overcoming shame

Research: Self-Compassion As An Antidote To Shame

Self-compassion is uniquely helpful for dealing with shame, perhaps the most difficult of human emotions. A formal definition of shame is “a complex combination of emotions, physiological responses and imagery associated with the real or imagined rupture of relational ties.” (Hahn, 2000)


Below you will find summaries of research articles highlighting the beneficial effects of self-compassion in soothing the felt-sense of shame. Some of the topics the articles examine are: the effects of self-compassion on stigma related shame, the role of self-compassion in supporting suicidal individuals and how the early childhood caregiving environment contributes to a felt sense of shame or self-compassion in young adults. 

The Effects of Self-Compassion on External Shame, Depression and Anxiety (Callow, Moffitt & Neumann, 2021)

In this study the researchers examine the effects of external shame on depression and anxiety. The researchers differentiate between internal and external shame and explain that internal shame is a self-focused emotion created by a global evaluation of oneself as being inherently flawed, inferior, worthless, or incompetent, external shame is associated with an outward attentional focus and occurs when individuals imagine or anticipate negative judgement and evaluation from others. External shame has been described as a form of stigma awareness and reflects a heightened sensitivity to outward sources of criticism or rejection. The results of this study found that self-compassion reduces the anxiety and depression related to external shame. Read the research.

Self-Compassion, Mindfulness and Shame (Sedighimornani, Rimes, & Verplanken, 2019)

In this study the authors examined the relationship between mindfulness, self-compassion, and shame. The results of this study showed that both mindfulness and self-compassion predicted lower levels of shame. In further investigating which components of mindfulness most strongly predicted lower levels of shame, the authors found that it was the component of non-judgment. The authors highlight that these findings show the negative self-evaluative nature of shame and they argue that individuals struggling with shame may greatly benefit from interventions that foster a non-judgmental attitude toward their own feelings and thoughts. Read the research.

Shame, Self-Compassion and Suicide Prevention (Zhang, Carr, Garcia-Williams, 2018)

In this study the researchers examined African Americans who sought service from a public hospital following a suicide attempt. The authors examined both the effects of self-compassion and contingent self-worth on shame and depressive symptoms. They define contingent self-worth as a sense of self-value dependent on other (mostly external) factors. The results of this study showed that only self-compassion, not contingent self-worth predict lower levels of shame and depressive symptoms. The authors highlight the value of incorporating self-compassion training into interventions for suicidal African Americans. They argue that the interventions could reduce the impact of shame on depressive symptoms and ultimately their suicidal behavior. Read the research.

The Impact of the Early Caregiving Environment on Self-Compassion (Dragan, Kamptner & Riggs, 2021)

This study focused on young adults, ages 18-28 and examined the impact of the early caregiving environment on the development of self-compassion. The results of this study shows that the quality of the early caregiving environment is related to young adults’ ability to regulate emotions and to the amount of shame they experience. This in turn is linked to their capacity for self-compassion. The authors underline that these findings are consistent with other studies that emphasize the important role of early attachment-based caregiving for the development of emotion regulation, positive self image, empathy, and psychological well-being. Read the research.

From Early Childhood Abuse to Adult Depression: The Role of Self-Compassion and Shame (Ross, Kaminski, Herrington, 2919)

In this article the authors investigate the extent to which early childhood emotional abuse hinders the natural development of self-compassion. Emotional abuse is a form of maltreatment that most strongly predicts adult depressive symptoms. Theories suggest that some depressive symptoms stem from survivors having learned to treat themselves the way they were treated by their perpetrators. The study confirms that emotional abuse and emotional neglect in early childhood can undermine the formation of self-compassion. This study also showed that individuals with low self-compassion more often experienced shame and depressive symptoms. The authors suggest that self-compassion interventions are particularly effective for survivors of emotional maltreatment. Read the research.

To learn more about self-compassion as an antidote to shame, join Chris Germer’s upcoming 2-session workshop Tuesdays, September 13 and 20, 2022 from 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm Pacific Time! Register here.

 


References

Callow, T. J., Moffitt, R. L., & Neumann, D. L. (2021). External shame and its association with depression and anxiety: The moderating role of self-compassion. Australian Psychologist, 56(1), 70-80.

