Experiencing a shame response as a precursor to violence.
H. E. Thomas,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
23(4): 587-93, 1995.
The shame response is a primitive physiological response to a rejection of oneself by another. The
discomfort of this response may vary from intense physical pain to one that is barely noticeable, if
at all. When this pain is sufficient, it causes anger that may be directed outward against another or
inward against oneself. The intensity of the shame response, hence the intensity of the pain and
anger, is related to the significance of the other, the significance of witnesses to the rejection, one's
vulnerability, whether or not the rejection is of oneself or an aspect of oneself, and if the rejection
comes as a surprise. When most intense (i.e., most painful), the shame response may include a
tightness of the throat, nausea, stomach pain, and a sense that the contents of one's chest and
abdomen are collapsing, exploding, or imploding. In reviewing what preceded an act of violence,
it is necessary to determine whether the assailant had experienced a shame response and how intense
it was. Understanding that a shame response can lead to anger and violence allows for the prevention
of violence. This requires that individuals do not experience rejections that are so painful as to lead