Even in adolescence we feel watched and judged (mistrusted); we
are "shamed into" giving up crying and touching; we are looked down
upon if we aren't successful, attractive, independent, and popular. We
feel ashamed if we are poor and dress poorly, if we are over or under
weight, if we can't express ourselves well or use poor grammar, if our
grades are low, if we have few friends, etc. Some shame and anxiety
may serve useful purposes, but it can be devastating.
There is some data to support the shame-based theories. Andrews
(1995) found that "deep shame," not just dissatisfaction, in women
about their bodies (usually breasts, buttocks, stomach or legs) was
powerfully related to suffering severe depression. If a female is
physically or sexually abused as a child or as an adult, it increases the
likelihood of depression four or five times! Only childhood abuse
caused shame about the body in women, however. See Lisak (1995)
for an impactful discussion of the effects of childhood abuse on males.
The memories of our past--our childhood and adolescence--form
our identity or our basic sense of self. Because we have shame-based
families and cultures, shame gets connected with many things, such as
our basic drives, interpersonal needs, feelings, and life purposes.
Examples: much shame is attached to sexual drives (witness the
uneasiness we feel about masturbation, not to mention homosexuality)
and to hunger drives (witness the feeding problems of infants, the
fights over food with children, and the eating disorders of young
people). We are deeply hurt and made ashamed of our needs for
closeness and security whenever a basic bond is broken by rejection,
abuse, neglect, divorce, or smothering overprotection and overcontrol.
Sometimes shame is connected with our bodies, our lack of
competence, our life goals (witness others' reaction to someone
wanting to be a popular singer or a girl wanting to be a mechanic or a
boy wanting to be a nurse). Also, emotion-shame connections ("Don't
cry!" or "Don't feel that way!" or "Stop sniffling or I'll spank you") are
made and we become ashamed of crying, anger, fear, self-
centeredness, even joy sometimes. And, in extreme cases, you can
become ashamed of everything you are--of your entire self--"I am
worthless." Shame is a powerful force but we can understand and
overcome some of its sources.
There seem to be several natural defenses used against self-
Striking out at others. Attacking others by being critical,
sarcastic, or abusive are ways to repair a wounded ego and to
protect our vulnerable weak parts from exposure. Acting
superior and having contempt for others are other ways to
sooth a hurting self.
Striving for power and being perfect. The wish of a child would
be to make up for our weaknesses by becoming powerful and
Blaming others. What better way to deny our weaknesses than
to blame others for our problems or for the world's problems?