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Shame and Resilience among Pākehā New Zealanders

Shame can be a powerful and evocative experience. Shame can contribute to the development of mental illnesses, such as depressive, anxiety, and eating disorders. Shame can also contribute to social problems, such as violent crime. However, shame is experienced by almost everyone. While shame causes serious psychological and social problems for some people, others experience shame with no lasting negative effects. Research is needed to discover why and how some people are devastated by shame while others become resilient in the face of shame. This study fills a necessary gap by linking the study of shame and resilience, and providing a comprehensive qualitative understanding of these important constructs. An in-depth study of shame has never before been undertaken in a New Zealand social context. As New Zealand is a multi-cultural nation and the experience of shame is culture specific, it was necessary to narrow the investigation to one particular sub-culture. Pākehā New Zealanders were chosen as the target population for the research. Developing understandings of shame and resilience, and their expression in Pākehā culture, can benefit all New Zealanders, as the cultural practices of the dominant culture can profoundly influence other sub-cultures. However, it is important to note that while the study is located in Pākehā culture, it is not specifically a cultural study. Therefore, the findings do not provide a definitive and exhaustive account of the cultural experiences of shame and resilience among Pākehā New Zealanders. The study blended social constructionist and phenomenological epistemological influences. This allowed for participants’ lived experiences of shame and resilience to be investigated, while recognising the power of social and cultural discourses to affect participants’ experiences and their interpretations. Seventeen participants were interviewed. The interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. Participants experienced shame as being: invariably negative, powerful, hidden, enduring, often debilitating, sometimes unremarkable, physical, and social. While most participants constructed shame as unhelpful and useless, some participants, and I as the researcher, remained open to the possibility that shame can have social benefits. Shame may be useful for bringing attention to a threatened social bond, which can then be attended to and restored. While countless situational triggers for shame were identified, the more significant source of shame was identified as being judgement. Specifically, shame was linked with judgements targeted at one’s identity, or that threatened the security of one’s relationships. Resilience is complex and significantly influenced by cultural values. Participants contrasted a false cultural ideal of resilience, as rugged, individualistic toughness, with true resilience, which is developed in supportive relationships, over time, through struggle. Responses to shame were divided into two broad categories. Participants’ natural responses to shame were to avoid, escape, or succumb. These responses are understandable, and sometimes protective in the short term. However, when these responses occur without awareness and conscious choice, long-term psychological and social problems can occur. The more resilient responses to shame are to be vulnerable, be present, and be willing to change. Acknowledging shame and actively engaging in the struggle with shame can ultimately promote resilience.
Type of thesis
Brennan, S. (2014). Shame and Resilience among Pākehā New Zealanders (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8919
University of Waikato
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