What is a Compass of Shame and Why is it Useful?

Compass of Shame

Shame is a big component of our daily lives, whether it’s warranted or not. Shame can be a confusing concept for some to grasp. Donald Nathanson, former director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute, explained shame as a “critical regulator of human social behavior” and Silvan S. Tomkins defined it as “occurring any time that our experience of the positive…is interrupted.” In both of these cases, shame plays a vital role in our behaviors. That’s why, Nathanson developed “The Compass of Shame” to help better understand the many ways that people react when they feel shame. We can use the Compass of Shame in our Restorative Discipline processes.

What does the Compass of Shame Look Like

Compass of Shame

The Compass of Shame was developed by Donald Nathanson as a means of showing how people react when they feel shame. Each of the poles of the compass is one way in which individuals deal with feeling shame. They are:

  1. Withdrawal: When individuals feel shame they might isolate themselves from others by running or hiding.
  2. Attack Self: When individuals feel shame they might attack themselves both physically or mentally. They might put themselves down or harm their bodies.
  3. Avoidance: When individuals feel shame they might deny the feeling of shame all together. Some might abuse drugs or distract themselves through thrill seeking to avoid this shame feeling.
  4. Attack Others: Individuals who feel shame might lash out on property or others. They might turn tables, verbally or physically assault others, or blame others for their feelings of shame.

How is the Compass of Shame Useful?

We can use the compass of shame during our restorative discipline practices to guide students through their emotions. Students might be feeling intense emotions and not even recognize that they’re really feeling shame. Because shame takes on many different variations, students could be unaware that their actions are symptoms of shame. By outlining and understanding the forms shame takes, we can help move our students from negative affects through neutral affect onward to positive affects.

Download your own Compass of Shame

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