It is not uncommon to have feelings of shame when experiencing a negative event. Oddly enough, research has shown that at a time when we might need kindness most, we also tend to treat ourselves less kindly than we would another in the same situation.

Jade Ambridge and Dr Peter Fleming from the University of Hull, and our colleague Dr Lauren Henshall, Senior Clinical Psychologist in our Yorkshire services, have recently published a study that investigated the relationship between self-compassion, perceived responsibility and shame with people who sustained an acquired brain injury. Participants were recruited from six locations, including NHS services, community-based voluntary sector services, and some of The Disabilities Trust’s rehabilitation centres.

“People who experience shame due to fearing they are different from others can struggle to be self-compassionate (…), which has detrimental effects on psychological wellbeing”, the authors explain. These links between shame, perceived responsibility for one’s illness or condition, and lower self-compassion, have been found in people with other long-term health conditions or illnesses, for example, cancer. Sustaining an acquired brain injury affects multiple areas of a person’s life, such as their cognitive abilities, employment and independence. This may result in feelings of “being different” and exacerbate shame. The degree to which an individual could perceive to have played a role in the acquisition of their injury could also influence subsequent psychological wellbeing. For example, individuals with encephalitis may feel less responsible than an individual who acquired a traumatic injury during dangerous sports.

Better understanding the links between shame, self-compassion and other aspects of psychological functioning following a brain injury, such as self-awareness into one’s own abilities and experiences, can give clues on how to best support people to increase their sense of control and achievement.

Skills for compassion can be trained and form the basis of a new wave of psychological therapies, such as Compassion-Focused Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Mindfulness-Based Therapies. The results of this study indicate that it may be appropriate to use these “shame-targeting” therapies with people who have sustained a brain injury. The authors also highlight the importance of thoroughly assessing self-awareness in order to identify the best type and timing for interventions of this nature.

More generally, this study adds to the evidence of the significant impact that a person’s psychological response to an injury or illness can have on their recovery and sense of wellbeing. We will no doubt continue to follow these developments and their implications for practice. ​​​​​​​

The original article is available in full here