The role of attributions in the process of overcoming shame: A qualitative analysis

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Abstract

Objectives

While attributions have been found to play an important role in the experience of shame, little is currently known about attributions that occur as part of shame reparation. This exploratory study investigated the attributions associated with recovery from shame, based on the perspectives of participants.

Design

Grounded theory was used in data collection and analysis. This approach has been used extensively for developing understandings of how people construct meaning, interpret events, and act on the basis of their beliefs and interpretations.

Methods

The participants were nine women and four men between the ages of 24 and 70. Data came from interviews in which the participants recalled a distressing shame experience and described how they recovered. Emphasis was on the participants' subjective perspectives, meanings, and interpretations.

Results

Shame involved global and stable dispositional attributions where the entire self was regarded as flawed and unattractive, and participants perceived themselves as powerless to change an unwanted identity. Internal causal attributions and self-blame were present in most but not all shame experiences. Recovery involved a movement towards specific and unstable attributions that enhanced self-concept and maximized a sense of power and control over the future. Shared and external factors that contributed to the event were also identified.

Conclusions

When applied to psychotherapy for shame-related distress, these findings point to the importance of exploring clients' attributions related to specific shame events and using interventions that promote attributional change. Directions for further research are discussed.

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