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Shame

Shame

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Shame occupies an important place both among the emotions and as a key component in social relationships. It might well be called the master emotion for reasons to be discussed below. But why so much attention to one emotion? This emphasis has been difficult for many people to follow. What about other primary emotions, such as love, fear, anger, grief, and so on? To the average reader in modern societies, the focus on shame seems arbitrary.

Not so, however, in traditional societies. These societies, because of their exclusive concern with social relationships rather than individuals, overemphasize shame. An excellent introduction to the consciousness of shame in a traditional society can be found in Joan Metges 1986 study of the emotion lexicon in the Maori language.

Modern societies, since they emphasize the isolated, self-reliant individual, hide shame. Consciousness of this emotion would betray the extent of each individuals dependence on the views of others, and therefore the social nature of the self.

C. H. Cooleys (1864-1929) idea of the looking-glass self suggested an elementary link between shame and selfhood: A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal elements: the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance; and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification (shame) (Cooley 1922, p. l84).

Erving Goffman (1922-1982), whose work often centered on embarrassment, provided another justification. He argued that embarrassment, and by implication shame, had universal importance in social interaction: Face-to-face interaction in any culture seems to require just those capacities that flustering seems to destroy. Therefore, events which lead to embarrassment and the methods for avoiding and dispelling it may provide a cross-cultural framework of sociological analysis (Goffman 1956, p. 266).

Christian Heath further justifies this focus:

Embarrassment lies at the heart of the social organization of day-to-day conduct. It provides a personal constraint on the behavior of the individual in society and a public response to actions and activities considered problematic or untoward. Embarrassment and its potential play an important part in sustaining the individuals commitment to social organization, values and convention. It permeates everyday life and our dealings with others. It informs ordinary conduct and bounds the individuals behavior in areas of social life that formal and institutionalized constraints do not reach. (Heath 1988, p. 137)

Beyond these considerations, there is another, broader one that is implied in Goffmans ideas, particularly the idea of impression management. Most of his work implies that every actor is extraordinarily sensitive to the exact amount of deference being received by others. Even a slight difference between what is expected and what is received, whether too little or too much, can cause embarrassment.

Thomas J. Scheff (2006) followed Goffmans lead by proposing that embarrassment and shame are primarily social emotions, because they usually arise from a threat to the bond, no matter how slight. The degree of social connectedness, of accurately taking the viewpoint of the other, is the key component of social bonds. A discrepancy in the amount of deference conveys judgment, and so is experienced as a threat to the bond. Since even a slight discrepancy in deference is sensed, embarrassment or the anticipation of embarrassment would be a virtually continuous presence in interaction.

In most of his writing, Goffmans every-person was constantly aware of her own standing in the eyes of others, implying almost continuous states of self-conscious emotionembarrassment, shame, humiliation, and in rare instances prideor anticipation of these states. Their sensitivity to the eyes of others makes Goffmans actors seem three-dimensional, since they embody not only thought and behavior, but also feeling.

Helen Lynd (1896-1982) was one of the first to focus on shame as a key to personal identity (1958). Silvan Tomkins (1911-1991) devoted an entire book (1963) to describing the concept of shame and its psychological and social functions. Helen Lewis (1913-1987) has shown the key role of unacknowledged shame in failed psychotherapy sessions (1971), and John Braithwaites work (1989) on the role of reintegrative shame in restorative justice has attracted a considerable following.

Shame and embarrassment are crucial because they have both psychological and social functions. For brevity, this entry will discuss only the three most important functions. First, for individuals, shame appears to be an automatic signal of moral trespass; the conscience has an instinctive shame component (Scheff and Retzinger 1991). This type of shame can be suppressed, but only at great cost. For most people, shame provides unmistakable signals of where they stand in their moral universe at any particular moment.

Second, normal shame signals the state of the social bond. Embarrassment and other shame signals warn us when the self or other is feeling too close (exposed, violated) or too far (invisible, rejected). If these signals are suppressed or ignored, it may be almost impossible to know where one stands with another person. Interaction takes on a stiff and formal character, with individuals flustered or distracted, which interferes with understanding and trust. Engulfment and isolation produce, and are produced by, the denial of shame. Recognition of shame and embarrassment signals in others is a way of becoming aware of their humanity. Seeing that the other is embarrassed or ashamed is an elemental path toward understanding that they are persons much like ourselves.

It now seems likely that shame is a genetically inherited emotion that is a human universal. Since shame identifies threats to the social bond and to the integrity of the self, it makes sense that sensitivity to shame signals would be adaptive, and that this kind of sensitivity would have survival value for the individual and the group.

