The best books on shame

3 authors have picked their favorite books about shame and why they recommend each book.

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Moral Origins

By Christopher Boehm,

Book cover of Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame

For almost four centuries, many philosophers, politicians, and social scientists have considered Thomas Hobbes as having provided great insight into human nature with his “thought experiment” imagining the state of nature as a state of war.  After more than one century, Darwin’s contrary insight in The Descent of Man (1877:125) is finally being given the attention it deserves: the “social instinct” is a more powerful influence on human behavior than “the base principal of selfishness.”  In Moral Origins, one of the best books in this genre, cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm argues that higher levels of group support increased the survival of hunter gatherer bands and so favored evolution of more altruistic individuals.  Group culture that included gossip, expulsion and other forms of collective social control became ubiquitous as means to suppress free riders and egoistic bullies in human societies.


Who am I?

As a young sociologist, I shunned explanations of human behavior informed by psychology and biology, but over the years my research showed me that individual predispositions and capacities influence social structure, as well as the other way around.  Books like those I recommend helped me recognize how evolutionary dynamics gave rise to our intensely social nature and so explain many social processes.  And as I began this intellectual journey, events in my own life ripped off the psychological seal I had constructed over my childhood experiences of maternal abandonment and paternal suicide and finally enabled me to make sense of them. We can improve our individual and societal health by increasing our understanding of our fundamental social needs.   


I co-edited...

Social Neuroscience: Brain, Mind, and Society

By Russell K. Schutt (editor), Larry J. Seidman (editor), Matcheri Keshavan (editor)

Book cover of Social Neuroscience: Brain, Mind, and Society

What is my book about?

Human beings evolved in the company of others and flourish in proportion to their positive social ties. To understand the human brain, we must situate its biology in the wider context of society. To understand society, we must also consider how the brains and minds of individuals shape interactions with other human beings.

In Social Neuroscience, leading researchers in the fields of neurobiology, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology provide a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary explanation of the mutually reinforcing connections between brain, mind, and society. With a special focus on mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, the book’s chapters highlight the profound implications for human health of emotional damage due to severe social deprivation, neurological deficits resulting from parental abuse, cognitive deficits after neighborhood violence, and the gains in cognition and functioning that can result from systematic socially-oriented rehabilitation programs.

Shame and Pride

By Donald L. Nathanson,

Book cover of Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self

I always recommend that my clients read up on the inhibitory emotion of shame. Shame is an emotion that adversely affects everyone. Toxic shame, the kind that creates deep insecurities, is insidious. Untreated it leads to depression and aggression. Understanding how shame and pride deeply affect the mind and body is a game-changer for health and well-being. This book is chock full of information you have likely never heard before.

Who am I?

I am a psychoanalyst, AEDP psychotherapist, emotions educator, author, speaker, and blogger. My passion is sharing what I learned in my psychotherapy training with people interested in improving their emotional health. I became increasingly outraged that everyone did not have access to this crucial information on emotions so I started writing and teaching. After almost 20 years of teaching and using the Change Triangle, I have found it to be the most practical tool to increase emotional health and to reduce and heal anxiety and depression at its roots for lasting change. It is a true game-changer for well-being.


I wrote...

It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self

By Hilary Jacobs Hendel,

Book cover of It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self

What is my book about?

Our dysfunctional society teaches us to push away emotions instead of teaching us how to work with emotions in healthy ways. Pushing down emotions like anger, sadness, and joy, is precisely what leads to anxiety, depression, and a feeling of disconnection from our full self. 

It's Not Always Depression shows you how to work with your emotions for greater well-being now and over your lifetime. Through stories of healing and transformation, jargon-free science explanations, and gentle exercises this book teaches us all we need to know about emotions to thrive amidst the many emotional challenges of life. 

Healing the Shame That Binds You

By John Bradshaw,

Book cover of Healing the Shame That Binds You

This is a very dear book to me since I came across it in a book review 15 years ago. It is an amazing book if you struggle with toxic shame, which I did and do, since such a thing never leaves completely. It can be put into you at a very young age and if that is taking place it becomes invisible. This book made it visible for me. It also gave me the tools to deal with it. But the book mainly gave me what felt like the full insight into a force that was governing my life without me knowing anything but a mere fraction of it. Thank you, John Bradshaw!


