Shame can produce feelings of inadequacy and a sense of being less than, or being flawed. People who have survived childhood traumas tend to have high levels of shame. Although there has been an abundance of research in the area of childhood trauma and the consequences of such events, little attention has been given to the residual effects of shame on survivors. To address this gap in literature, Melissa Platt of the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon recently led a study to determine how negative underlying assumptions (NUAs) of shame, such as feelings of being not good enough, would affect performance on an academic task.
Platt enlisted 30 college students and assessed their prior history of trauma. The participants were instructed to complete an online study course at any time of their choosing throughout the semester. During the course, the students submitted answers and were given feedback that was either positive or negative. Platt found that the students that had high levels of NUAs were more likely to have experienced some form of past trauma than those with low levels of NUAs. In contrast, those with no history of trauma exhibited low levels of NUAs.
The high NUA group was more sensitive to negative feedback and tended to exhibit shameful emotional responses than those with low NUAs. This was especially true for the high NUA participants with at least one prior traumatic experience. This finding suggests that the presence of just one trauma can increase feelings of shame that individuals may carry with them for many years. Even though the negative feedback given during the academic task was relatively minor, the shameful response was disproportionately high in the trauma survivors with high NUAs. Platt believes this study provides much needed evidence of the negative effects of trauma-related shame. She said, “According to shattered assumptions theory, traumatized individuals can no longer trust their previously held beliefs and as such, may come to believe that they and their meaning systems are flawed.” She believes more work is needed to determine what can be done to help these individuals overcome this cycle of negativity.
Platt, M., Freyd, J. (2012). Trauma and negative underlying assumptions in feelings of shame: An exploratory study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 4.4: 370-378.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.