Interpersonal guilt, shame, psychopathology

These studies investigated the relationship between interpersonal guilt related to the fear of harming others, shame, and various measures of psychological distress and symptoms. The Interpersonal Guilt Questionnaire, the Guilt Inventory, the Test of Self-Conscious Affect, the Brief Symptom Inventory, the Beck Depression Inventory, and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory were administered to sample of college students. Contrary to recent research and theorizing about the role of shame as opposed to guilt in psychopathology, results indicate that interpersonal guilt, an exaggerated concern about harming others, was highly associated with psychopathology and may be more significantly correlated with many symptoms than is shame.

The relative significance of guilt and shame to psychopathology is currently a highly debated topic in both the clinical and research literature. Prior to the 1970s, guilt was widely regarded as the most important contributor to pathology as a central emotion in psychopathology. Beginning with the work of Helen Block Lewis (1971) and Kohut (1971), and supported by the relational, intersubjective, and other relations theorist, shame has been described as the "sleeper in psychopathology" (Lewis, 1987) and guilt has been put on the back burner. The relegation of guilt to a lesser role in psychopathology may have occurred in reaction to the classic definition of guilt. In the traditional psychoanalytic view, guilt is derived from the unconscious wish to harm others, and comes from motives such as envy, jealousy, rage and hatred. According to this view people are motivated by antisocial drives, and the development of the super-ego or conscience occurs with difficulty. However, current developments in social and biological science have led to a redefinition of guilt, and, seen in a new perspective, this emotion may once again move into a central position in the understanding of pathology. Influenced by the ethological, social and evolutionary perspective on human behaviour suggested in the work of Bowlby (1969) and others, and pursued in a large body of empirical and theoretical work including studies of altruism, empathy, evolutionary psychology, and psychoanalysis, many researchers and clinicians have come to define guilt as an interpersonally driven emotion, based on the need to maintain attachments to others (Batson, Fulz & Schoenrade, 1987; Baumeister, 1994; Eisenberg & Strayer, 1990; Hoffman, 1981, 1987; Jones, 1994, 1995; Modell, 1965, 1971; Neiderland, 1961, 1981; Plutchick, 1987; Sampson, 1986; Weiss, 1983, 1986; Zahn-Waxler & Kochanska, 1990). In contrast to the traditional view in which guilt is related to the unconscious wish to harm others, the interpersonal perspectives views guilt as deriving from altruism and a fear of harming others. This view of guilt related to tendency of a person to feel empathy for the suffering of others and with the maintenance of social relations. However it may become maladaptive when it is excessive and irrational, and may lead to great distress, inhibitions, and psychopathology.

The present study was designed to further investigate the relationship between psychopathology, shame, and the types of interpersonal guilt measured by the IGQ-67. In order to investigate the differential contributions of shame and these types of guilt to a variety of symptoms, this study used the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI: Derogatis, 1993), which is a shortened version of the Symptom Checklist-90.

The full text has been published in the Italian traslation (by M. Garuglieri ) in Psichiatria e Territorio, Vol. XIV, N, 1 (1997).

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