Waikato University student embarks on shame study

Psychology student Samantha Brennan is undertaking New Zealand’s first study on shame and resilience for her PhD at Waikato University.

Samantha is conducting a series of interviews with Pākehā New Zealanders over the age of 18 who identify with the topic and are willing to discuss their experiences with shame.

Established research has found that shame is a contributing factor in many psychological and health problems that affect New Zealanders - depression, anxiety and stress to name a few.

"Shame is a common emotion, experienced by just about everyone at some times in their lives, but it is not commonly spoken about," says Samantha.

Her PhD is titled ‘Shame and resilience among Pākehā New Zealanders’ and she hopes that her research will ultimately help more New Zealanders to achieve resilience in their lives.

Shame and resilience are both areas Samantha is passionate about. "I first became interested in shame research when I stumbled upon a video presentation given by Brené Brown and I strongly resonated with the experience of shame in the way it was presented."

"I recognised shame as a powerful motivator in my own life, and I appreciated being able to reflect on and critically analyse its influence in my research."

The mother of two has found through her interview discussions that we may actually need shame.

"As I talked to more people, I started to realise that we actually need shame in our lives, although it’s unpleasant, it’s actually useful. For one, it helps us to keep a monitor on relationships and repair them when we need to."

She says shame can also cause people to question their identity which in turn strengthens character.

"We learn what we should be ashamed about from the people around us and from the wider culture. Thus it makes sense to study shame within a particular cultural context and as far as we can tell, no one has studied shame with a Pākehā context."

Samantha says that almost everyone experiences shame, but not everyone experiences the negative effects of shame.

"Some people can overcome shame, going on to lead healthy, resilient lives and a goal of my research is to find out what allows some people to thrive and develop resilience in the face of adversity.

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