Yesterday Liz gave me a handout about shame.  Intellectually I realise that I probably have feelings of shame, but I don’t identify with the feelings or concept of shame as it pertains to me.  To be honest, even after reading the handout, I still didn’t really get the concept.  So, I went in search of the answers in the literature…

Tomkins (as cited in Rahm, Renck & Ringsberg, 2006) states that “guilt concerns what one has done, whereas shame concerns who one is.”  Tomkins also considers that shame exists on a continuum from mild embarrassment through to humiliation, with chronic feelings of shame occurring when someone experiences humiliation for extended periods of time.  If the person carries the shame overtly, they will experience physical symptoms such as sweating, blushing, palpitations and hiding behaviours.  If the shame if covertly carried, the person will still feel the shame, but won’t be able to recognise or name it.  Shame will be described by those covertly holding it as feelings of being ‘stupid’, ‘feeling bad’ or ‘insecure’ (Rahm, Renck & Ringsberg, 2006).

As part of their study, Rahm, Renck & Ringsberg (2006) looked for word cues which lead to Indicator groups and their aspects of shame, as seen below:

Indicator group Aspects of shame
Alienated Feeling betrayed
Feeling alone
Feeling like an outsider
Inadequate Feeling powerless
Feeling unworthy
Feeling worthless
Hurt Being hypersensitive
Being stigmatized
Confused Turning off
Uncomfortable Feeling awkward
Feeling frightened
Ridiculous Feeling different

This makes more sense to me than the quite abstract concept of shame.  It becomes a tick-able list where you can identify aspects of your behaviour and feelings.  It also helps to then draw the links to other experiences, behaviours and feelings – for example if you repeatedly felt betrayed by an authority figure, then this will impact on your ability to trust people and form attachments to those around you.

According to Feinauer, Hilton & Callahan (2003), “shame promotes a desire to hide and disappear and may intensify to the point of wishing to no longer exist”.  Suddenly lots of little things about the concept of shame started to click into place… W has a rule that we must be invisible, she is also the first step on our road to suicidal intent.  So it seems as if I carry shame not as an emotion, but as a symptom and indicator of the abuse and experiences from my past.  It is chronic and covert in my life.  What is confusing is that much of my serious self-injury is based around ensuring that I experience more shame.  This makes no sense.  I understand that we will look for what is comfortable and familiar; sometimes that comfort and familiarity comes from self-injurious behaviour.  But why would I seek further humiliation?  Another topic to research while I’m off work relaxing…

This really only touches on aspects of shame, but it’s all I can cope with at the moment.  If I’m up to it later in the week I’ll expand on it so that I can process it in time for my session next week with Liz…

Wish me luck, I pick up the mother for another three week visit tomorrow…


Feinauer, L., Hilton, H., & Callahan, E. (2003). Hardiness as a moderator of shame associated with childhood sexual abuse. American Journal of Family Therapy, 31(2), 65-78. doi:10.1080/01926180390167115

Rahm, G., Renck, B., & Ringsberg, K. (2006). ‘Disgust, disgust beyond description’ – shame cues to detect shame in disguise, in interviews with women who were sexually abused during childhood. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 13(1), 100-109. Retrieved October 5, 2009, from CINAHL with Fulltext.

Now playing: Missy Higgins – Warm Whispers
via FoxyTunes


11 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Feeling shame is at the heart of being a survivor, even if we can’t name it.

    I’m so glad you found these articles, and that you found them helpful. I really like the aspects of shame by Rahm et al. Very good… and names things I haven’t been able to name either.

    Good luck with the mother. I’m here for you if you need an escape.

    ((the good kind))

    • I honestly didn’t get though Kerro. It was incredibly hard writing even just this little bit about shame. I’ve been severely told off about it, and was close to removing the post. But sometimes I need to leave things here to learn from and reflect on.

      The articles were good, they helped to clarify a few things…

      I feel I may need to escape fairly consistently over the next few weeks 🙂 Thanks for the offer.

      (((warm safe hugs)))

  2. I was reading about shame too recently – maybe it will help? This jumped out at me:

    Cozolino has written a book called ‘the neuroscience of psychotherapy’ and the bit I was reading talks about shame as an emotion relating to the loss of connection with the caregiver (i.e. I thought I was ok but I’m not, my caregiver is disapproving of me, we are experiencing a loss of connectedness). He says that prolonged and repeated shame states result in physiological dysregulation and negatively impact the development of brain networks relating to affect regulation and attachment. In particular, he says that these experiences impact the autonomic functioning (which impacts ability to deal with stress and the whole flight/fight/freeze thing as well as the immune system).

    What is also interesting is he says that because shame is an emotion about the self that is internalised before you have the ability to distinguish between one’s behaviour and one’s self it is a powerful preverbal and physiological principle, so difficult to shift (perhaps why you are drawn to repeat the experience?)

    • This meshes with what I’ve read about child developmental psychology and it makes sense. Thanks for the tip, I’ll check out his books through work 🙂

      Take care,

  3. Well, congratulations on facing this aspect of being survivor. I know now you asking the hard questions and doing what you need to do to keep yourself safe. So, you really do deserve a huge amount of credit for doing this.

    The Cozolino book is very good. I read it a while ago. He also has a new book which I have not read called Neuroscience of Human Relationships.

    Couple other resources which may help you in your search for understanding:


    This is work I have to do too. Hence I’m pointing you elsewhere because I don’t have anything intelligent to say on it.


    • I’m trying to stay safe Paul. It’s a work in progress…

      Thanks for pointing me to the other resources. I know what was written here was very scant and not even touching the surface of the issue, but it’s all I could handle.

      Take care,

    • Yes I have both of his books which I am reading for my dissertation! The human relationships one is pretty similar, although perhaps an easier read and with less focus on the therapy process.

      I didn’t say before, but it is pretty relevant to me also, I am working a lot with this at the moment and it is very difficult. This is probably the reason that I pointed elsewhere as well! 😮

    • Hi Kate,

      It didn’t even scratch the surface of the issue, but it’s all I could handle at the time. I’m hoping we’ll revisit it when we’re stronger.

      Take care,

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