Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Shame-Focused Coping: An Empirical Study of the Compass of Shame

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Shame-Focused Coping: An Empirical Study of the Compass of Shame

Article excerpt

The way in which one copes with, or defends against, shame has important implications. The Compass of Shame (Nathanson, 1992) is a conceptual model consisting of four shame-coping styles: Attack Self, Withdrawal, Attack Other, and Avoidance. Participants rated the frequency with which they employed each of the shame-coping scripts across eight categories of shame-inducing situations as described by Nathanson. The scripts were consistently applied across situations and the ratings were stable over time. A differentiated pattern of correlations was found between the four scripts and several indicators of psychological functioning. Results provide empirical support for Nathanson's Compass of Shame model.

Keywords: shame, coping, psychopathology, assessment, validity

Shame is a painful, self-focused affect which has been linked to many dysfunctional states and behaviors (Harder, 1995; Nathanson, 1992; Tangney & Dealing, 2002). Yet it may not be the experience of shame per se, but rather how one copes with shame, that leads to problematic outcomes. Based on clinical observations, Nathanson proposed a model of shame management scripts or coping styles, the Compass of Shame. This model describes four families of script, labeled Attack Self, Withdrawal, Attack Other, and Avoidance. Nathanson hypothesized that the different shame-focused scripts are differentially related to variables associated with shame (e.g., depression, hostility). Scripts, much like schémas, are recursively defined and nested; they are "sets of ordering rules for the interpretation, evaluation, prediction, production, or control" of events (Tomkins, 1991, p. 84). The four poles of the Compass of Shame characterize the many scripts by which shame is reduced, ignored, or magnified, without addressing its source (see Elison, Lennon, & Pulos, in press, or Nathanson, 1992 for details).

At the Withdrawal pole is the family of scripts where the shame message is recognized, accepted as valid, and attempts are made to withdraw from the situation. The phenomenological experience is negative; the experienced emotions are shame, sadness, fear, and anxiety. The action tendency is to withdraw or hide in order to limit shameful exposure.

At the Attack Self pole is the family of scripts where the shame message is recognized, accepted, and magnified by internalization. The phenomenological experience is negative; the emotion is self-directed anger or contempt. The action tendency is to criticize the self, conform, or show deference to others, with the ultimate goal being acceptance by others. These two poles share an important aspect, the internalization of shame's message; the self is found lacking.

At the Avoidance pole is the family of scripts where the shame message is not typically recognized or accepted (denied). Attempts are made to transform the situation into something neutral or positive. The phenomenological experience is neutral or positive; the emotion may be disavowed or overridden with joy or excitement. The action tendency is to prevent the conscious experience of shame. Of all the poles, Avoidance scripts are most likely to be triggered, and operate, outside of consciousness.

Finally, at the Attack Other pole is the family of scripts where the shame message may not be recognized, typically is not accepted, and attempts are made to make someone else feel worse. The phenomenological experience is negative; the emotion is anger directed outward, perhaps toward the source of the shaming event. The action tendency is to verbally or physically attack someone or something else. One may make an attempt to bolster one's own self-image and to externalize the shame by making someone else feel inferior.

Accordingly, the poles of the compass can be ordered by the degree to which they involve consciousness and internalization of shame: Withdrawal and Attack Self are equal, both being greater than Attack Other, which is in turn greater than Avoidance. …

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