A sense of self and shame

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Smith, GP 2010, 'A sense of self and shame', in S Velayutham, N Ebert & S Watkins (eds), Proceedings of TASA Conference 2010: Social causes, private lives: the Australian Sociological Association Annual Conference, Sydney, NSW, The Australian Sociological Association, Hawthorn, Vic. ISBN: 9780646546285

Available on Open Access

Peer Reviewed



This paper identifies shame as an influence in the construction of self-identity or sense of self in an exploratory study of a small group of ex-residents of out-of-home care. This small group is a part of a larger cohort identified as The Forgotten Australians in a 2004 Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee. Broadly, this population can be defined as adults who during childhood spent time in orphanages, detention centres, reform schools, or any institutional out-of-home care provided by any government or non-government organisation, or any care which was not foster care prior to deinstitutionalisation in 1974 (SCARC 2004: p. xv). I have conducted a qualitative, empirical exploratory study into how these ex-residents constructed and narrated their story to another person for the first time. Shame was a significant emergent theme in the data which served to inhibit participants desire to narrate their stories. Each participant who described shame as an inhibitor also indicated they had at some time experienced identity issues. Although issues of self-identity are significant to this study, identity is not the key focus explored in this paper. Rather this paper sets out to link shame to issues of self-identity in this small sample of ex-residents of institutional care.