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Psychol Trauma. 2016 Jul;8(4):520-7. doi: 10.1037/tra0000151.

Shame versus trauma-related guilt as mediators of the relationship between PTSD symptoms and aggression among returning veterans.

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Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.



It is well established that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with various forms of aggression, though the mechanisms by which PTSD is related to aggression are not fully understood. Some research suggests that the tendency to experience shame, but not guilt, contributes to aggression in individuals with a history of interpersonal trauma. This study tested the hypothesis that trait shame but not trauma-related guilt would mediate the relationship between PTSD symptoms and verbal and physical aggression in veterans with combat/military-related trauma seeking PTSD treatment.


In a sample of 127 returning veterans (95% male, mean age = 32.93), negative binomial path analyses tested multiple mediational models in which shame versus trauma-related guilt (separate models entered the effects of global guilt, guilt cognitions, and guilt distress) were examined as mediators of PTSD symptoms on verbal and physical aggression separately.


Results indicated that shame partially mediated the association of PTSD symptoms with verbal aggression but not physical aggression when accounting for trauma-related guilt. Although PTSD symptoms were associated with higher scores on all aspects of trauma-related guilt, guilt did not significantly mediate relations between PTSD symptoms and verbal or physical aggression when accounting for shame.


These results indicate that it is worthwhile to examine whether addressing shame in PTSD treatment may also reduce verbal aggression in returning veterans. (PsycINFO Database Record

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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