There is increasing interest in trauma-related shame and guilt. However, much remains unknown in terms of how these emotions relate to the type of event, gender and mental health. We investigated shame and guilt in men and women following various types of severe violence and their relation to mental health.
Telephone interviews were conducted with a Norwegian general population sample (n=4529; age=18–75; response rate=42.9%). Measures included child sexual abuse, child and adult rape, severe physical violence from/between parents, severe violence from a partner and non-partners, less severe violence and non-violent trauma, the new Shame and Guilt After Trauma Scale, and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist. Analyses included t-tests and linear regressions.
All types of severe violence were significantly associated with trauma-related shame and guilt (coefficients from 0.11 to 0.38, p-values <0.001). The number of violence types showed a graded relationship with both emotions. Women had significantly more shame and guilt than men did (p-values <0.001 for both emotions), which was partially explained by violence exposure. Both emotions were independently associated with mental health problems (p-values <0.001).
The study is cross-sectional. The shame and guilt measure requires further validation.
The more types of violence that were reported, the higher levels of shame and guilt were. Clinicians should be aware of shame and guilt after a variety of violent events, including non-sexual violence, in both men and women and should particularly be aware of whether individuals have multiple violent experiences.