Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Investigating the Compass of Shame: The Development of the Compass of Shame Scale

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Investigating the Compass of Shame: The Development of the Compass of Shame Scale

Article excerpt

The way in which one copes with, or defends against, shame has important implications. The Compass of Shame Scale (CoSS) was developed to assess use of the four shame-coping styles described by Nathanson (1992): Attack Self, Withdrawal, Attack Other, and Avoidance. Reliability and criterion validity were explored (N = 322). Subscale reliabilities ranged from .74 to .91. Confirmatory factor analysis supported a model with four primary factors. A differentiated pattern of correlations was obtained between CoSS scales and general internalized shame, self-esteem, anger, coping, and psychological symptoms. Results provided empirical support for Nathanson's Compass of Shame model and the validity of the CoSS.

Keywords: shame, coping, psychopathology, assessment, validity

An important aspect of the experience of shame is the way in which one copes with, or defends against, it. Shame is a painful, self-focused affect (Parker, 1998), which has been linked to many problematic psychological states including: aggression, depression, somaticization, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, interpersonal sensitivity, personality disorders, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem (e.g., Harder, 1995; Lewis, 1971, 1987; Nathanson, 1992, 1994; Tangney & Dealing, 2002). Recent reviews of the shame and guilt literature encourage investigations of the context under which these emotions are adaptive versus maladaptive (Bybee & Quiles, 1998; Ferguson & Stegge, 1998; Tangney & Dearing, 2002). While many assessments of the trait of shame proneness have been developed (e.g., Cook, 2001; Harder & Zalma, 1990; Tangney, Wagner, & Gramzow, 1989), the Compass of Shame Scale, described here, is the first instrument specifically designed to assess shame-coping styles.

Nathanson (1992) proposed a model for shame-management scripts or coping styles, the Compass of Shame. This model describes four families of scripts, represented by the poles of the compass and labeled Attack Self, Withdrawal, Attack Other, and Avoidance. Each set of shame-focused scripts is associated with different motivations, affects, cognitions, behaviors. Clinicians adopting Tomkins's affect theory (1962 - 1991) have used Nathanson's model as a guide in psychotherapeutic practice (e.g., Nathanson, 1994, 2003). The present study investigates the reliability and validity of an instrument, the Compass of Shame Scale (CoSS), to measure Nathanson's (1992) Compass of Shame model.


The experience of shame is central to Nathanson's (1992) Compass of Shame model; coping scripts are triggered in reaction to a shaming event. Nathanson, following Tomkins, uses a very broad definition of shame, that is, shame is the negative affect felt in response to any impediment to the ongoing experience of interest or joy (Tomkins, 1963). Nathanson presents his Compass of Shame model within the framework of Tomkins's script theory (1991). Scripts, much like schémas, are recursively defined and nested; they are "sets of ordering rules for the interpretation, evaluation, prediction, production, or control of scenes" (Tomkins, 1991, p. 84). A constructive script for shame management is to attend to its source and evaluate whether or not one cares to address it; few people consistently achieve this ideal. The four poles of the Compass of Shame characterize the many scripts by which shame is reduced, ignored, or magnified, without addressing its source (Nathanson, 1992).

At the Withdrawal pole, the person acknowledges the experience as negative, accepts shame's message as valid, and tries to withdraw or hide from the situation. For example, a shamed student might decide not to participate in class discussions or in the extreme case may even drop out of school. The phenomenological experience is negative; emotions include shame, sadness, fear, and anxiety. Cognitions include awareness of one's discomfort with others, and possibly awareness of shameful actions, faults, or characteristics. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.