Shame memories from childhood/adolescence, which operate as traumatic
memories and become central to personal identity, have been associated with
shame in adulthood. Shame has been reported in the context of motherhood
but not yet investigated within Gilbert’s (1998, 2010) biopsychosocial framework.
Self-compassion, as an orientation to care for oneself has been found to buffer
people against the psychological impact of stressful events, such as the
transition to motherhood.
Drawing on the biopsychosocial framework, this study aimed firstly to profile the
shame memories of first time mothers in the UK and Ireland. Secondly, it aimed
to explore the relationships between the traumatic and centrality features of
shame memories, shame, compassion, fears of compassion and emotional
adjustment to motherhood.
Drawing on a critical realist epistemological position, this study adopted a crosssectional,
quantitative approach. New mothers (N = 133) across the UK and
Ireland were recruited on social media forums to complete a series of
established self-report questionnaires via an online survey platform.
The most frequently selected category of shame situation recalled by mothers
was ‘exposure of perceived negative personal attributes, characteristics,
behaviour to others’ (N = 34). Canonical correlation analysis revealed that
shame memories predicted shame, compassion and fears of compassion.
Multiple regression analysis revealed self-compassion to be the only significant
predictor of emotional adjustment to motherhood in the model. Shame did not
moderate this relationship.
Participants experienced shame, fears of receiving compassion and low levels
of self-compassion suggesting that they may be experiencing distress with
insufficient access to self-soothing skills. Nonetheless, a more selfcompassionate
attitude was associated with greater emotional adjustment to
motherhood. Perinatal health services are advised to promote the development
of compassion at all levels.