Managing shame: An interpersonal perspective
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Experiences of shame are often difficult to manage, not least because of their interpersonal implications. However, limited research attention has been paid to the management and repair of shame, and in particular to the role that social factors may play in this. We aimed to explore these issues by obtaining 50 written first-person accounts of experiences of managing difficult episodes of shame from a cross section of students and employees at a British university. These participant-generated narrative accounts were supplemented by written answers to open-ended questions. Via a contextual constructionist thematic analysis, three overarching themes were identified: The centrality of others' evaluations of the self; Repositioning the self vis-à-vis others, and Being disabled by shame. Discussion focuses on the first two of these themes which together suggest that because the participants saw their shame as produced in interaction with others, effective management and repair of shame depended not just on a changed view of the self but on a repositioning of the self in relation to others. This analysis therefore suggests that repair of shame may often need to be mutually negotiated and as such provides support for theoretical approaches to shame which emphasize the centrality of others' actual or perceived judgements of the self.
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