Dragan, N., Kamptner, L., & Riggs, M. (2021). The Impact of the Early Caregiving Environment on Self-Compassion: the Mediating Effects of Emotion Regulation and Shame. Mindfulness, 12(7), 1708-1718.

Hahn, W. K. (2000). Shame: Countertransference identifications in individual psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 37(1), 10.

Ross, N. D., Kaminski, P. L., & Herrington, R. (2019). From childhood emotional maltreatment to depressive symptoms in adulthood: The roles of self-compassion and shame. Child Abuse & Neglect, 92, 32-42.

Sedighimornani, N., Rimes, K. A., & Verplanken, B. (2019). Exploring the relationships between mindfulness, self-compassion, and shame. Sage Open, 9(3), 2158244019866294.

Zhang, H., Carr, E. R., Garcia-Williams, A. G., Siegelman, A. E., Berke, D., Niles-Carnes, L. V., … & Kaslow, N. J. (2018). Shame and depressive symptoms: Self-compassion and contingent self-worth as mediators?. Journal of clinical psychology in medical settings, 25(4), 408-419.

Self-Compassion and the Three Paradoxes of Shame

Chris Germer 2017As you learn more about Mindful Self-Compassion and practice more often you may notice how invisible threads emerge that reflect your deepening practice and understanding of self-compassion.

One thread that is woven throughout the MSC program are the 3 components of self-compassion – mindfulness, common humanity, self-kindness.  I recently discovered that the 3 components of self-compassion are the underlying framework of the 3 paradoxes of shame. The 3 paradoxes of shame are:

  • Shame feels blameworthy, but it is an innocent emotion (self-kindness)
  • Shame feels isolating, but it is a universal emotion (common humanity)
  • Shame feels permanent and all-encompassing, but it is transitory, like all emotions, and it is a burden carried by only part of who we are (mindfulness)

The first paradox elicits selfkindness (which is easy to feel toward an innocent being), the second is common humanity, and the third is mindfulness.  This is how shame looks through the eyes of self-compassion. Together, the three paradoxes can take the sting out of shame – they help to de-shame shame.  

The most transformative paradox, in my opinion, is that shame is an innocent emotion that arises from the wish to be loved. The wish to be loved is the engine that drives the train of shame.

 

In a nutshell, when we are in the grip of shame and have the capacity to know that we’re caught up in shame (i.e., we’re mindful of shame), then offering ourselves the understanding, “And I only feel like this because I just want to be loved!” can reframe the entire experience.

We would not feel shame if we didn’t wish to be loved. In fact, shame can be defined as the emotion that arises when we believe we are too flawed to be loved and accepted by others. We have mostly forgotten our universal wish to be loved because our innocent efforts to be loved have been rebuffed.  The pain of being conditionally loved has pushed underground our awareness of the universal wish to be loved.  When we reclaim our wish to be loved (and perhaps go through a bit of backdraft), shame becomes surprisingly workable again. Even people who are convinced that they are unlovable do not disagree that they wish to be loved.  Reclaiming that simple intention with which we were all born begins the process of freeing ourselves from the grip of shame.

Shame and the wish to be loved are two sides of the same coin. We just need to turn over the coin.

 

Of course, the proof is in direct experience.  In our MSC course, we invite all MSC teachers to weave the 3 paradoxes of shame into the exercise Working with Shame, especially by guiding students to connect with the wish to be loved – “I only feel this way because I just wanted to be loved, and I still want to be loved!” – when they are feeling shame most acutely.  This practice is also a lovely informal practice for those times when our sense of self is under threat during the day. Another transformative practice for working with shame is the “Self-Compassion Break for Shame,” which you can listen to here

If we can identify moments of shame in our daily lives
and remind ourselves of our wish to be loved,
the transformative potential of self-compassion may be revealed. 
Chris Germer

 


If you’re interested in learning more about meeting and transforming shame through self-compassion, join Chris Germer at his upcoming two-session workshop, “Self-Compassion: An Antidote to Shame” Tuesdays, September 13 and 20, 2022 from 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm PT. Learn more or register here.