Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Shame Memories and Psychopathology in Adolescence: The Mediator Effect of Shame

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Shame Memories and Psychopathology in Adolescence: The Mediator Effect of Shame

Article excerpt

The transition into adolescence is marked by a significant rise in the prevalence of mental health problems, namely depression (Angold & Rutter, 1992; Cole, Tram, Martin, Hoffman, Ruiz, MJacquez, & Maschman, 2002; Fleming, Offord, & Boyle, 1989) and anxiety (Kashany & Orvaschel, 1990).

This increased vulnerability to emotional difficulties may be related to the variety of physiological, psychological, relational and environmental changes that characterize the transitional period that is adolescence. These developmental changes encompass complex models of self and others, the formation of novel and autonomous self-identity, concerns with peer-group relationships and the structuring of new peer group identities, and the decrease of parents influence along with the increased use of peers as sources of support, values and sense of belonging (Allen & Land, 1999; Gilbert & Irons, 2009; McLean, 2005; McLean, Breen, & Fournier, 2010; Steinberg, 2002; Wolfe & Mash, 2006). Hence, in adolescence, there is a heightened focus on self-other evaluations and competition with each other for acceptance, approval and status (Wolfe, Lennox, & Cutler, 1986). Such concerns may render one more vulnerable to difficulties with self-consciousness, self-presentation, fear of rejection and being assigned an unwanted and inferior social rank position, all of which are linked to the experience of shame (Gilbert & Irons, 2009).

Numerous theoretical accounts converge on the notion that shame is a multifaceted self-conscious emotion related to a self-focused and self-evaluative experience of the self (e.g., as inferior, inadequate, flawed, powerless; Kaufman, 1989; Lewis, 1971; Tangney & Dearing, 2002; Tangney & Fisher, 1995; Tracy & Robins, 2004). However, shame is fundamentally a socially-focused emotion, linked to the experience of having negative aspects of the self exposed (Lewis, 1992, 2003), and to a sense of self as negatively felt (e.g., contempt, anger, ridicule) and judged (e.g., as defective, inferior, incompetent) by others (Gilbert, 1992, 1998, 2002).

The idea that shame is specifically social, since it has to arise in the social arenas, has been developed by Gilbert in an integrative and evolutionary perspective -the biopsychosocial model of shame (Gilbert, 1998, 2002, 2007). In light of this approach, shame derives from human's innate motives for attachment (Bowlby, 1969/1982, 1973; Cassidy & Shaver, 1999), group belonging (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) and concern with one's relative social place (Gilbert, 1992, 2000). In addition, a set of unfolding cognitive competencies for social understanding (e.g., theory of mind, Byrne, 1995; mentalizing, Liotti & Gilbert, 2011) and for self-conscious awareness (Lewis, 2003; Tracy & Robins, 2004) mature as we grow, in order to monitor self-in-relationship-to-others, and impact on social behavior and self-evaluations (Baldwin, 2005; Gilbert, 2007). These cognitive abilities evolved to make us highly sensitive, focused and responsive to what others think and feel about the self, since human survival, prospering and welfare greatly depend on being able to create desirable images of the self in the mind of the others. In other words, to be seen as an attractive social agent (e.g., to be valued, accepted, loved, nurtured by others) increases the chances of engaging others in the co-creation of advantageous social roles (e.g., friend, lover, ally, team member). Thus, to be loved, valued and chosen by others for important social roles, influences brain maturation and affect regulation, fostering feelings of safeness and connectedness and toning down distress in face of threats. In contrast, to be seen as an unattractive social agent (e.g., being criticized, ridiculed, rejected, abused), compromises effective emotion regulation, undermines the co-construction of favorable social roles and triggers threat related responses (Ectoff, 1999; Gilbert, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2007; Gilbert & Irons, 2009). …

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