One reason shame has gone unstudied is that it is a very difficult emotion to capture.
And it's not just judges; parents around the country are also forcing their kids to wear signs -- "I am a thief," for example -- to shame them into moral action.
America has a long tradition of public humiliation, dating back to stockades and pillories of the colonial era.
It included chapter and verse about my intimate sexual activities, along with transcripts of audiotapes that chronicled many of my private conversations. True, this wasn’t the first time I’d been stigmatized for my affair with Bill Clinton.
But never had I been so directly confronted, one-on-one, with such a crass characterization.
But this recent upsurge in the use of scorn and shame is raising important questions about this practice, namely: Does it work? Or does it work the opposite way, further tarnishing people's self-image and diminishing their sense of personal responsibility? Does the same psychological dynamic work with socially undesirable habits like drug use and alcoholism? Alcoholics may be prone to shame, by disposition, and on top of that, drinking helps numb these aversive feelings.
Indeed, alcoholics may drink in part to cope with chronic shame and low self-worth, and the heavy drinking could in turn be causing shame, creating a vicious cycle of abuse.
In short, as described in a future issue of the journal , feelings of shame do not appear to promote sobriety or protect against future problematic drinking -- indeed the opposite.
This is the first scientific evidence to bolster what alcoholism counselors and recovering alcoholics have long known: Shame is a core emotion underlying chronic heavy drinking.
Then, later, they analyzed and coded their body movements and postures as a measure of their shameful feelings.
People who are ashamed act very much like submissive animals, slumping the shoulders and narrowing the chest, the opposite of proud chest beating.
The alcoholics who were most ashamed about their last drink -- typically a humiliating experience -- were much more likely to relapse.