The Assessment of Shame and Guilt
David W. Harder Susan J. Lewis Tufts University
Shame and guilt are commonly experienced dysphoric feeling states postulated by personality theorists ( Buss, 1980; Freud, 1905, 1966; Lewis, 1971; Mayman, 1974; Piers & Singer, 1971) to play an important role in self-regulation and psychopathology. Several theorists ( Lewis, 1971; Mayman, 1974a), however, have pointed out that throughout the first half of this century very little theoretical differentiation was made between the two affective states. Before 1915, Freud made shame a prominent aspect of his theorizing, but after that he almost never used the term again as guilt assumed an increasingly prominent role in his formulations about the superego. Later theorists ( Levin, 1967, 1971; Lewis, 1971; Mayman, 1974a) have found it important to distinguish between feelings of shame and guilt, even though all admit that clinically they are sometimes hard to tell apart.
Lewis ( 1971) has provided extensive phenomenological descriptions of the shame and guilt concepts, and their differences. In shame the self is pictured as unable to cope, and as the object of scorn, contempt, ridicule, disgust, or rejection directed at the subject by an observer or audience. The person afflicted with a shame reaction can feel self-conscious, helpless, paralyzed, rageful, tearful, childish, embarrassed, humiliated, and/or be blushing, all the while feeling like the focus of awareness. Experienced also is a threat of psychological abandonment by powerful others, who are ready to ridicule or laugh at possible inadequacies or failures ( Lewis, 1971). Consequently, the imagery of the shame prone person is often rife with themes of hiding from the view of others, and shrinking from potentially embarrassing situations ( Mayman, 1974a).
In contrast, Lewis ( 1971) describes the guilt experience as being felt by a self perceived as in control of the behavior leading to the guilt reaction. The source of
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Publication information: Book title: Advances in Personality Assessment. Volume: 6. Contributors: James N. Butcher - Editor, Charles D. Spielberger - Editor. Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of publication: Hillsdale, NJ. Publication year: 1987. Page number: 89.
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