Shame: Facts, Statistics, and Treatment
Those feelings of embarrassment and humiliation are a part of the shame experience. And realistically, everyone has experienced shame once or twice – some more than others. But then again, shame isn’t necessarily a good thing. At its core, shame is the feeling of being inadequate or wrong. It’s a direct injury to a person’s ego and can stem from an internal source or be caused by an external factor. And while many of us will feel shame at some point in our lives, others are controlled by their shame, paving the way to various mental health problems.
Fast Facts: Shame Statistics and Numbers
- Women are twice as likely as men to experience shame
- Teenagers and adolescents feel ashamed up to five times more likely than adults
- One in every five adults has felt shame in the past year
- Individuals with high shame proneness are also more prone to developing conditions like depression and anxiety
- 66% of US adults have felt ashamed because of their bodies
- Weight and body image are two of the most common reasons for shame
- 60% of individuals feel that social media has negatively affected their self-esteem
Shame and guilt are often confused, and that’s because both are closely linked. While the emotional experience is the same, guilt is the feeling that you’ve done something wrong. This emotion stems from poorly thought-out actions and means that you recognize that your behavior hasn’t been ideal. On the other hand, shame is the feeling that you are wrong. This emotion affects your self-esteem and makes you feel you’re worth less or a terrible person.
For example, an employee shows up late to work after a night of partying with friends. As expected, he gets a reprimand from his superior. A guilt-prone person would think, “I knew drinking so late would be a bad idea; I need to stop doing that.” However, a shame-prone person would be more inclined to think, “I’m such a screw-up; I never get anything right.”On a deeper level, guilt and shame can also be markers of an individual’s ability to empathize with others. Studies have found that guilt-prone people are more empathetic than shame-prone people. That’s because guilt-prone people can put themselves in others’ shoes.
Guilt is acknowledging that you’ve done something to harm, inconvenience, or offend others. It’s the understanding that your actions have been hurtful, which may motivate an individual to act and behave more consciously toward the people around him. Then again, shame is internally motivated. The inability to take correction and reprimand shows that a person is more interested in protecting their ego than understanding where others are coming from.
Shame is, in itself, the inability to accept that you are capable of wrong. It’s the feeling of having your ego hurt. However, there are instances when shame doesn’t stem from a person’s actions or behavior. Some individuals will feel ashamed when their ego is under fire from external factors. For instance, body shaming is a common practice on social media that has been known to damage a person’s self-esteem. One shame researcher claims that between guilt and shame, guilt serves a purpose. It helps individuals identify destructive behavior and allows us to restore relationships. Shame, on the other hand, is a dangerous emotion that targets a person’s self-worth, serving no real purpose.
Causes of Shame
Shame can come from many different factors, and the extent of the emotions varies depending on how sensitive a person is to the causative factor. These reasons for shame can most commonly be identified as:
- Social Norms: Many of us operate within a set of cultural and social norms that guide our concept of what’s acceptable and proper. Social media makes up a large chunk of the social norms we follow, especially those involving our body image. Individuals who don’t fall within the parameters of what’s considered socially acceptable may be subject to either external shaming from the people around them or internal shame.
- Trauma or Abuse: Children who have been abused in their early years typically shy away from opening up because of the experience’s shame. Sexually abused children often feel it was their fault, that there’s something wrong with them, and that they’re unworthy of care and love because of the traumatic abuse.
- Self-Esteem Problems: Certain experiences can make it difficult for people to see themselves as worthy. Childhood upbringing, constant correction and discipline at home, school, or work, and the lack of approval or attention from critical people in a person’s life can make self-esteem fragile and prone to shame.