- Not all experiences in physical activity, exercise, and sport are positive. Losing, getting injured, making a mistake, and not measuring up can all elicit a variety of highly negative emotions, including shame. To make matters worse, individuals often cope with shame in maladaptive ways––magnifying, suppressing, or ignoring the experience––which can then lead to isolation, depression, aggression, or even violence. The experience of shame can also have long-term negative effects on physical activity motivation, participation, and adherence. A more complete understanding of how shame impacts physical activity behavior requires both the accurate measurement of shame specific to physical activity and consideration for how individuals cope with shame, either adaptively or maladaptively.
The first manuscript in this dissertation focused on the development and evaluation of the Physical Activity Shame Scale (PASS), a new self-report measure designed specifically to assess the unique phenomenological experiences of shame in the context of physical activity. This study was conducted in three phases: (a) item generation, preliminary and secondary item analysis, and item revision; (b) evidence of content validity based on content relevance and representativeness of PASS items; and (c) psychometric analysis for a final 16-item version of the PASS. Results confirmed the a priori correlated 4-factor structure of the PASS representing four phenomenological features of physical activity shame––emotional pain, feeling inadequate, feeling powerless, and the desire to escape. Findings from this study also demonstrated high internal consistency, evidence of validity based on predicted associations with other variables, and measurement invariance by gender. Overall, this study was a significant first step toward addressing the gap for how shame is currently measured in the physical domain.
The second manuscript further examined and confirmed the psychometric properties of the PASS. This study also explored the associations among physical activity shame, self-compassion, physical activity, and four maladaptive shame-coping styles––Attack Self, Withdrawal, Attack Other, and Avoidance. In addition to significant correlations all in the predicted directions, results also demonstrated indirect effects of physical activity shame on physical activity through self-compassion and Attack Self. Significant gender differences were also observed for physical activity shame, self-compassion, and three out of the four maladaptive shame-coping styles. Overall, these findings provided strong support for the important role of self-compassion as a more adaptive response to shame related to physical activity.
The line of research advances our knowledge of the study and measurement of shame by (a) addressing the gap for how shame is currently measured in the physical domain, and (b) adding to our understanding of the associations among physical activity shame, physical activity, maladaptive shame coping, and the potential role of self-compassion as a more adaptive response to physical activity shame. Collectively, these findings may be useful for practitioners in a variety of exercise, sport and rehabilitation settings, and in promoting more positive experiences in the physical domain.