A relative weights comparison of trauma‐related shame and guilt as predictors of DSM‐5 posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity among US veterans and military members


This article examines whether shame and guilt contribute to PTSD diagnoses. The study uses a cross-sectional self-report tool which measures the symptoms of PTSD symptom severity.


Veterans and military service members have increased risk for post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and consequent problems with health, psychosocial functioning, and quality of life. In this population and others, shame and guilt have emerged as contributors to PTSD, but there is a considerable need for research that precisely demonstrates how shame and guilt are associated with PTSD. This study examined whether a) trauma‐related shame predicts PTSD severity beyond the effects of trauma‐related guilt and b) shame accounts for a greater proportion of variance in PTSD symptoms than guilt. Design We collected cross‐sectional self‐report data on measures of PTSD symptom severity based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM‐5) criteria, trauma‐related shame, and trauma‐related guilt via online survey. Method Participants included 61 US veterans and active duty service members. Hierarchical multiple regression and relative weights analysis were used to test hypotheses. Results In step 1 of regression analysis, guilt was significantly associated with PTSD. However, when shame was added to the model, the effect of guilt became non‐significant, and only shame significant predicted PTSD. Results from relative weights analysis indicated that both shame and guilt predicted PTSD, jointly accounting for 46% of the variance in PTSD. Compared to guilt, trauma‐related shame accounted for significantly more explained variance in PTSD. Conclusions This study provided evidence that among US veterans and service members, trauma‐related shame and guilt differ in their association with PTSD and that trauma‐related shame, in particular, is associated with the severity of PTSD. Practitioner points Trauma‐related shame and guilt explained almost half of the observed variance in PTSD symptom severity among this sample of US military veterans and service members. Trauma‐related shame and guilt each made a unique contribution to PTSD severity after accounting for the similarity between these two emotions; however, shame was particularly associated with increased PTSD severity. These results highlight the importance of assessing and addressing trauma‐related shame and guilt in PTSD treatment among military populations. We suggest that emotion‐ and compassion‐focused techniques may be particularly relevant for addressing trauma‐related shame and guilt. Limitations of the study Cross‐sectional data does not allow for determination of causal relationships. Although sufficiently powered, the sample size is small. The present sample self‐selected to participate in a study about stress and emotions.

Full Reference

Cunningham, Katherine C. ; Davis, Joanne L. ; Wilson, Sarah M. ; Resick, Patricia A. (2018). A relative weights comparison of trauma‐related shame and guilt as predictors of dsm‐5 posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity among us veterans and military members, British Journal of Clinical Psychology, p. 163-176.