shame is a pre-cognitive affect). Kaufman considers guilt to be a learned behavior consisting essentially of self-directed blame or contempt, with shame occuring consequent to such behaviors making up a part of the overall experience of guilt. Here, by self-blame and self-contempt Kaufman means 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 vs. embarrassment

Shame differs from embarrassment in that it does not necessarily involve public humiliation: 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. Also, shame carries the connotation of a response to qualities that are considered morally wrong, whereas one can be embarrassed regarding actions that are morally neutral but socially unacceptable. Another view of shame and embarrassment is that the two emotions lie on a continuum and only differ in intensity. The wish to sink into the ground and disappear from view, to hide oneself from eyes that witness one's embarrassment or humiliation is common to both.

False and toxic shame

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". Therapist John Bradshaw calls shame the "emotion that lets us know we are finite". "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

Psychologists recently introduced the notion of vicarious shame, which 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).

Shame in society

Aspects of shame in society

Shame is considered one aspect of socialization in all societies.

Shame is enshrouded in legal precedent as a pillar of punishment and ostensible correction.

Shame has been linked to narcissism in the psychoanalytic literature. It is one of the most intense emotions. The individual experiencing shame may feel totally despicable, worthless and feel that there is no redeem.

According to the anthropologist Ruth Benedict, cultures may be classified by their emphasis of using either shame or guilt to regulate the social activities of their members.

Shared opinions and expected behaviours that cause the feeling of shame (as well as an associated reproval) if violated by an individual are in any case proven to be very efficient in guiding behaviour in a group or society.

Shame is a common form of control used by those people who commit relational aggression. It is an important weapon in marriage, family, and church settings. It is also used in the workplace as a form of overt social control or aggression.

Shamery is also a central feature of punishment, shunning, or ostracism. In addition, shame is often seen in victims of child neglect, child abuse and a host of other crimes against children. Parental incest is considered by child psychologists to be the ultimate form of shaming.

Shame and religion

In the Milgram experiment, described in the book Obedience to Authority, pp. 48-49, Stanley Milgram described one of a very few individuals in the entire series of experiments who was able to successfully resist authority without experiencing feelings of shame. This subject, a professor of religion, explained that his reason for being able to resist unjust authority with equanimity came from his religious faith. The subject explained that "If one has [God] as one's ultimate authority ... then it trivializes human authority." Milgram wrote that "the answer for this man lies in the repudiation of authority, not in the substitution of good -- that is[,] divine -- authority for bad."

Shame campaign

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, emboldened by Lim’s campaign, began conceiving their own anti-crime shame strategies.

Lim’s shame campaign generated much publicity, and many questioned the legality and humaneness of singling out unconvicted suspects. Former Senator Rene A. Saguisag, a member of Movement for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, Inc. (MABINI), issued a public statement condemning Lim’s policy: "The shame campaign violated presumption of innocence because it transgresses due process…" In January 2000, the 14th Division of the Court of Appeals ruled the policy as "invalid and unconstitutional.

In January 2005, Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Bayani Fernando announced a "wet rags shame campaign" to target commuters who wait for rides in the middle of the streets. The MMDA traffic enforcers planned to punish jaywalkers by driving by in service vehicles and splashing them with wet rags attached to poles. Sound trucks were to drive ahead and warn pedestrians of their approach; those who refused to comply with traffic regulations were to have wet rags dropped on their heads.

Sen. Richard Gordon disagreed with the shame tactic, saying such a way of disciplining pedestrians is a "return to Grade One." He added that the campaign might work for a time but would end up being futile. Rep. Vincent Crisologo of Ilocos Sur, a known critic of Fernando, said the MMDA chief was resorting to martial law tactics. Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa City, criticized the plan: "It only shows that the MMDA looks at people as animals who should be herded like cattle instead of using reason to make them follow the law… it is an admission that its personnel assigned to the thoroughfares are not doing their job."

Chairman Fernando, unfazed by criticisms, proceeded with the campaign.

In 2005, Tony Kwok, Hong Kong’s former corruption chief, suggested that the Philippine government should carry out a shame campaign to eliminate political corruption. A consultant of the Philippines’ Office of the Ombudsman, Kwok said, "This is what you need, a shame campaign. You have to let the politicians know that corruption is a high-risk crime." Kwok cited Hong Kong’s use of TV advertisements to discourage governmental misconduct. He added, "The best way is through enforcement and education.

See also


Additional references

  • 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
  • Gilbert, P (1998) Shame: Interpersonal Behavior, Psychopathology and Culture. ISBN 0-19-511480-9
  • Goldberg, Carl. (1991) Understanding Shame, Jason Aaronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ. ISBN 0-87668-541-6
  • 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
  • Morrison, A (1996) The Culture of Shame. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-37484-3
  • Morrison, A (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
  • Nathanson, Donald. (1992) Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self. NY: W.W. Norton, ISBN: 0-393-03097-0
  • Schneider, Carl D. (1977) Shame, Exposure, and Privacy. Boston: Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-1121-5
  • 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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