Third, shame seems to be the primary regulator of all emotions, including shame itself (shame about shame). This kind of regulation poses no problem with normal shame, because it is easily acknowledged and resolved. As indicated above, it is merely a signal of the state of the bond. But unacknowledged shame can interfere with the resolution of all the emotions, including anger, fear, grief, and shame itself. The basic reason that people hide their emotions is that they have learned to be ashamed of them. The exception is angry displays: Most people, especially men, have learned to flaunt anger and aggression as a way of masking vulnerable emotions (such as fear, shame, and grief) because they have been taught that these emotions are signs of weakness.

Since shame is a self-conscious emotion, persons and groups may fall into traps of self-consciousness that interfere with normal biological, psychological, and social paths that allow the resolution of painful emotions. For example, in the absence of unacknowledged shame, persons and groups with conflicting interests are able to find the most-beneficial or least-destructive compromise. Unacknowledged shame paralyzes both the ability and desire to reach a compromise. For this reason, unacknowledged shame and alienation may be keys to understanding interminable impasses and quarrels (Scheff and Retzinger 1991; Retzinger 1991; Scheff 1994).

For these reasons, pride and shame play an equal part with solidarity and alienation in determining the degree of social integration in a society, its capacity for cooperation and survival under stress, and its potential for fragmentation or violent disruption. Because we live in a highly individualized society, these matters have only recently come to our collective attention. Denial of shame goes hand in hand with denial of interdependence. An accurate and effective social science requires that shame and interdependence be brought to the light of day.

SEE ALSO Alienation; Emotion; Goffman, Erving; Humiliation; Looking-Glass Effect; Self-Consciousness, Private vs. Public; Self-Hatred; Sin; Social Psychology; Stigma

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Braithwaite, John. l989. Crime, Shame, and Reintegration. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Cooley, Charles H. 1922. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribners.

Goffman, Erving. 1956. Embarrassment and Social Organization. American Journal of Sociology 62: 264-271.

Heath, Christian. 1988. Embarrassment and Interactional Organization. In Erving Goffman: Exploring the Interaction Order, ed. Paul Drew and Anthony Wooton. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity.

Lewis, Helen. B. 1971. Shame and Guilt in Neurosis. New York: International Universities Press.

Lynd, Helen M. 1958. On Shame and the Search for Identity. New York: Harcourt.

Metge, Joan. 1986. In and Out of Touch: Whakamaa in Cross Cultural Perspective. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.

Retzinger, Suzanne M. 1991. Violent Emotions: Shame and Rage in Marital Quarrels. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Scheff, Thomas J. 1994. Bloody Revenge: Emotions, Nationalism, and War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Scheff, Thomas J. 2006. Goffman Unbound! A New Paradigm for Social Science. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Scheff, Thomas J., and Suzanne M. Retzinger. 1991. Emotions and Violence: Shame and Rage in Destructive Conflicts. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Tomkins, Silvan. 1963. Affect, Imagery, Consciousness. Vol. 2: The Negative Affects. New York: Springer.

Thomas J. Scheff

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shame

shame In the beginning, there was no shame. Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve ‘were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.’ Having eaten the forbidden fruit, however, they knew of their nakedness and sought to hide it. Shame thus came into existence, along with mortality, physical toil, and the pains of childbirth. In the Bible, shame is intrinsically connected with both the body and wrongdoing, or more precisely with self-consciousness of one's body and awareness of wrongdoing. Once they had disobeyed God, Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness and took cover.

Similarly, in the ancient Greek world, shame was linked to the body etymologically and in Homer's tales also to nakedness and sexuality. The dread of being seen naked or making love, or being seen to witness love-making, to use examples from the Odyssey, might indicate that the idea of shame is tied to that of physical vulnerability. It also suggests that it is a fear of appearing other than one might like to in the eyes of others, mortal or divine. In a heroic culture, in which men like Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, are repeatedly referred to as ‘god-like’, this is more likely to be a fear of seeming base, stripped of dignity, and lacking in the requisite virtues of courage, wisdom, temperance, and so forth. It is the fear of revealing oneself as being closer to an animal than a god, of being no more than flesh and ruled by it, concomitant with the ignominious need to conceal oneself and crouch, rather than to be able to stand or walk tall — images associated by contrast with honour and pride.

In moral philosophy, feeling shame has generally been considered a natural disposition or sensation, and the fear of incurring it an universal motive for action or forbearance from antiquity onwards. It has also been taken as crucial evidence of the existence of an innate moral sense, most notably by Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) and the Scottish school of moral philosophy.

Its management and careful manipulation has been deemed crucial in pedagogical practice and theory, especially in times when physical punishment was thought inefficacious or aberrant. In one of the most influential pedagogical treatises of all time, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), John Locke urged parents to desist from beating their children and encouraged them to use the softer, but more effective, ways of shame and its counterpart, commendation.

