It all comes down to a single word

At The Violence Intervention Project we firmly believe that, while there are numerous reasons why people act in a violent manner, at their heart they come down to one single factor.


That’s right, shame. Shame is what kicks in when you perceive you are being disrespected, or your self-esteem is challenged.

Even questions of pride that lead to violence come from a threat to the picture you carry of yourself – because pride is the opposite of shame.

As a result, we place shame at the centre of what we are trying to achieve at The Violence Intervention Project.

How people cope with shame

We believe people have four ways of dealing with shame, as outlined by The Compass of Shame, which was developed by Donald Nathanson as a means of showing how people react to this emotion:

  • Think of the child who sits at the back of class, preferring not to engage with his teachers or his classmates.
  • Many will claim they ever feel shame. So strong is this sentiment that they will find ways of not having to connect with their emotions – including drugs.
  • Self-attack. People run themselves down, mock their own appearance – in extreme cases, self-harm.
  • Attack others.

So many young people, especially young men, feel a visceral need to be seen as strong, powerful, manly. When that self-image is threatened, their response can be a violent one. We work to dismantle that thought process.

Our Work with Shame

Much of our work with young people is focused on emotional containment, so that they are able to moderate their response to a challenge or a situation that would normally spark a violent reaction.

We don’t claim we have all the answers, but we believe shame is always present when violence takes place.

James Gilligan, a psychiatrist and author with whom we have worked, spent 25 years working in the prison system in the United States. He insists he never saw an act of violence that wasn’t shame-related.

Shame is always present when violence occurs.