Moving beyond “shame is bad”: How a functional emotion can become problematic

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    Shame research has been divided. At present, the shame literature can be broadly dichotomized into whether it argues for a problematic or functional view of shame. Shame is commonly linked, for example, to aggression, poor health and wellbeing, and psychopathologies such as post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and depression. Some researchers, however, suggest that shame is functional as it serves the purpose of gauging when one's social self is threatened, because of a loss of status or social bonds. To resolve this conflict, shame has been redefined in a variety of ways in an attempt to distinguish functional shame from problematic shame. However, approaches that ever more narrowly define the construct can lead to a defining away of the complexity of the lived experience of shame. In this review, we integrate the conflicting research on shame, examining how shame, as an emotion that evolved for a functional purpose, can become problematic. Avoidance in response to shame can move shame from being a functional social gauge that motivates repair to a problematic emotion, and avoidance is more likely to the extent that shame seems irreparable. Therefore, understanding what factors impact on perceived reparability will be important for understanding how shame can become problematic. How we see ourselves, others, our actions, and the costs of repair are all likely to impact on whether or not shame becomes functional or problematic.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)471-483
    Number of pages13
    JournalSocial and Personality Psychology Compass
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016


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