shame: a universal emotion
Most research suggests that people from all cultures, environments, and geographic regions experience shame. Research on facial expressions even suggests that expressions associated with shame and guilt are widely recognizable, even among people viewing images of those from vastly different cultures.
Cultural factors play a major role in how a person experiences shame and which experiences are likely to induce shame. For instance, in collectivist cultures, a person may experience shame due to someone else's actions. A 1998 study found that, compared to American college students, Chinese college students experienced higher levels of shame when a sibling was caught cheating.
In many cultures, public shaming is used as a way to control or punish behavior. Fear of bringing shame to oneself or one's family may play a role in people's decision to obey the law, treat others fairly, or work hard. More recently, public shaming has moved online. Businesses may face an onslaught of negative comments in response to political or religious commentary. In 2015, a dentist received thousands of negative reviews, threats, and hostile comments on his social media after he killed a beloved lion.
Research consistently shows that shame can have catastrophic effects on mental health and behavior. Feelings of shame have been linked to suicidal actions and gestures. Shame may also deter people from seeking treatment for mental health issues or make it difficult to apologize for wrongdoing.
where does shame come from?
The experience of shame can be deeply unpleasant. People experiencing shame are struck by the overwhelming belief that they—as opposed to their actions or feelings—are bad. In some people, this may inspire a change in behavior. In others, shame can be paralyzing.
Shame has many sources. Sometimes a person is plagued by feelings of shame without a clear cause. This is more common among people with mental health diagnoses. Some studies have linked conditions such as depression or social anxiety to shame. Because mental health conditions remain stigmatized, a person experiencing shame due to a mental health condition may continually become more ashamed of themselves and their condition, exacerbating symptoms and making it difficult to seek help.