Exploring the relationship between shame and anger: A multi-method investigation

Jennie Hejdenberg

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The link between shame and anger is widely recognised in the clinical and therapeutic literature. Clinicians maintain that anger is commonly used to attempt to defend the self from the painful experience of shame. Given the paucity of research in this area, the aim of the present research was to explore the nature of any relationship between shame and anger at both a dispositional and a situational level. The research used a multi-method design in a sample of students and in individuals attending anger management. Single case studies using discourse analysis have reported instances of unacknowledged or unconscious shame, preceding expressions of anger however this theory has not been tested with alternative methods. In the current thesis, the existence of unacknowledged shame was explored with an emotional Stroop task in the student sample. The results indicated that shame words caused a facilitation effect for high anger individuals who self-report low levels of shame, such that they were faster when responding to shame words than to neutral words, which is consistent with the notion that this group may be avoiding shame.
The questionnaire findings in the student sample demonstrated a specific link between dispositional shame and the tendency to become angry in response to criticism, in line with theoretical predictions. The relationship between students´ feelings of shame and anger in a situational context was explored with a semi-structured interview covering a real-life situation of an anger-provoking put-down experience. The data were analysed quantitatively and qualitatively. Although findings indicated no relation between reporting shame and the degree of anger felt, theoretical notions of the relationship between shame and anger were supported such that aspects of external shame were related to a seething type of anger, and aspects of internal shame were related to a lesser likelihood of expressing anger to the perpetrator. The interview was also administered to a sample of individuals who had attended anger management. Qualitative findings indicated that these individuals reported a mixture of feelings, including anger, shame, and shame-related feelings in the put-down situations, as well as difficulties in identifying and labelling the specific feelings. Considered together, the interview data from both samples supports the theoretical notion of a perceived evaluating other as an important aspect in the relationship between situational shame and anger, as the disapproving other may allow the shifting of aroused negative feelings and become a target of feelings of hostility and revenge. The implications of the findings for managing shame and anger problems are discussed along with general issues of the measurement of emotions and the labelling of subjective emotional experience.
Original languageEnglish
  • Andrews, Bernice, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Sept 2010
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010

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