Following World War II, especially in the context of understanding Japanese society from a Western point of view, much was made of the distinction between so-called ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’ cultures, a distinction introduced by Ruth Benedict (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1946). The former rely on ‘external sanctions for good behaviour’, the latter on ‘an internalized conviction of sin’. Although there seems to be a psychological difference between shame and guilt, to contrast cultures on that basis is at best misleading. Thus, while feelings of guilt tend to imply that someone other than oneself has been wronged in some way, one could feel ashamed of an action which did not involve anyone else. Beyond this, however, the two concepts and the feelings which they identify overlap to a large extent and are too complex to admit of a sharp contrast. At the cultural level, the matter is, if anything, more complex still; it is difficult to imagine a society in which fear of shame was a significant or leading motive for action or forbearance, without ‘an internalized conviction’ of wrongdoing and of breach of a socially accepted code of behaviour.

Sylvana Tomaselli

Bibliography

Williams, B. (1993). Shame and necessity. University of California Press, Berkeley.

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Shame

SHAME

The word shame encompasses: 1) the raw emotion linked to a loss of one's bearings; 2) judgment about this state (the perception of shame as such resulting from the comparison of oneself with a model); and 3) judgment about both this emotion and the possible causes of shame (implying possibilities for action). In all cases, shame is a sense of anxiety about being excluded, that is, not only fear of a withdrawal of love, but even withdrawal of any form of interest.

In "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality" (1905), Sigmund Freud linked shame to the action of the forces of repression (what was initially an object of pleasure becomes an object of modesty, disgust, or shame). By contrast, in "La honte comme angoisse sociale" (Shame as a Social Anxiety; 1929), Imre Hermann described shame as a "social anxiety" linked to attachment.

Shame always has two aspects: one relating to individual mental functioning (anxiety about mental disintegration), and the other relating to relations with the group (anxiety about being excluded). Pathological shame is to be distinguished from shame as a signal of alarm. Coping with shame involves both naming it and reinforcing the secondary processes to limit its disintegrative effects. It can be displaced or masked, especially by resignation, anger, guilt, or hate.

To a certain extent, shame was a "blind spot" for Freud and, in his wake, for many psychoanalysts who reduced it to a pathological affect linked to the ideal ego and opposed to the guilt associated with the oedipal superego. However, it is a concept that is essential to the understanding of the dynamics of social bonds (it protects people from engaging in nonhuman actions) and intergenerational secrets.

Serge Tisseron

See also: Alcoholism; Bulimia; Clinging instinct; Erythrophobia; Latency period; Modesty; Nakedness, dream of; Narcissistic injury; Narcissistic rage; Obsessional neurosis; Organic repression; Self-esteem; Unpleasure.

Bibliography

Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine. (1973). Essai sur L'Idéal du Moi. Contributionà l'état psychanalytique de la "maladie d'idéalité." Revue française de psychanalyse, 37, 5-6, 735-929.

Freud, Sigmund. (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.

Hermann, Imre. (1982). La honte comme angoisse sociale. Confrontation, 8, 167-177. (Original work published 1929)

Nathanson, Donald L. (Ed.). (1987). The many faces of shame. New York and London: Guilford Press.

Tisseron, Serge. (1993). La honte, psychanalyse d 'un lien social. Paris: Dunod.

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shame

shame / shām/ • n. a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior: she was hot with shame he felt a pang of shame at telling Alice a lie. ∎  a loss of respect or esteem; dishonor: the incident had brought shame on his family. ∎  used to reprove someone for something of which they should be ashamed: shame on you for hitting a woman for shame, brother! ∎  [in sing.] a regrettable or unfortunate situation or action: it is a shame that they are not better known. ∎  a person, action, or situation that brings a loss of respect or honor: ignorance of Latin would be a disgrace and a shame to any public man. • v. [tr.] (of a person, action, or situation) make (someone) feel ashamed: I tried to shame him into giving some away. ∎  cause (someone) to feel ashamed or inadequate by outdoing or surpassing them: she shames me with her eighty-year-old energy. PHRASES: put someone to shame disgrace or embarrass someone by outdoing or surpassing them: she puts me to shame, she's so capable.

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shame

shame feeling of disgrace; state of disgrace, circumstance causing this OE.; modest feeling XIV. OE. sċ(e)amu = OS., OHG. skama (Du. schaam- in comps., G. scham), ON. skǫmm :- Gmc. *skamō; on the same base are formed OE. sċand, OHG. scanda (G. schande), Goth. skanda disgrace.
So shame vb. OE. sċ(e)amian intr. and impers. shamefaced modest, bashful. XVI. alt., by assim. to FACE, -faced, of (arch.) shamefast, OE. sċ(e)amfæst (FAST1; -fæst is a common suffix of OE. adjs. equiv. to -ful, -ous). shameful, -less OE. sċ(e)amful, -lēas.

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shame

shameacclaim, aflame, aim, became, blame, came, claim, dame, exclaim, fame, flame, frame, game, lame, maim, misname, name, proclaim, same, shame, tame •endgame • counterclaim • nickname •byname • filename • forename •surname • airframe • mainframe •Ephraim • doorframe • subframe •underframe • aspartame

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