Concern for self-image and social image in the management of moral failure: Rethinking shame


  • Both authors contributed equally to this article.

Nicolay Gausel, Østfold University College, Halden, Norway. E-mail:


Moral failure is thought to damage self-image when people appraise it as indicating a global self-defect. This appraisal is thought to be associated with the feeling of shame and thus self-defensive motivation. However, a damaged social image better explains self-defensive motivation to hide from and avoid others. Based on an integrative review of theory and research, we offer a conceptual model of how concern for self-image and social image guides the experience of moral failure. The model distinguishes the appraisals (of self-defect and other-condemnation) and feelings (of rejection, inferiority, and shame) embedded in the shame concept. Concern for a damaged social image is represented in an other-condemnationrejection combination, whereas concern for a damaged self-image is represented in a (global) self-defectinferiority combination. As these appraisal–feeling combinations are concerned with damage done to one's image, they should be linked to self-defensive motivation. As the (specific) self-defectshame combination is concerned with a repairable defect in self-image, it should be linked with self-improvement motivation. Thus, our model explains why “shame” is sometimes tied to self-defensive motivation and sometimes tied to self-improvement motivation after moral failure. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.