Shame as a social phenomenon: A critical analysis of the concept of dispositional shame

Dawn Leeming, Mary Boyle

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


An increased clinical interest in shame has been reflected in the growing number of research studies in this area. However, clinically orientated empirical investigation has mostly been restricted to the investigation of individual differences in dispositional shame. This study reviews recent work on dispositional shame but then argues that the primacy of this construct has been problematic in a number of ways. Most importantly, the notion of shame as a context-free intrapsychic variable has distracted clinical researchers from investigating the management and repair of experiences of shame and shameful identities and has made the social constitution of shame less visible. Several suggestions are made for alternative ways in which susceptibility to shame could be conceptualized, which consider how shame might arise in certain contexts and as a product of particular social encounters. For example, persistent difficulties with shame may relate to the salience of stigmatizing discourses within a particular social context, the roles or subject positions available to an individual, the establishment of a repertoire of context-relevant shame avoidance strategies and the personal meaning of shamefulness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-396
Number of pages22
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes


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