Shame can be a powerfully aversive emotion that is associated with a wide variety of mental health difficulties including non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). This study used a novel mixed-methods design (Qualitative Experiential Sequence Tracking; QUEST) to investigate the experiences of shame in a sample of individuals who self-injure.
Six participants received prompts to complete brief online diaries three times per day over a period of 2 weeks. These diaries captured information about the experience of negative emotions, especially shame. Participants then underwent an individualised qualitative interview about their experiences over the previous 2 weeks.
Thematic analysis suggested that participants experienced shame as a social and relational emotion. Further themes included shame being associated with feelings of failure, being trapped, dangerous or contaminated, and hidden or exposed. The phenomenology of shame, and coping with shame, were also themes. NSSI could occur as a response to shame, but often shame was triggered or exacerbated by the responses of others to NSSI.
Consistent with previous research, shame was described as an aversive emotion occurring within interpersonal and broader societal contexts and involving a negative self-focus. A lack of compassion or understanding in response to NSSI, or anticipation of negative responses from others often triggered more intense shame than the NSSI itself. Future studies could use QUEST methodology with more diverse samples or different populations to further investigate experiences of shame.