Negative Feedback Elicits Shame in Trauma Survivors

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.

Related articles:
Childhood Trauma and the Mind-Body Connection for Adults
Do You Try to Avoid Your Feelings?
Shy, Cousin of Shame

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  • anderson

    August 7th, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    if I was abused or traumatized earlier then I would tend to look at others as if they were all out to get me.So a negative review of a trauma survivor would definitely make him feel low and more negative than others in general.

    these people need help to understand that being abused or traumatized was not their mistake and that they do not have any inadequacy in them.then maybe they will feel better even after receiving a negative feedback for their work or anything else.

  • Heidi

    August 8th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    It is as if once you have experienced some sort of trauma in your life, there is then this underlying assumption that everything in life will fall into place like that. What a shame that so many people will never be able to see life as being beautiful because they are so tainted by what has happened to them in the past.

  • SJT

    August 8th, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    Oh I c this so often!The same negative feedback has different effect on different people.Its easy to c this at the workplace where some people will take it up as a challenge n some others will just want to bury themselves in a shell.But i always thot its becoz some people r optimists n some others r pessimists.just how do we identify a trauma survivor?Becoz I sure do not want to be contributing negatively to a trauma survivor!

  • Nancy freeman

    August 8th, 2012 at 3:48 PM

    Trauma victims have already been through so much in life. What on earth could the benefit of feeding them negative feedback be unless you are them providing them with some constructive ways to overcome that?
    I fail to see how there could be anything good to come of that other than to be able to sit back and say oh yeah, they don’t handle that kind of negativity too well.
    No kidding

  • T.Powell

    August 8th, 2012 at 8:56 PM

    So these people basically beat themselves up into believing that even an honest negative feedback is much more than it actually is? That is horrible. I would never want to be stuck with such thoughts in my mind. They definitely need help!

  • elaine

    August 9th, 2012 at 4:31 AM

    First they feel bad because many of them think that what happened to them is their fault, and then they are probably feeling bad because they feel this shame time and again throughtout their lives. It is a cycle of shame and blame that for many trauma survivors never seems to end.

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