Shame and Avoidance in Trauma

  • K. Jessica Van Vliet


Shame is a painful emotion that often arises in the face of traumatic life events. In the context of war and armed conflict, trauma survivors may experience shame in response to their actions or as a consequence of their powerlessness to defend against attack. Shame can also result from injuries and disabilities sustained during conflict. If left unresolved, shame can interfere with recovery from trauma and prevent people from accessing vital sources of social support. Avoidance, a common defensive strategy for coping with shame and trauma, can be highly adaptive in the short term. As part of an intrapsychic trauma membrane that buffers shame and traumatic memories, avoidance may help reduce excessive emotional arousal, allowing the trauma survivor to bolster resources and process intrusive stimuli at a manageable pace. For helping professionals working with trauma survivors, an awareness of the possible presence of shame, as well as an understanding of the protective functions of avoidance, is essential. Gradual processing of traumatic and shame-eliciting material is necessary to avoid perforating the trauma membrane and causing further harm.


Traumatic Event Ptsd Symptom Avoidance Strategy Rape Myth Rape Victim 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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