Shame and Loss: narrative and identity in families with a member suffering from mental illness

Jones, David W. (2003). Shame and Loss: narrative and identity in families with a member suffering from mental illness. International Journal of Critical Psychology, 10 pp. 69–93.

Abstract

This paper investigates the impact that shame can have on people’s sense of identity and how this can be a major factor in exacerbating feelings of loss. Whilst acknowledging the considerable contemporary theoretical interest in the affect of shame, attention is drawn to the methodological difficulties inherent in studying shame. It is argued that shame is an important aspect of human experience but is one that provides a challenge not only to quantitative methods, but also to conventional qualitative methods of enquiry.

A methodology based on psychodynamically-informed interviews and analysis is therefore utilised. Extracts of interviews with families (drawn from a larger study of the impact of serious mental illness on families) are used to argue that the shame of having a family member suffer from mental illness can very directly threaten people’s sense of identity. Shame, it will be argued, helps us understand the well-recognised phenomenon of ‘chronic grieving’ amongst relatives of people with severe mental health problems. Shame keeps people out of the dialogue with others through which new narratives of self might be developed. Theoretical links between this construct of shame and chronic grieving can be made with observations of the associations between shame and depression.

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