One-Way Guilt Trips: New Study Examines the Destructiveness of Shame

Share Article

A recent study by reveals that pathological shame acts like a psychological and emotional virus, destroying a person’s self-esteem, personal pride, and sense of joy.

Pathological shame quickly eats away at a person’s self-concept.

People who experience persistent shame develop the belief that they are irreparably defective.

Shame becomes embedded in a person’s identity and sense of self. The person believes that he or she is hopelessly flawed.

Although there may be some arguable benefits of shame as an impetus for change and self-improvement, the cost far outweighs its benefits. The source of shame is a deeply entrenched belief that one is flawed and consequently, can offer nothing of value to others. What makes it so destructive, however, is shame’s ability to feed on itself, creating a vicious cycle where a person engages in ceaseless self-criticism.

Research conducted by PsychTests indicates that people who experience pathological shame struggle with a host of issues, including insecurity, pessimism, negative affect, and self-sabotaging behaviors.

Analyzing data collected from 12,259 people who took the Emotional Intelligence Test, PsychTests’ researchers asked participants about the degree to which they are ashamed of their appearance or behavior. Those who frequently experience extreme shame displayed a number of negative patterns. For example:

> 69% often expect the worst of situations (compared to 20% of the unashamed group).
> 73% struggle with obsessive, negative thoughts (compared to 27% of the unashamed group).
> 31% don’t bother to set any goals because they don’t believe they will achieve them (compared to 2% of the unashamed group).
> 69% avoid getting their hopes up so that they don’t end up disappointed (compared to 20% of the unashamed group).
> 61% see their lives as being one problem after another (compared to 8% of the unashamed group).

> 71% find it difficult to accept compliments (compared to 19% of the unashamed group).
> 40% feel they don’t deserve the success they have attained (compared to 3% of the unashamed group).
> 73% are not comfortable asking for what they want, even if they feel they deserve it (compared to 27% of the unashamed group).
> 80% experience frequent self-doubt (compared to 10% of the unashamed group).
> 68% hold back on expressing their ideas for fear of looking stupid or being ridiculed (compared to 9% of the unashamed group).

> 63% feel their life lacks purpose, and they are just going through the motions (compared to 11% of the unashamed group).
> 55% are never satisfied with their achievements (compared to 17% of the unashamed group).
> 65% feel like they are on a constant emotional roller coaster (compared to 13% of the unashamed group).
> 70% say that they often feel discouraged (compared to 5% of the unashamed group).
> 69% struggle to bounce back from failure, rejection, or disappointment (compared to 9% of the unashamed group).

> 69% consistently put others’ needs ahead of their own (compared to 18% of the unashamed group).
> 71% insult themselves when they make a mistake or fail (compared to 7% of the unashamed group).
> 77% overanalyze situations or events, creating problems where none existed (compared to 28% of the unashamed group).
> 64% are conflict-avoidant (compared to 24% of the unashamed group).
> 68% desperately desire other people’s approval (compared to 7% of the unashamed group).

“Shame is one of the most energy-draining emotions, because it’s a never-ending cycle of shame, self-deprecation, and then more shame,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “It’s hard to uproot because the self-loathing runs so deep. This is because shame is often triggered by considerably scarring events, such as abuse or trauma, harshly critical parents, or being raised in an excessively strict and demoralizing religion in which people are made to believe that they are fundamentally immoral. Guilt and remorse are different because they can often be alleviated: you do something wrong, you feel bad, you make amends. Shame, however, becomes embedded in a person’s identity and sense of self. The person believes that he or she is hopelessly flawed, and as we can see in our study, things just spiral from there.”

“For those who struggle with frequent self-shame spirals, I suggest three steps: find the source, uproot the distorted belief, and create a new affirmation. Here’s an example: Imagine you fail an assignment. You start feeling ashamed, and chastise yourself for always messing things up. What’s the source of this reaction? Perhaps your parents or teachers always made a spectacle of your mistakes, and embarrassed or punished you. What’s the distorted belief? That ‘you always mess things up’ - which is a glaring generalization, because chances are that there are at least some things that you do well, or even better than others. What should your new affirmation be? That everyone makes mistakes. The only thing that matters is what you learn from them. Although it is possible to break patterns of shame, I would suggest doing so with the help of a therapist or coach.”

Want to assess your EQ? Check out the Emotional Intelligence Test at:

Professional users, such as HR managers, coaches, and therapists, can request a free demo for this or other assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D
Visit website