Who am I?

I was living one of the darkest periods of my life when a friend took me to a Louise Bourgeois show. I wandered among her pieces feeling numb. Then I entered a large room filled with Passage Dangereux from 1997. A most depressing art piece that put me into contact with the restrictions in a family, the limitations we set for each other, and the unhappiness everywhere. When I left the room, I felt a lift in my spirits. I’m a writer to try to put more precise words to what goes on inside ourselves when we are alone and when we fall in love and enter into a relationship with another person. 


I wrote...

One Woman Three Men: A Novel about Modern Love and Sex

By Pouline Middleton,

Book cover of One Woman Three Men: A Novel about Modern Love and Sex

What is my book about?

My novel is heavily inspired by my own real-life story where I had 3 men over a period of 2 years. I tell the tale of the strong, independent woman Elizabeth who, following a divorce, decides that the modern paradigm of love needs a revolution. Given that infidelity is rampant and that 40% of first marriages end in divorce, she decides that trying to get all of her needs fulfilled by a single man just doesn’t work in today’s world. What she needs is three men—a guy for conversation, a handyman to do work with her around the house, and a lover. What follows is a riveting, sexy, saucy tale about her search for three men willing to play those rolesand for her to live up to them, when they do.

Wages of Guilt

By Ian Buruma,

Book cover of Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan

Buruma compares how the Japanese and Germans view their World War II behaviour and actions, with particular attention given to memories of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Nanking. While Germany was preoccupied after the war with atoning for its past sins, Japan swept them under the carpet. Buruma explains how, why and what this means for today's younger generation.


Who am I?

Living in Britain for the past 20 years, I've been able to look at Japan with new eyes and to understand historical events from a global perspective. 'Cherry' Ingram's story isn't just about a man and his love for cherry blossoms. It's also about the cherry ideology and how it was perverted for militaristic purposes before and during World War II. While researching the book, I was amazed how many compelling anecdotes came to light that offered new insights into both British and Japanese society in the early 20th century.


I wrote...

'Cherry' Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan's Blossoms

By Naoko Abe,

Book cover of 'Cherry' Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan's Blossoms

What is my book about?

Collingwood Ingram, born in 1880, became known as 'Cherry' for his defining obsession. As a young man, he travelled to Japan and learned of the astonishing displays of cherry blossoms, or sakura. On a return visit in 1926, Ingram witnessed frightening changes to the country's cherry population. A cloned variety was sweeping the landscape and being used as a symbol for Japan's expansionist ambitions. Determined to protect the diversity of the trees, Ingram began sending the rare varieties from his own garden in England back to Japan with the help of a network of 'cherry guardians'.

This is an eloquent portrait of an extraordinary man whose legacy we enjoy every spring, and his unsung place in botanic history.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

By Jon Ronson,

Book cover of So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Shaming has become a pandemic, driven in part by the acres of social media bandwidth that require constant feeding. Jon Ronson takes us through a storytelling journey anchored on his own experience of having his online identity hijacked. In what is a witty, scary, and at times downright terrifying read, he explores a world where shaming is both entertainment and serious business. A must-read for anyone interested in how perceptions are created in today’s online world.


Who am I?

Rupert Younger is an author and entrepreneur. He is the co-author of The Reputation Game a bestselling book published in October 2017 (with David Waller) now published in six languages, and co-author of The Activist Manifesto (with Frank Partnoy), a reimagining of what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would have written had they been alive today. His work and views are regularly featured in major news outlets including the BBC, CNN, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times of London. Rupert is the founding director of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation, a leading research centre focused on social evaluations, and co-founder of the global strategic consulting firm Finsbury Glover Hering.


I wrote...

The Reputation Game: The Art of Changing How People See You

By David Waller, Rupert Younger,

Book cover of The Reputation Game: The Art of Changing How People See You

What is my book about?

Why did Islamic State produce annual reports? What can we learn from second-hand car salesmen? And is the best-connected man in London really an osteopath? Through pioneering research and interviews with a host of major figures ranging from Jay-Z and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman to Bernie Madoff and Man Booker prize-winning Hilary Mantel, we reveal the key mechanisms that make and remake our reputations.

