This study explored the experience of shame in nursing using an interpretive phenomenological approach as described by van Manen (1997). Shame is a concept that has been extensively theorised within the social sciences as important in the development of individual identity, self esteem and role performance but overlooked in nursing. The purpose of this research was twofold; to gain an understanding of how shame influences and shapes nursing identity and to produce knowledge and stimulate dialogue about what that means for nursing culture. Participants were asked to discuss significant interactions with colleagues. Significantly, all disclosed the experience of shame. Further, four major themes emerged from this study to deepen understanding of what appears to be a cultural experience. The experience of shame involves: self appraisal, professional identity in conflict, the experience of isolation and recrimination. Within each theme a number of sub themes were identified including feeling dumb, being incompetent, withdrawing and going quiet and seeking revenge. The study concluded that in relation to nursing, internalised shame is not readily recognised although negative emotions that are linked to it are clearly felt. When these emotions are left unprocessed or unidentified as shame, then they are likely to have negative consequences. But recognising this hidden shame and bringing it to conscious awareness can express and perhaps relieve shame. Further, shame's adaptive functions, to provide moral direction and teach respect, could be acknowledged or reclaimed. It is argued therefore that acknowledging and discussing shame openly in nursing, such as through future research, scholarships and education, will facilitate consciousness raising and the potential for cultural change.
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