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Pride and Shame

Updated: May 8, 2018

Pride: “the happy confluence of the affect joy and the experience of personal efficacy” (Nathanson, 1987, p.186).

In brief, when we feel adequate within ourselves, we feel pride; when we feel inadequate, we feel shame.

Donald L. Nathanson writes:

‘Intrinsic to the experience of pride is a certain tendency to broadcast one’s success to the world, whereas equally true of shame is a wish to conceal (Nathanson,1987, p.184).

Pride and shame oscillate “between public and private, between outside and inside” (Nathanson, 1987, p.184).

“Excessive pride and shame seem inevitably found together, and a certain recipe for disaster” (Johns,1992, p.18).

Pride is not generally thought of as an emotion that is linked with symptoms (unless it is excessive as with narcissism, or shyness and social anxiety caused by discomfort from competence).

Shame is linked to secrecy and, therefore, can lead to discomfort which creates symptoms (such as anger, depression, addictions). However, symptoms are the outer layer which camouflage shame and serve as a decoy if we are not listening for the shame.

"What the therapist sees is not shame, the symptom, but shame the shaper of symptoms" (Nathanson, p.184). For example: the client who comes to therapy with secrets, the client who cannot tolerate having his own needs, the childhood sexual abuse survivor who feels the abuse was her fault, and the sex addict who has dissociated childhood physical abuse and a sexually overstimulating childhood.

Clinicians need to become sensitive to the symptoms which disguise shame in our clients.

Nathanson asserts that “anything that brings the self into focus can be placed somewhere on the axis of shame and pride” (p.185) which oscillates “between public and private, between outside and inside” (p.184).

Clinicians can benefit from understanding pride as it relates to shame because it helps develop “empathic awareness” (Block-Lewis,1971) which reduces shame in clients.


Johns, M. (1992). Preventable disasters: Pride, shame, and self-blinding. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. 6(1): 13-20.

Lewis, H.B. (1971). Shame and guilt in neurosis. Psychoanalytic Review. 58:419-438.

Nathanson, D.M. (1987). The shame/pride axis. In Lewis, H. B. The role of shame in symptom formation. Hillsdale, New Jersey. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


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