Exploring the relationship between Shame Memories, Self-Concept and Wellbeing

Prof Doc Thesis

Mcdonnell, G. 2017. Exploring the relationship between Shame Memories, Self-Concept and Wellbeing. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.6735
AuthorsMcdonnell, G.
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Background: High levels of shame are considered a transdiagnostic experience, and have been associated with early shame memories that contain traumatic features and become central to one’s self-concept. Compassion Focused Therapy aims to reduce shame via compassionate exercises. Difficulties, however, can be experienced when these are attempted, and identifying fears around developing compassion might not be helpful for all individuals. Consequently, there is a clinical need to consider alternative constructs. Structural aspects of self-concept are considered to be significant in the experience of psychological distress and wellbeing, but have been largely overlooked in clinical psychology, and have yet to be considered in the experience of shame.
Aim: To explore the relationships between shame memories containing traumatic and centrality features, current experiences of shame, a structural component of self-concept in the form of self-concept clarity, and psychological distress and wellbeing.
Method: Participants (n = 220), ranging from 18-63 years (M = 32.03, SD = 10.82) completed questionnaires online pertaining to the characteristics of a shame memory they recalled, current experiences of external and internal shame, self- concept clarity, self-esteem, psychological distress, and wellbeing. One hundred and five participants (46.47%)

had received a range of psychiatric diagnoses, and a further thirty-two (14.54%) experienced self-reported psychological distress.
Results: Shame memories containing traumatic and centrality features were significantly associated with shame and distress. Shame memories containing traumatic features was a significant predictor of psychological distress and wellbeing. Participants who recalled a shame memory involving an attachment figure reported significantly more traumatic and centrality features, higher external and internal shame, and lower self-esteem and wellbeing, compared to those who recalled a shame memory involving a non-attachment figure. Significant and moderate associations were found between self-concept clarity, shame memories, and shame. Self-concept clarity, however, was not a significant predictor of psychological distress and wellbeing, whilst self-esteem was.
Conclusions: The findings suggested that self-esteem could be more useful to consider than self-concept clarity in the experience of shame. However, this could have been influenced by the measures used. A number of tentative clinical implications can be drawn from the study including the importance of assessing the key details of shame memories (e.g., who the individual felt shamed by), and actively attending to wellbeing and distress within assessments and interventions for high levels of shame. The importance of preventative interventions in reducing shaming experiences within public health initiatives and educational settings was also demonstrated.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.6735
Publication dates
PrintJun 2017
Publication process dates
Deposited05 Jan 2018
Publisher's version
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