Shame: A Social Emotion

Shame: A Social Emotion

Shame is being exposed and unprotected to the judgment and criticism of others. Often shame is a self-annihilation or an obliteration of self. Shame is ubiquitous in our American culture. We receive messages of not being good enough, in advertising, in the media, in sports, at school, and at home. Often our worth is based on our fame or fortune. Brené Brown explained that our culture often equates being ordinary with being boring, or even more dangerously, “ordinary has become synonymous with meaninglessness” (Brown, 2010, p. 84). In our culture to be ordinary or average is shameful.

I recently read an article in Time Magazine, entitled Why there is crying in baseball, and tennis, and golf and soccer… The author, Sean Gregory, reported on the tennis player Marin Clilic, who “broke down in tears” during his loss at the Wimbledon men’s final. Yet, Cilic was playing with a blister that hampered his ability to move, and he lost an important match to Roger Federer. The Time article has a picture of Cilic with a towel draped overhead, and head bowed; a public demonstration of shame. The author of the article also reported that a TV host, Piers Morgan, made the following tweet “Get a grip, Cilic. You don’t sob like a baby because you’re losing, That’s pathetic.” This tweet was a powerful and public shaming comment. This tweet underscores the judgment and lack of compassion that is prevalent when people shame others.

The message Marin Cilic received was that of shame, “you are not good enough,” “you are a baby,” “your emotions should not expressed or acknowledged.” Hearing messages of criticism and shame destroy the sense of self and cause self-doubt. Many people believe their emotions are bad, and that they are unworthy and unlovable. I had a client once say that his “shame is the shell that covers my emotions that I have a right to feel.” We all have a right to experience fear, sadness, hurt, joy, and love without being shamed.

The neuroscientist David Presti explained that emotions have an intense and direct impact on human behavior and action. Emotions are spontaneous and unbidden, they wax and wane. Emotions such as joy, fear, and shame may communicate aspects of our inner experiences and are the basis of social communication. Shame, while a natural part of the human experience, is also an emotion based on social expectations.

David Johns has a PhD in Counseling Education and Supervision. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC) in the state of Colorado. He is works with people who experience the pain and heartache of shame. He hopes that by doing so, clients can cultivate shame resilience, by shedding light to their shame stories, and move to a constructive understanding of pain and live a more authentic life. For an appointment call 303-642-6636 or email at [email protected]


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Gregory, S. (2017, July). Why there is crying in baseball, and tennis, and golf and soccer… Time 190(4), 25-26

Presti, D. E. (2016). Foundational concepts in neuroscience: A brain-mind odyssey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Weinhold, J. B., & Weinhold, B. K. (2011). Healing developmental trauma: A systems approach to counseling individuals, couples, and families. Denver, CO: Love Publishing Company.

Whitfield, C. L. (1989). Healing the child within. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.