Review of Claude-Hélène Mayer, Elisabeth Vanderheiden, & Paul T. P. Wong’s (Eds.) Shame 4.0: Investigating an Emotion in Digital Worlds and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2021), ISBN 78-3-030-59526-5, hardbound, $188.84, ISBN 978-3-030-59529-6, softbound, $167.68, pages i-xviii, 613.

Early psychoanalysts wrote rarely about shame and focused more on guilt. In his correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess on January 1, 1896, Freud states that “shame and morality are the repressing forces” (Moussaieff, 1985,

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p. 163). He conceived of shame as a form of self-reproach: “I reproach myself on account of an event—I am afraid other people know about it—therefore I feel ashamed in front of other people” (Moussaieff, 1985, p. 166). In early Freudian psychoanalysis, shame was stereotypically associated with feminine submissive qualities, while masculine qualities were linked to power, activity, and ambition. The conception of shame has only gradually extended from pathological labeling to growth perspectives.

Shame and guilt have been called “self-conscious emotions” on the individual level, but they also have multifaceted manifestations on the interpersonal, group, cultural, and global levels. Shame is often triggered by social, organizational, and professional occasions. Shame and guilt in interpersonal relationships have been studied empirically, and it has been found that although shame and guilt have many connections, their underlying evolutionary and brain functions, and developmental psychologies differ and can lead to different outcomes.

Shame can include anger, the desire to hide (“I wish the earth would swallow me up”), anxiety, depression, obsessions, as well as negative evaluations and counterfactual conclusions directed at oneself and one’s personal characteristics and behavior (“If only I hadn’t been so incapable, this—negative consequence—wouldn’t have happened”). Generalized anxiety has been discovered to be toxic and highly correlated with various mental disorders. Guilt has been more related to empathy, altruism, and action-oriented counterfactual inferences (“If only we had acted differently, this would not have happened”).

Psychoanalyst Helen Block Lewis was the first to show that guilt emphasizes the wrongdoing and its consequences to others, while shame emphasizes the negative consequences of the wrongdoing for the self-concept (“I did her wrong, and therefore I am a bad person/I am seen as a bad person”). On the one hand, guilt and shame can be felt simultaneously. Their share and strength vary in the totality of personality. On the other hand, there can be guilt without shame and shame without guilt. While the East is traditionally characterized by a shame-based culture and the West a guilt-based culture, the differences are being continuously modified in the flux of globalization and the media/consumer culture.

Claude-Hélène Mayer and Elisabeth Vanderheiden in their previous edited works, The Value of Shame: Exploring a Health Resource in Cultural Contexts (2017) and The Bright Side of Shame: Transforming and Growing Through Practical Applications in Cultural Contexts (2019), have already opened the various dimensions of shame and its management. In their third work, Shame 4.0 (2021), edited together with Paul T. P. Wong, they continue and expand research on shame connected to the workplace, leadership, media, internet, cyberbullying, human-machine interactions, honor killings, and even genital cosmetic surgery.

The authors provide the reader with well-balanced presentations of the different forms of shame (body shame, group shame, empathetic and intimacy shame, traumatic and moral shame). The effects of shaming are also

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empirically researched, and several therapeutic and mindfulness strategies for overcoming the paralysis of shame are reflected upon. Overall, the writers aim to investigate how digitalization, algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and the transition from the Third toward the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as well as Industry 4.0 affect the development and forms of shame. There are also fruitful detours to philosophers, such as Aristotle and Baruch Spinoza. For example, Claude-Hélène Mayer and Paul J. P. Fouché apply a psychobiographical approach to explore Spinoza’s life and self-transformation through the notions of shame and faith development.

The main approach in this work is linked to second wave positive psychology, especially promoted by Paul T. P. Wong, combining humanistic-existential and indigenous aspects with positive psychology. Advancing human resources and well-being is seen as possible by first recognizing the dark sides of the human condition. The traumatic, painful, and “shadow” sides of shame are in this work set, through constructive counterstrategies, toward positive transformation, meaningfulness, and personal as well as cultural well-being. In their chapter, Yoshiyuki Takano and Paul T. P. Wong stress the importance of a dialogue with shame, inviting new singular memories and narratives, and leading to new territories of meaning.

The dark sides of shame have a haunting presence in the current media and internet environments where digital surveillance tools increase social blaming, shaming, lynch mobbing, and internet vigilantism. In their chapter, Grace Maria Jochan and Trina Banerjee carefully explore this issue, also critically re-assessing the notions of individualism and collectivism and the threats to privacy and individual freedom. Technologies of shame are already among us, and new projects are carried out, for example, to enable robots to simulate emotions—even shame.

When reading the work through psychohistorical lenses, I noticed that the culturally variating uses of shaming in childrearing practices were hardly mentioned nor analyzed. The psychoanalytic and developmental psychology points of view would have brought forth how paralyzing shame can have childhood sources in physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and punitive/insensitive parenting. The feelings of sadness, loneliness, helplessness, and being betrayed can accompany the child when facing the repeated failures of striving for reciprocity. Thus, the developmental core of the experience of shame is founded—and it is continued and restaged at the later stages and contexts of the lifespan.

Piers Worth’s re-conceptualization of Erik H. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is almost the only attempt in this work to build a bridge to psychoanalytic ideas. In his theory, Erikson dated the birth of shame to early childhood (approx. 12 months-three years), when there is a conflict, a “crisis,” between autonomy and shame that requires a solution. He placed the birth of the feeling of guilt at the play age (approx. three-five years) when there is a conflict between the feeling of guilt and initiative that needs to be resolved. Worth suggests that Erikson’s model can be developed to foster the reflection and identification of developmental strengths and posi-

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tive emotions.

One more area that is missing in this work is impudent and disguised shaming and blaming in politics, connected to political leadership, parties, and supporters. A new work on that topic would undoubtedly interest and gather researchers from, for example, the disciplines of political psychology, psychohistory as well as narrative and cultural studies. Perhaps Meyer and Vanderheiden could initiate this kind of book project, after their highly successful editorial and research contribution to elucidate the complex issues involved in shame and shaming.

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  • Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff (Trans. & Ed.). (1985). The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess 1887–1904. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.


Juhani Ihanus

Juhani Ihanus, PhD, is Associate Professor of Cultural Psychology at the University of Helsinki, and Associate Professor of the History of Science and Ideas at the University of Oulu. He is also an international member of the Psychohistory Forum who has published books and articles on psychohistory, cultural and clinical psychology, and the history of psychology. Dr. Ihanus may be reached at .

How to Cite This:

Ihanus, J. (2023). Transforming shame toward growth. Review of the book Shame 4.0: Investigating an Emotion in Digital Worlds and the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Claude-Hélène Mayer, Elisabeth Vanderheiden, & Paul T. P. Wong. Clio’s Psyche, 29(2), 250-253.

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