AskDefine | Define shamefulness

Dictionary Definition

shamefulness n : unworthiness meriting public disgrace and dishonor [syn: disgracefulness, ignominiousness]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The property of being shameful.

Extensive Definition

Shame (also called ignominy) is the consciousness or awareness of dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation. 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".

Characterizing shame

Shame vs. guilt

There is no standard distinction between shame and guilt. The cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict describes shame as a violation of cultural or social values while feelings of guilt arise from violations of internal values. It is possible to feel ashamed of thought or behavior that no one knows about as well as feeling guilty about actions that gain the approval of others. However, in Facing Shame, therapists Fossum and Mason state "While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one's actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person." Shame is needed to establish limits, in childhood, since young children are unable to associate cause and effect by themselves. However, as children become better able to judge their own actions, guilt becomes the conscience former. Although, in general, guilt guides adult consciences, intrinsic shame is often present in adults too.

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.

Toxic shame

Psychologists often use the term "toxic" shame to describe false, and therefore, pathological shame. Therapist John 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.
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.

Religious shame

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."

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

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 redemption.
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.

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 Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.
In the Philippines, Mayor 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."


  • Bradshaw, J (1988). Healing the Shame That Binds You, HCI, . ISBN 0-932194-86-9
  • Broucek, Francis.(1991)Shame and the Self, NY: The Guilford Press, ISBN0-89862-444-4
  • Fossum, M, and Mason, M, (1986). Facing Shame: Families in Recovery, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-30581-3
  • 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, H. B. (1971). Shame and guilt in neurosis. International University Press. New York.ISBN 0-8236-8307-9
  • Lewis, Michael. (1992) Shame: The Exposed Self. NY: The Free Press. ISBN 0-02-918881-4
  • Kaufman, Gershen,(1992). Shame: The Power of Caring, 3rd edition, Schenkman Books, Rochester, VT, ISBN 0-87047-052-3
  • 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
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  • 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.
shamefulness in Arabic: خجل
shamefulness in Aymara: Phinq'a
shamefulness in Breton: Mezh
shamefulness in Bulgarian: Срам
shamefulness in Catalan: Vergonya
shamefulness in Czech: Stud
shamefulness in Danish: Skam
shamefulness in German: Schamgefühl
shamefulness in Esperanto: Honto
shamefulness in Spanish: Vergüenza
shamefulness in French: Honte
shamefulness in Icelandic: Skömm
shamefulness in Italian: Vergogna
shamefulness in Hebrew: בושה
shamefulness in Luxembourgish: Schimmt
shamefulness in Dutch: Schaamte
shamefulness in Norwegian: Skam
shamefulness in Japanese: 羞恥心
shamefulness in Occitan (post 1500): Vergonha (psicologia)
shamefulness in Polish: Wstyd (psychologia)
shamefulness in Portuguese: Vergonha
shamefulness in Quechua: P'inqa
shamefulness in Russian: Стыд
shamefulness in Sicilian: Virgogna
shamefulness in Simple English: Shame
shamefulness in Slovak: Stud
shamefulness in Finnish: Häpeä
shamefulness in Swedish: Skam
shamefulness in Yiddish: שאנדע
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