Shame can have a detrimental impact on mental health and well-being in adulthood (Tangney & Dearing, 2002), yet research on childhood experiences have largely relied on quantitative measures (Mills, 2005) or retrospective accounts (Kutrovátz, 2017; Denham, 2007) rather than speaking directly with young people.
It remains unclear how young people describe shame and navigate shameful encounters, how they regulate the feeling, and the role others may play (Leeming & Boyle, 2013; Cradwick, 2020).
This study aimed to foreground young people’s descriptions of shame and their developing regulation strategies, to support those working with this age group to better recognise common experiences of shame, and provide earlier help and support.
Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with twelve young people aged 14-15 years old in a general UK population. Results were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2021).
Three main themes were generated. ‘Shame is messy and difficult’ discusses the experience of shame, alongside the complexities of naming it. The second theme ‘dealing with shame’ focuses on the strategies young people use. The final theme ‘shame as relational’ focuses on young people’s experiences of how others impact on their shame, and regulation strategies.
The findings provide an insight into how 14-15 year olds describe, understand and manage shameful experiences, and illuminates the research benefits of speaking directly to young people. Alongside descriptions of shame, young people also provide information on how others can support them, with feeling understood and belonging highlighted as key experiences for managing shame. Implications for this research are discussed, alongside recommendations for future research.