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The Effect of Shame and Shame Memories on Paranoid Ideation and Social Anxiety


  • This research has been supported by the first author (Marcela Matos) Ph.D. Grant (SFRH/BD/36617/2007), sponsored by FCT (Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology).

Correspondence to: Marcela Matos, MSc, PhD Student, CINEICC, Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da Educação, Universidade de Coimbra, Rua do Colégio Novo, Apartado 6153, 3001–802 Coimbra, Portugal.




Social wariness and anxiety can take different forms. Paranoid anxiety focuses on the malevolence of others, whereas social anxiety focuses on the inadequacies in the self in competing for social position and social acceptance. This study investigates whether shame and shame memories are differently associated with paranoid and social anxieties.


Shame, traumatic impact of shame memory, centrality of shame memory, paranoia and social anxiety were assessed using self-report questionnaires in 328 participants recruited from the general population.


Results from path analyses show that external shame is specifically associated with paranoid anxiety. In contrast, internal shame is specifically associated with social anxiety. In addition, shame memories, which function like traumatic memories, or that are a central reference point to the individual's self-identity and life story, are significantly associated with paranoid anxiety, even when current external and internal shame are considered at the same time. Thus, traumatic impact of shame memory and centrality of shame memory predict paranoia (but not social anxiety) even when considering for current feelings of shame.


Our study supports the evolutionary model suggesting there are two different types of ‘conspecific’ anxiety, with different evolutionary histories, functions and psychological processes. Paranoia, but less so social anxiety, is associated with traumatic impact and the centrality of shame memories. Researchers and clinicians should distinguish between types of shame memory, particularly those where the self might have felt vulnerable and subordinate and perceived others as threatening and hostile, holding malevolent intentions towards the self. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Key Practitioner Message

  • Shame and shame memories are distinctively related to paranoia and social anxiety.
  • External shame is especially associated with paranoid ideation, whereas internal shame is specifically linked to social anxiety.
  • The historical route of shame memories, especially those structured as traumatic and central memories to personal identity and life story, may play a significant role in paranoia, perhaps more so than in social anxiety.
  • Therapy for paranoia or social anxiety should integrate strategies to work with shame.
  • Therapeutic interventions with patients experiencing paranoid anxiety should evaluate and address their shame memories, particularly those that function as traumatic and central memories to their self-identity and life narrative.