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Shaming in Animal Advocacy

Shaming in Animal Advocacy

| by Dr. Casey Taft

The issue of “shaming” comes up often within animal advocacy. Vegans are often accused of shaming non-vegans in discussions of animal use, and some advocates have accused others of shaming them when criticizing their approach to advocacy.


Shame is most often described as an emotion characterized by global, negative evaluation of the self (Tangney, Stuewig, & Mashek, 2007)[2]. Shame exists along a continuum, ranging from low-intensity, transient self-consciousness to intense, long-lasting, and pathological humiliation. The link between shame and aggression has long been recognized by clinicians. Lewis (1971)[1] coined the term “humiliated fury” to describe the expression of rage following the experience of shame.


I have frequently seen non-vegans exhibit a classic shame response wherein, after they are presented with information regarding animal cruelty, they quickly turn to anger, which they direct at the messenger. Rather than engaging in self-reflection regarding their animal use, they instead direct those feelings outward and present irrational justifications for their contributions to continued harm. They may describe feeling “attacked” by the messenger of this new information – even when no actual attack has occurred – because they are experiencing shame and are battling their own “self talk,” in which they may be unconsciously (or consciously) questioning their own morality.


It is not really possible to “shame” someone, since everybody is responsible for their own feelings, but how we approach others can make a big difference regarding whether a shame response is evoked. The more aggressive we are (such as through name calling, putdowns or direct attacks), the more likely it is that the other person will experience shame, which can prevent them from truly reflecting on the issue in question. When one experiences a shame response, they will be more likely to defend themselves and lash out at the person who is aggressing towards them, which may further escalate the disagreement. Or they may completely shut down and shut out any further communication attempts. This of course leads to an unproductive or even counter-productive interaction, which makes a vegan transition far less likely.


This leads us to the issue of shame among animal advocates. There is nothing inherently wrong about advocates questioning other advocates, or pointing out behaviors that they believe are harmful to animals. In fact, this is necessary and important for any social justice movement. We need to have a vigorous dialogue about how we should go about ending our animal use.


However, if we want to influence the behavior of other advocates – and for them to hear what we have to say – the way that we approach them makes an enormous difference. Ridiculing, name-calling, and other attempts at public “gotcha” moments will not help convince anyone to change their stances on advocacy and will only increase the likelihood of a shame response that will shut down communication. What would be more productive and helpful for nonhuman animals would be actual dialogue without the denigration and other aggression, and without trying to argue one’s “case in court.” Because when we try to make a case against someone, we will of course seek to verify the worst possible interpretation of their behaviors and intentions, and not be open to having a true discussion that increases understanding and might actually lead to change in either party.  



[1] Lewis, H. B. (1971). Shame and guilt in neurosis. New York: International Universities Press.

[2] Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Mashek, D. J. (2007). Moral emotions and moral behavior.Annual Review of Psychology, 58(1), 345–372,


Casey is co-owner of Vegan Publishers and Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. He’s an internationally recognized researcher in the area of violence and abuse prevention, winning prestigious awards for his work from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has published over 100 journal articles, book chapters, and scientific reports. He has authored the recently released Motivational Methods for Animal Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective and Trauma-Informed Treatment and Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence.



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