Your reputation affects everything that comes your way in business and in life.  It’s time to stop being at the mercy of what others say about you and learn the new rules of the game that we are all playing, whether we like it or not.

Naked

By Krista K. Thomason,

Book cover of Naked: The Dark Side of Shame and Moral Life

Like many emotions, shame seems like a double-edged sword. Shame seems to notify us that we haven’t lived up to our own ideals – that we’re not the people we thought or hoped we were. But shame has, as Thomason carefully delineates, a dark side: Shame can lead us to withdraw from the world in order not to be seen, and too often shame is a precursor to self-destructive behaviors. Naked ultimately argues that we need shame despite these drawbacks. Thomason’s book is also among the very best of recent books to use philosophical tools to investigate social media; her discussion of online shaming should not be missed.


Who am I?

As a philosopher, I’m not just interested in solving ‘academic’ problems that arise from philosophical inquiry. I also think philosophy should return to the role it often had in the ancient world, as a tool for helping us navigate the perennial challenges that being human presents us. Much of my own philosophical work has sought to help us figure out how to relate to arguably the biggest challenge we face: that we inevitably die. The books on this list are powerful examples of how philosophy can provide us with an emotional compass!


I wrote...

Grief: A Philosophical Guide

By Michael Cholbi,

Book cover of Grief: A Philosophical Guide

What is my book about?

In Grief, Michael Cholbi presents a groundbreaking philosophical exploration of this complex emotion, offering valuable new insights about what grief is, whom we grieve, and how grief can ultimately lead us to a richer self-understanding. Drawing on psychology, social science, and literature as well as philosophy, Cholbi explains that we grieve for the loss of those in whom our identities are invested, Their deaths not only deprive us of worthwhile experiences; they also disrupt our commitments and values. Yet grief is something we should embrace rather than avoid, an important part of a good and meaningful life. Although grief can be tumultuous and disorienting, it also reflects our distinctly human capacity to rationally adapt as the relationships we depend on evolve.

The Shamer's War

By Lene Kaaberbol,

Book cover of The Shamer's War: The Shamer Chronicles Book 4

One of my all-time favorite series, The Shamer Chronicles, forces us to take a harder look at the nature of power and the real meaning of courage.

In The Shamer’s War, Dina, our protagonist, is thirteen and in love for the first time. The object of her unrequited affections is none other than Nico, the rightful heir to Dunark who has taken refuge with her family. When Nico decides to challenge his half-brother to stop his thirst for blood, Dina follows him. But this time, even her powers may not be able to protect them from the war that’s coming.

Unrequited love, dragons, magical powers, a reluctant hero, a strong antagonist, and a well-plotted story makes The Shamer’s War a worthy conclusion to this series.


Who am I?

While growing up in Spain, history was not my favorite subject. As told at school, it was a dreadful, long list of kings and battles. But, from time to time, I discovered, among the dry facts, a legend, a romanticized story of an event long past that ignited my imagination. Among these legends, the defeat of the last Visigoth king by the Arabs and the Asturian chieftain Pelayo’s consequent victory over them were my favorites. I believe these two stories, that figure so predominantly in my writing, are behind my love for books full of romance and adventure that take place in ancient worlds, like the ones I recommend here.


I wrote...

The King in the Stone

By Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban,

Book cover of The King in the Stone

What is my book about?

A full moon, a silver key, and the unbreakable bond between two lovers will bring hope to a defeated kingdom and, through their sorrow, deliver a king who will change its fate. Sent back in time through a portal the full moon opens, Julian and Andrea, two lovers from a parallel universe, are caught on opposite sides of the battle between the last Spanish stronghold and the Arabian invaders. A battle for survival that will determine the fate of a kingdom and demand of them the ultimate sacrifice: As the Arabs close on the mountains, Julián makes a decision that will break Andrea’s heart and change them forever.

The Psychology of Shame

By Gershen Kaufman,

Book cover of The Psychology of Shame: Theory and Treatment of Shame-Based Syndromes

I recommend The Psychology of Shame by Gershen Kaufman because it is a manual for how to be with others in ways that are loving, kind, healthy, and healing. Our societies shame us left and right. And deep-seated toxic shame ultimately causes mental illnesses like chronic anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, and depression.


