The current study had two aims. The first was to examine the course of shame over 16 years of prospective follow-up among borderline patients and axis II comparison subjects. The second was to determine risk factors associated with feelings of shame among borderline patients. A total of 290 borderline inpatients and 72 axis II comparison subjects were assessed using a series of semi-structured interviews and self-report measures at baseline, and 87% of surviving patients were reassessed at eight waves of follow-up. Borderline patients reported significantly higher levels (2.6 times) of shame (assessed with one item) across 16 years of follow-up than axis II comparison subjects. However, the severity of shame decreased (78% relative decline) significantly over time for both groups. Regarding risk factors, four lifetime adversity risk factors were found to be significantly associated with feelings of shame. Two of these factors (severity of childhood sexual abuse and severity of childhood neglect) remained significant in multivariate analyses. Taken together, the results of this study suggest that borderline patients struggle with intense but decreasing feelings of shame. They also suggest that childhood adversities are significant risk factors for this dysphoric affective state. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.