Trauma-Related Shame and Trauma-Related Guilt: A New Scale to Address Measurement Issues and Theoretical Considerations



Erb, Sandra

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University of Guelph


Shame and guilt are both negative self-conscious emotions that provide important moral and social feedback regarding one’s acceptability in the broader community. Few would dispute the maladaptive nature of shame, yet discrepancy exists regarding the adaptive or maladaptive nature of guilt across everyday situations and transgressions, as well as in the context of traumatic events. Despite this controversy, shame and guilt have been included as diagnostic criteria of PTSD and depression in the DSM-5, prompting many novel research questions. However, theoretical and measurement issues have contributed to the conflation of shame and guilt and confusion regarding subsequent conclusions about the nature of guilt, particularly trauma-related guilt. The goal of this dissertation was twofold: 1) to develop and validate an event-related shame and guilt scale that more accurately discriminates between shame and guilt after trauma; and 2) to use this scale to address the current debate about the (mal)adaptive nature of guilt with respect to mental health outcomes after trauma. Online survey data was collected via Amazon Mechanical Turk from 758 participants who endorsed the experience of either an interpersonal or non-interpersonal trauma exposure. The first manuscript (Chapter Two) presents scale development and validation for a final 12-item Event Related Brief Shame and Guilt Scale (ERB-SGS). Exploratory factor analysis results support the ERB-SGS as a brief measure that discriminates between shame and guilt after trauma. The ERB-SGS demonstrates good reliability (internal consistency and test-retest) and validity (convergent and discriminant). The second manuscript (Chapter Three) addresses the maladaptive nature of guilt debate by exploring the association between trauma-related shame and trauma-related guilt with symptoms of PTSD and depression. Results demonstrate that ERB Shame, after accounting for the shared variance between shame and guilt, consistently accounts for unique variance in PTSD and depression symptoms across broad and specific trauma groups. However, the pattern for ERB Guilt varies according to group membership and outcome variable. The current findings extend research through the development and use of a brief measure that discriminates between shame and guilt after trauma exposure to demonstrate under what conditions trauma-related guilt can be maladaptive, with implications for future research and treatment.



Shame, Guilt, Trauma-Related, Negative Self-Conscious Emotions, Interpersonal, Non-Interpersonal, Scale Development, Measure, Debate, Maladaptive