Shame and Guilt and Their Relationship to Positive Expectations and Anger Expressiveness

By Lutwak, Nita; Panish, Jacqueline B. et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Shame and Guilt and Their Relationship to Positive Expectations and Anger Expressiveness


Lutwak, Nita, Panish, Jacqueline B., Ferrari, Joseph R., Razzino, Brian E., Adolescence


Recent research has distinguished two separate, but related, affective processes: guilt and shame. Guilt and shame bear significant resemblance to one another in that each are dysphoric affects and involve varied self-attributions, and both are believed to be a form of superego functioning that may regulate human behavior (Gilbert, 1997; Lewis, 1971). Although shame and guilt have been used interchangeably, significant distinctions between these moral affects seem to exist (Lutwak & Ferrari, 1996; Lutwak, Ferrari, & Cheek, 1998; Tangney, Wagner, Fletcher, & Granazow, 1992; Tangney, Wagner, & Gramzow, 1989). In particular, guilt has been noted to be an adaptive and constructive moral affect (Tangney, 1991), often involving the sell's negative evaluation of some specific behavior (or lack of behavior) when an internalized standard has been violated. These feelings may instill a sense of tension, remorse, and regret, which motivates reparative action (such as a personal apology; Tangney, 1991).

In contrast, shame typically involves an acutely painful experience that is overwhelmingly self-focused and more diffuse than guilt (Lewis, 1971). Individuals experiencing shame might feel a sense of worthlessness, incompetence, or a generalized feeling of contempt for themselves, thereby demonstrating a reflection of overly harsh self-evaluations (Tangney, 1994). Consequently, repeated experiences of shame have been found to be associated with a number of negative cognitive behavioral experiences, including depression, self-derogation, shyness, interpersonal anxiety, perfectionism, and a diffuse-oriented identity (e.g., Harder & Zalma, 1990; Lutwak & Ferrari, 1996; Lutwak et al., 1998; Tangney & Fischer, 1995).

Lewis (1971) and others (Gilbert, 1997; Gramzow & Tangney; 1992; Mollon, 1984) have examined shame-states and their role in the development of personality and psychopathology. In particular, the relationship between shame and narcissistic personality features (e.g., compensatory grandiosity, perfectionism) has received attention in recent clinical literature (Gramzow & Tangney, 1992; Morrison, 1983). It has been asserted that shame-prone individuals construct an idealistic self-image in order to cope with frequent, crippling shame experiences (Kohut, 1971; Morrison, 1983). Clinical theory might suggest that individuals who appear to be sure of themselves and have expectations for future success may also have frequent and lasting shame experiences (Morrison, 1989). However, while Morrison (1989) postulated that shame-prone individuals were more susceptible to pathological aspects of narcissism (e.g., exploitation of others, violent/destructive behavior, pursuing unrealistic goals), research indicates that sha me-prone individuals seem to have a deficit in healthy narcissism (e.g., self-admiration, leadership ability). This healthy narcissism may actually aid guilt-prone individuals in productive day-to-day interactions (Gramzow & Tangney, 1992).

Modes of expressing anger and hostility have been noted to be heavily directed by experiences of shame (Tangney, Wagner, Fletcher & Gramzow, 1992). Lewis (1971) suggests that anger may be an emotion which is not accepted by the self as valid or a personal right for shame-prone individuals. Angered, shame-prone individuals may become ashamed of their anger, since this emotion seems to be viewed by them as taboo and unacceptable (Miller, 1985). Recent research by Tangney, Wagner, Hill-Barlow, Marshall, and Gramzow (1996) does indicate that shame-prone individuals are more likely than guilt-prone individuals to engage in unexpressed, indirect aggression (e.g., self-aggression, held-in anger). However, they also found shame-prone individuals to engage in more active (e.g., physical, verbal) acts of aggression during conflict situations. It seems shame-prone individuals may be meek, submissive and passive when experiencing anger.

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