"Spanish shame": what does it mean and how did the expression come about?

"Spanish shame": what does it mean and how did the expression come about?

Sometimes we describe our emotions with the phrase "Spanish shame." But where does that expression come from? Are the Spanish really the most timid nation in the world? Having heard this phrase frequently, do we understand its true meaning?

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What is Spanish shame?

Modern dictionaries refer to "Spanish shame" as a feeling of intense shame for actions committed by others. We feel ashamed when outsiders shame us or behave completely indecent. But what does this have to do with the Spanish?

This feeling of shame is, of course, not geographically limited. It is experienced not only in Spain, but also in us, in America and Asia… And the connection of such shame with Spain is actually quite explainable. In addition, there are even two theories about the appearance of this phrase.

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Where does the expression "Spanish shame" come from?

The simplest and most popular theory says that the Spaniards were the first to label these types of feelings with words. Psychological discomfort from the actions of others came to be called "someone else's shame" or "someone else's shame." The literal translation of the phrase into English was significantly lengthened, and in the Russian translation it was decided to speak simply of "Spanish shame." Other synonyms also came to us: "second-hand shame" and "empathic shame." There is the term for this feeling and in Germany - Fremdschämen (shame for the stranger).

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According to another version, this origin has biblical overtones. We all remember the legend of Judas's tortured conscience, which was the reason he was hung on a poplar tree. It is believed that even the tree was ashamed of the death of the suicidal traitor in it. In Hebrew, the aspen's name is called "aspa" or "aspah." It is possible that this lexeme was the basis of the expression "Spanish shame."

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Why do we feel Spanish shame?

Psychologists say that we can feel unpleasant emotions not only for our family and friends, but even for people similar to us in terms of gender, skin color, or religion. There are not many studies on mediated shame. However, psychologists have deduced several obvious reasons that make us feel ashamed of the behavior of others.

Developed sensitivity

When another person is in an uncomfortable situation, our developed sensitivity causes us to worry about the passerby. We unconsciously project this situation onto ourselves, understanding its unpleasantness. Empathy activates areas of the brain associated with pain. As a result, the shame of others makes us suffer physically and makes us literally close our eyes and not see what is happening.


Some, those same children, may well not realize that they are violating some social norms. They don't feel any shame about it, unlike us. The point is, we consider our opinions about the world to be more important than those of other people. Self-centeredness is something natural in the human being, but sometimes it prevents us from seeing life from another angle.

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Greater sense of responsibility

There is a feeling of "Spanish shame" in people who are used to taking responsibility for the behavior of others. It can occur in parents who see their child's bad behavior as their own fault. “Spanish shame can occur even when we cannot objectively influence the actions of others.

Fear of being rejected

Modern society has accustomed people to being part of the collective. Evolution has always doomed outcasts to extinction. That is why we react violently to a situation in which a person's behavior runs the risk of being rejected by society. The subconscious whispers to us that we can be next.

A manifestation of Spanish shame can be seen in schoolchildren when a teacher scolds his colleagues or in the employees, before whom the boss scolds his colleague. In these situations we would like to look the other way and go somewhere. In fact, we fear that a similar situation of rejection could affect us as well.

Low self-esteem

Unconsciously we understand that society always needs brilliant individuals and professionals in demand in one capacity or another. But unnecessary individuals can be euthanized. Not being sure of ourselves, we try to take on the role of those same losers, feeling shame for them.

The power of self-inhibitions

We have a whole series of barriers, things that we prohibit ourselves. We find it unacceptable to be ridiculous and stupid. Consequently, when we observe someone in such a situation, we simply refuse to accept it. According to psychologists, this is how the true self with all our flaws is rejected.

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Belong to the same social group

Spanish shame is strongest when we unwittingly associate ourselves with being trapped in an embarrassing situation. In fact, this behavior can serve as a kind of psychological test. We consider ourselves part of the same social group as the aggressor. His behavior is partly ours as well, which makes us feel ashamed. And this association can tell us a lot about ourselves.