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Shame as an Interpersonal Dimension of Communication among Doctoral Students: An Empirical Phenomenological Study

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Current conceptions of shame emphasize its negative communication value as a phenomenon of conscious experience. A tendency in our contemporary society is to view this phenomenon as an extremely disparaging and undesirable experience that every person should avoid or eliminate. It has become a cultural norm now that shame, perceived as human failure or sickness, is to be rejected, hidden, and not discussed. It is believed to stand in the way of personal progress and self-realization. The research literature mirrors not only the lack of interest in understanding but the ignorance of this central-to-human-life experience. The present study examines the meaning and communicative structure of shame through an application of the phenomenological method of Merleau-Ponty and Lanigan. My analysis is grounded in empirical phenomenology and focuses on meaning as reflected in verbal protocols. The results obtained dispel the misleading notion of shame as primarily a negative, to-be-avoided experience. Rather, reflection on the empirical data indicates that the subjects do not adopt the negative theoretical model of shame but accept it as a universal positive experience of communication that is fundamental in their self-improvement process.

Affiliations: 1: SUNY College at Fredonia


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