Proneness for and Aversion to Self-Conscious Emotion in Posttraumatic Stress

Michelle Schoenleber, Aidan Collins, Howard Berenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Theory suggests that self-conscious emotions (guilt and shame) may play a role in the development/ maintenance of posttraumatic stress. Propensities to experience these emotions (i.e., proneness) may confer risk for posttraumatic stress, while difficulties tolerating or coping with them (i.e., aversion) may maintain or exacerbate symptoms. However, no research to date has examined the importance of guilt aversion or shame aversion in posttraumatic stress. Method: A total of 336 participants provided open-ended information on their experience of potentially traumatic events; a team of trained raters determined that a final sample of 186 participants had a clinically significant history of trauma. These participants completed measures of posttraumatic stress, along with measures of proneness for and aversion to both guilt and shame. Negative affect and experiential avoidance were assessed as covariates. Results: Zero-order correlations indicated that guilt-proneness and guilt aversion were not associated with posttraumatic stress. By contrast, shame-proneness was associated with posttraumatic stress over and above trait negative affect and experiential avoidance. Moreover, a significant interaction revealed that shame-proneness was only associated with posttraumatic stress when shame aversion was high. Conclusions: Results suggest that people high in shame-proneness, and therefore likely to experience shame in response to traumatic events, may experience greater posttraumatic stress if they are shame averse. If this is the case, addressing shame directly and teaching better skills for regulating it may be an important treatment goal for some individuals with posttraumatic stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)680-687
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 4 2021


  • Guilt
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Self-conscious emotion
  • Shame
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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