You should be ashamed — or maybe not
Shame on you. These three simple words can temporarily — or, when used too often, permanently — destroy an individual’s sense of value and self-worth.
Shame on you. These three simple words can temporarily — or, when used too often, permanently — destroy an individual’s sense of value and self-worth.”In modernity, shame is the most obstructed and hidden emotion, and therefore the most destructive,” said Thomas Scheff, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. “Emotions are like breathing — they cause trouble only when obstructed.”When hidden, he continued, shame causes serious struggles not only for individuals but also for groups. In an article published in the current issue of the journal Cultural Sociology, Scheff examines the ubiquity of hidden shame and suggests it may be one of the keys to understanding contemporary society.According to Scheff a society that fosters individualism (ours, for example) provides a ripe breeding ground for the emotion of shame because people are encouraged to “go it alone, no matter the cost to relationships,” he said. “People learn to act as if they were complete in themselves and independent of others. This feature has constructive and creative sides, but it has at least two other implications: alienation and the hiding of shame.”Scheff noted that while shame is no less prevalent now than in previous years or decades or generations, it is more hidden. “Shame is a biological entity like other emotions, but people are more ashamed of it than they are of the others,” he said. “The hiding of emotions is more widespread in modern societies than in traditional ones.”In exploring the connection between shame and aggression, Scheff cites research conducted by sociologist Neil Websdale, author of “Familicidal Hearts: The Emotional Styles of 211 Killers.” Familicide, the act of one spouse killing the other as well as their children and often himself or herself, stems from unacknowledged shame, Scheff said. “It’s about humiliation and hiding behind aggression or violence,” he explained. “The most interesting thing about the study is there’s a group of non-angry people — a minority — who lose their job and feel humiliated. …
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