The experience of a childhood trauma can result in many lasting effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. Those who experience childhood trauma may also be more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use or other dangerous behavior patterns.
While much research has been completed on the effects of childhood trauma as the individual ages into adulthood, there has been little research on the high level of shame that often accompanies such an experience. While symptoms of depression or anxiety may be treatable through medication or therapy, there may be an underlying shame that can have an impact on the individual on a lasting basis.
A study led by Melissa Platt from the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon examined the effects of the negative underlying assumptions (NUAs) that result from shame. The feelings associated with shame might take the form of an individual not feeling they are good enough. These feelings might impact how an individual may perform academically.
Platt recruited 30 college students and assessed them for a history of trauma. She also enlisted the participants to complete a series of online study sessions that could be done at any time during the academic semester. Throughout the course, the participants submitted answers and received feedback.
The information gained by the assessments showed that when participants had a high level of NUAs, they were more likely to have a history of some type of trauma, when compared with those who had a low level of NUA. Those who had no history of trauma had low levels of NUAs.
The participants with high levels of NUA were found to be more sensitive when they received negative feedback. They also exhibited shameful emotional responses compared with those who had a low level of NUAs. This finding was especially notable among those who had at least one traumatic experience in their history.
The findings indicate that a history of just a single traumatic experience may increase the feelings of shame and individuals may have those feelings for many years following the instance of trauma.
The negative feedback offered during the online course was minor, but the students who had a high level of NUAs experienced a disproportionately high level of shame. Platt explains that the findings provide support for the further research of the impact of shame.
Platt explains that those who experience a significant trauma that leads to shame have had their previously held beliefs challenged and feel that their meaning systems are no longer valid. Platt says that more information is needed about the effects of shame to help individuals work through and overcome the negativity.
The study’s findings appear in a recent issue of the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy.