Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Gender Role Stress in Relation to Shame, Guilt, and Externalization. (Research)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Gender Role Stress in Relation to Shame, Guilt, and Externalization. (Research)

Article excerpt

Socially constructed gender roles have gained increasing recognition as important factors affecting the developmental, psychological, and relational well-being of men and women (Gilbert, 1992). According to Pleck (1981, 1995), all persons from time to time inevitably perceive themselves as violating societal expectations for gender roles, and such violations may lead to negative psychological effects. One such outcome is gender role stress (Eisler, 1995), which refers to a particular form of emotional distress arising in response to a situation involving perceived violation of traditional gender role norms. In articulating the construct of gender role stress, Eisler (1995) borrowed Bem's (1987) idea that gender role schemas affect men's and women's view of self and the world because of gender-tinted cognitive lenses. These gender schemas are lenses that shape men's and women's appraisal of threat for engaging in behavior that deviates from traditional gender role ideologies. Given that individuals differ in their commitments to culturally sanctioned models of masculinity and femininity, Eisler (1995) postulated that there are also individual differences in the amount of stress experienced in deviating from culturally sanctioned roles. Following this line of thinking, we would expect that rigid commitment to gender-schematic processing would be associated with negative outcomes, and indeed empirical studies have found an inverse relationship between gender role stress and measures of physical and psychological well-being for both men and women (see Eisler, 1995, for a review). In an effort to extend understanding of the psychological outcomes associated with gender-schematic processing, the present study focused on the relationship between gender role stress and proneness to shame, guilt, and externalization.

Shame, guilt, and externalization represent emotions that may be linked with self-evaluation concerning gender norms (Krugman, 1995; Osherson & Krugman, 1990; Silberstein, Striegel-Moore, & Rodlin, 1987). Shame and guilt have generated considerable interest in the literature as self-conscious affects that shape positive developmental processes (Erikson, 1950/1985; Jordan, 1989; Lynd, 1958), including the development of conscience, responsibility, empathy, identity, self-awareness, and maintenance of relational bonds (Kaufman, 1989; Kohut, 1971; H. B. Lewis, 1987; Tangney, 1991, 1995). In addition, shame and guilt are potentially important components of a range of negative psychological outcomes (e.g., Frank, 1991; H. B. Lewis, 1986, 1987;Tangney, Burggraf, & Wagner, 1995; Wright, O'Leary, & Balkin, 1989). Because these emotions can be deeply unsettling to the self, shame and guilt may also trigger psychological defenses designed to avoid or minimize distress. Previous theory and research (H. B. Lewis, 1971; Tangney, 1990) identified externalization--the act of shifting blame outward for negative events--as a key defensive maneuver in dealing with guilt and shame. Externalization may signal an attempt to cast off or bypass self-conscious affect, particularly when shame takes the form of humiliated fury (cf. H. B. Lewis, 1971; Scheft, 1987). Therefore, externalization is an important variable to include in research examining shame and guilt.

In contrast to the transient sense of healthy shame or the normal pangs of guilt experienced by everyone from time to time, the constructs of shame-proneness and guilt-proneness refer to more enduring dispositional tendencies to experience shame or guilt across a range of situational contexts. Some individuals, when faced with situations that are nonspecific regarding shame or guilt, are more likely to respond with shame, whereas others are more prone to guilt (H. B. Lewis, 1971; Tangney, 1991). Shame-proneness has been empirically linked to depression (Harder, Cutler, & Rockart, 1992; Hoblitzelle, 1987; Wright et al., 1989), anger and hostility (Tangney, Wagner, Fletcher, & Gramzow, 1992), and pathological narcissism (Gramzow & Tangney, 1992). …

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