Who am I?

I am a psychoanalyst, AEDP psychotherapist, emotions educator, author, speaker, and blogger. My passion is sharing what I learned in my psychotherapy training with people interested in improving their emotional health. I became increasingly outraged that everyone did not have access to this crucial information on emotions so I started writing and teaching. After almost 20 years of teaching and using the Change Triangle, I have found it to be the most practical tool to increase emotional health and to reduce and heal anxiety and depression at its roots for lasting change. It is a true game-changer for well-being.


I wrote...

It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self

By Hilary Jacobs Hendel,

Book cover of It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self

What is my book about?

Our dysfunctional society teaches us to push away emotions instead of teaching us how to work with emotions in healthy ways. Pushing down emotions like anger, sadness, and joy, is precisely what leads to anxiety, depression, and a feeling of disconnection from our full self. 

It's Not Always Depression shows you how to work with your emotions for greater well-being now and over your lifetime. Through stories of healing and transformation, jargon-free science explanations, and gentle exercises this book teaches us all we need to know about emotions to thrive amidst the many emotional challenges of life. 

Unravelling Us

By Renée McBryde,

Book cover of Unravelling Us

Renee’s father was in jail for murder, and her mother never got over the shame. This book is about family secrets and how corrosive they can be, and also how a child survives a manipulative mother. I was floored by the wild level of pain a parent could inadvertently bestow on their child, but there is also much grace and love in this memoir. 

This book will be available May 2022.


Who am I?

My parents survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the aftermath of the Vietnam War, so their love for us was always tinged with anxiety, fear, and a large deal of paranoia and control. All of my books are about the complex relationship between parents and their children, and the things we knowingly or unknowingly pass down. I’ve also worked a number of years as a university student counsellor, where the same enduring themes play out in my students’ experiences. So naturally, I am drawn to stories that explore difficult but loving family dynamics. 


I wrote...

One Hundred Days

By Alice Pung,

Book cover of One Hundred Days

What is my book about?

In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust, and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna’s mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-story housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world – and make sure she can’t get into any more trouble.

One Hundred Days is a fractured fairytale exploring the faultlines between love and control. At times tense and claustrophobic, it is nevertheless brimming with humour, warmth, and character. 

When You Know What I Know

By Sonja K. Solter,

Book cover of When You Know What I Know

This lyrical novel-in-verse tells the story of fifth-grader, Tori, whose uncle does something bad to her on the couch in the basement of her house. The story begins immediately after the incident, which is described very obliquely, and beautifully captures Tori’s shock, shame, anger, and profound sense of brokenness. Adults who should listen to her and help her don’t always come through, and Tori’s shame also causes her to pull away from her closest friends. But slowly, with the help of her mom, her little sister, and her teacher, Tori begins to speak up. I thought Sonja Solter beautifully captured Tori’s grief, her retreat to silence and smallness, and her gradual, incremental healing process. I especially loved Tori’s relationship with her little sister and how it evolves.


Who am I?

In That’s What Friends Do, the #MeToo experience that Sammie’s mom shares with Sammie is my story. I was thirteen. I never told anyone. Even as I started writing my novel, it didn’t occur to me to share with my husband, or my teenage children, my experience. But one evening, as the #MeToo movement was exploding in the media, I was sitting around a dinner table with several other couples. All of the women had had a #MeToo experience. Most of us were young teens when it happened. Shame and guilt had kept us silent for far too long. My novel – and the others on my list – are working to break through that silence.


I wrote...

That's What Friends Do

By Cathleen Barnhart,

Book cover of That's What Friends Do

What is my book about?

Samantha Goldstein and David Fisher have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.

Luke’s flirting make Sammie feel uncomfortable—and David so jealous that he decides to make a move on the friend he’s always had a crush on. But things go all wrong and too far, and Sammie and David are both left feeling hurt, confused, and unsure of themselves, without anyone to talk to about what happened. As rumors fly around the school, David must try to make things right (if he can) and Sammie must learn to speak up about what’s been done to her.

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