Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Study: The impact of shame

What is the impact of shame in the lives of individuals? A University of Coimbra (UC) study shows how the experiences of shame in childhood and adolescence affect mental health/well -being in adulthood. Trauma in childhood is more likely to lead to distress later in life.

Individuals whose experiences of shame in childhood and adolescence act as traumatic memories and become central to their identity and life history, are more likely to develop psychopathology (psychological distress and emotional states) in adulthood, the study reveals. It is "Memories of shame that shape who we are," conducted by the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Coimbra (FPCEUC) over the past five years.

The research, the first international study on the phenomenology of the experiences and memories of shame (their emotional, cognitive and behavioral components), explored episodes of shame experienced in childhood and adolescence and to what extent they have come to function as traumatic and autobiographical memories, conditioned in their identity, behavior and mental health in adulthood. The study was comprised of 3000 interviews with the general population and 120 patients with different diagnoses (depression, anxiety, eating, behavior and personality disorders, etc.).

Fundamental to regulate our social relations and the formation of our identity, shame is still a thrill overlooked, but this study shows how 'shame can be quite a painful experience, intensely and with a harmful impact on how people and their well-being develop. We found that the experience of shame experienced in childhood and adolescence operate as traumatic memories and influence the construction of social identity (e.g., They see themselves as inferior people, devalued, failed , etc. ) and this contributes to the onset of symptoms of psychopathology, such as depression, anxiety, stress, paranoid ideation and social anxiety in adulthood, " says Marcela Matos, who developed her PhD thesis within this project.

The findings of this study point to the need for clinical intervention not only in shame, but also the memories of shame. "Clinicians should be more attentive to this emotion and its role in the symptomatology of the patient. Shame is an emotion trans-diagnosis and if not detected and treated early can not only act as a barrier to therapy, but also be associated with various symptoms of psychopathology and lead to self-destruction. It should also focus on the adoption of preventive measures in childhood and adolescence, particularly among educational agents,' says the researcher of the Centre for Research and Intervention Center for the Study of Cognitive-Behavioral at UC .

In the study, funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and directed by professors José Gouveia Pinto, UC and Paul Gilbert, of the Mental Health Research Unit (UK), recognized as the world authority in the study of shame, the most traumatic memories reported by respondents were: experiences of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, criticism and devaluation, negative comments about the body, bullying and negative comparisons with others (e.g. siblings).

Cristina Pinto
University of Coimbra