Book Summary

The shame response is a primitive physiological response to a rejection of oneself by another. The discomfort of this response may vary from intense physical pain to one that is barely noticeable, if at all. When this pain is sufficient, it causes anger that may be directed outward against another or inward against oneself.

The intensity of the shame response, hence the intensity of the pain and anger, is related to the significance of the other, the significance of witnesses to the rejection, one’s vulnerability, whether or not the rejection is of oneself or an aspect of oneself, and if the rejection comes as a surprise. When most intense (i.e. most painful), the shame response may include a tightness of the throat, nausea, stomach pain, and a sense that the contents of one’s chest and abdomen are collapsing, exploding, or imploding. In reviewing what preceded an act of violence, it is necessary to determine whether the assailant had experienced a shame response and how intense it was.

Understanding that a shame response can lead to anger and violence allows for the prevention of violence. This requires that individuals do not experience rejections that are so painful as to lead to violence.

Columbine High School. What a beautiful name, Columbine. A flower to be found in Shakespeare, in Hamlet no less.

We accept that rejection may lead to violence. It may even cause violence. Have not Two Harlequins directed all of their rage at their Columbine?

However, this is not the story. Rejection can cause one to experience physical pain, the shame response, which in turn may lead to violence. It is pain in the chest, in the stomach, and yes, in the head. Not a mental pain but a physical pain in the body that maybe so intense it is never forgotten.

Where did the rejection come from? Was it intentional? Intentional to physically wound others? Or, was it done because we refuse to acknowledge that when we reject one another we wound each other. It is, in fact, a bodily wound the scars of which we may carry through the rest of our lives.

Herbert E. Thomas — April 27, 1999