Shame is a self-conscious emotion resulting from feelings of personal inadequacy, dishonour and disgrace. Some English words associated to this feeling are humiliation, guilt, embarrassment and remorse.
Feelings of shame result when we believe we have done something inadequately or have directly violated core cultural values. Whilst the ability to deeply reflect about ourselves and our actions is necessary and positive, feeling ashamed is a negative emotion that deprives us of our full expression thereby re-inforcing our own perceived lower value to others.
Shame can be either a vice or a virtue, depending on how and when it is used. An excess of shame can lead to self-deprecation and low self-esteem; a deficiency in shame can lead to arrogance.
When shameful, people report feeling small, low energy and undeserving of good things in life. The shame expression involves lowering the head and eyes, while the body expression involves shrinking the chest and hiding the face behind one’s hands.
This combined posture makes us look physically smaller, and protects our vulnerable areas (chest, neck and stomach). This is opposite to pride, where the body tends to inflate.
This is an important emotion to human social life. Some scientists believe that we developed shame displays to indicate our place in the hierarchy of our group. People with lower status tend to display shame much more than those in higher status positions. It is believed that guilt and shame was a mechanism designed to maintain social order. In other words, if we do something that breaks the social norm, we feel bad and that brings us back into relationship with the group by seeking to amend our behaviour in order to be included in the community. The difference between guilt and shame is that guilt recognises that our ‘behaviour’ was inappropriate and we find a way to repair any damage or hurt caused. Shame states that ‘the core of who we are is bad’ –and therefore completely stifles the soul – often paralysing a human to seek connection because they do not believe they deserve it, where in fact, they are in desperate need for connection.
Take the Shame Test
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