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Shame Theory And Native Youth

Affect Script Theory was pioneered by Silvan Tompkins and later enhanced by Nathanson (1992) and Kelly (2009). Tompkins defined nine affects (biological or physiological responses) found in all humans that helps people process stimuli. Tompkins argues that while the process is biological, the connecting emotions are biographical (George, 2011); thus, a feeling connected to our memory creates an emotion that is governed by rules called scripts. Nathanson's (1992) essay supports Tompkins idea that each innate affect has a unique trigger in response to negative and positive stimuli that we all experience. However, it is our individual life experiences that shape our emotional life. Kelly (2009) supports the argument by Nathanson when he states, "Once our memories and experience become involved, the universality of the affect is transformed into the uniqueness of the particular individual's emotion" (Kelly, 2009,

p. 3).

The nine affects identified by Tompkins include two that are positive (Enjoyment and Excitement), one that is neutral (Surprise), and the other six are negative (Shame – Humiliation, Distress – Anguish, Disgust, Fear – Terror, Anger – Rage and Dismell). For my study, I am going to focus on shame and humiliation. Shame and humiliation have been identified as symptoms of disenfranchised guilt that is associated with historical trauma. Tompkins concludes that it is human nature to have more negative or (punishing) affects than there are positive (rewarding) affects.

An essential aspect of the theory remains that humans cannot identify an emotion unless one of the nine affects are triggered. Kelly (2009) states, "this is how the affect system works to filter out all but the most salient stimuli at any particular point in time" (p. 3). Nathanson (1992) and Kelly (2009) both stress that the nine affects are left blank until they are triggered by a stimulus that forces our attention to the affect impacted. The shaming – humiliation affect was the last Affect identified by Tompkins but may be the most significant affect for American Indians because of the prevalence of historical trauma and accompanying shaming.

Shaming – humiliation Affect is triggered by any stimuli that interrupt our excitement or joy. The process is biological, but a physiological response adjoins it. When people experience the shame affect concerning a preconceived social norm or for failing to meet an expectation the physiological response is amplified by the biographical history of our experiences—experiences in many cases that have been passed from one generation to the next as a result of disenfranchised grief. The resulting shame and humiliation is a painful emotional response that diminishes a persons' sense of being and causes a loss of cultural identity. A person that experiences shame goes through a type of shock that causes them to withdraw until they can figure out how to navigate the cognitive shock.

When people become aware that their shame – humiliation Affect has been triggered they begin to reflect on similar shaming experiences and how they interacted with their emotions. The feedback process is our biography that triggers our emotional response. The emotional response is what determines the script that is used. Nathanson (1992) pioneered the shaming scripts and created the Compass of Shame.

The Compass of Shame consists of four scripts or schemas that help people process the shaming affect. The scripts allow people to avoid dealing with the emotional experiences associated with shame and humiliation. Nathanson hypothesized that the different shame-focused scripts yoke to variable related to shame and humiliation. Elison (2006) investigated the Compass of Shame and determined that the model is an effective coping mechanism. The researcher further argues that individuals consistently apply the four shaming scripts across all situations and that there is a high correlation between shame and self-esteem, anger, and psychological symptoms. The four scripts identified by Nathanson (1992) include:

1. Withdrawal: The Withdrawal script helps remove the person from the stares of others. People that use this script often disengage and are loners finding comfort in using solitude to avoid potential shaming experiences. When people use this script to the extreme, they will avoid public appearances such as missing school or work to avoid having to participate in group experiences.

2. Attack Self: People that use the Self Attack script respond to a shaming experience by using self-directed humor or more seriously engaging in self-destructive behaviors.

3. Avoidance: When people use the Avoidance script they attempt to draw attention away from the cause of the shame by focusing on some aspect that is not perceived as a shaming aspect that helps restore the person's status.

4. Attack Others: When people use the Attack Other scripts they transfer their feeling of shame onto others by causing a shaming action against another person. The actions can be seamlessly harmless actions such as using insults or more physical severe aggression. The Attacking Others script can be attributed to increased bullying activities because young people are skillful at identifying a change in their social group. To protect their social position, young people, Attack Others to maintain a position of power over someone else.

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic learning environment that honors your student community, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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