Evolution, Shame, and Psychotherapy

Psychodyn Psychiatry. Winter 2017;45(4):588-597. doi: 10.1521/pdps.2017.45.4.588.


Medea, the title character in Euripides' play, murdered her two sons in response to her husband Jason's abandonment. If her behavior can be understood, it is best understood in the context of shame. In an evolutionary context, shame is the affective response to the loss of one's place in the group. This response is related to the neurobiology of pain-not the acute pain experienced through the post-central gyrus, but the chronic, lingering pain that is experienced through the insular and cingulate cortices where homeostasis is regulated "from above." Shame is thus a fall in self-esteem, but shame is also a crisis of homeostasis, a crisis that can lead to drastic and, as in the case of Medea, violent attempts to "repair" the imbalance. Shame is a primitive, evolutionarily preserved response to the loss of one's place in the group.

Keywords: cingulate; homeostasis; insular; pain; shame.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Literature
  • Male
  • Psychoanalytic Interpretation*
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Self Concept
  • Shame*