Shame is a self-conscious emotion resulting from feelings of personal inadequacy, dishonour and disgrace. Some English words associated to this feeling are humiliation, guilt, embarrassment and remorse.
Feelings of shame result when we believe we have done something inadequately or have directly violated core cultural values. Whilst the ability to deeply reflect about ourselves and our actions is necessary and positive, feeling ashamed is a negative emotion that deprives us of our full expression thereby re-inforcing our own perceived lower value to others.
Shame can be either a vice or a virtue, depending on how and when it is used. An excess of shame can lead to self-deprecation and low self-esteem; a deficiency in shame can lead to arrogance.
When shameful, people report feeling small, low energy and undeserving of good things in life. The shame expression involves lowering the head and eyes, while the body expression involves shrinking the chest and hiding the face behind one’s hands.
This combined posture makes us look physically smaller, and protects our vulnerable areas (chest, neck and stomach). This is opposite to pride, where the body tends to inflate.
This is an important emotion to human social life. Some scientists believe that we developed shame displays to indicate our place in the hierarchy of our group. People with lower status tend to display shame much more than those in higher status positions.