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Shame and the vulnerable self in medical contexts: the compassionate solution

Abstract

Shame is a powerful experience that plays a vital role in a whole range of aspects of the clinical encounter. Shame experiences can have an impact on our psychological and physiological state and on how we experience ourselves, others and our relationships. The medical encounter is an obvious arena for shame because we are presenting (aspects of) our bodies and minds that can be seen as unattractive and undesirable, diseased, decayed and injured with the various excretions that typically might invite disgust. In contrast, experiences of compassion of acceptance, validation and kindness and can increase approach, openness and preparedness to engage with painful difficult scenarios. While shame is an experience that separates, segregates, marginalises and disengages people, caring and compassion facilitate integration, (re)connection and support. Given the potential opposite impacts of these different types of social experience, this paper will outline their evolutionary origins and compare and contrast them with particular reference to the medical context.

  • medical education

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