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Jaxon Reed
Jaxon Reed

WHAT is GUILT (Part 1)

My mind wandered again to how life will be with a second baby. The tears fell again. I shared these feelings with my mom and a couple of close friends who had children. They all shared encouraging stories, assuring me that it will be different with a second baby, but just as beautiful. They assured me that what I felt was normal and that I would survive it and more importantly my firstborn would survive it.

WHAT is GUILT (Part 1)

This mom of one was now a mom of two! I now had two amazing little boys, and while I was overfilled with joy and love, I still felt it there down deep inside of me. It was that same feeling that came and went over the last several weeks. Only this time it was different, I knew what I felt. I could identify and put words to it, it was second baby guilt.

And then the police radar camera records your car breaking the speed limit. I own up to the experience, only to feel annoyed at myself for not being more careful. At that moment, I broke the law and felt guilty at having done so.

Method: A non-clinical student sample faced an analogue trauma, a stressor in the form of a computer crash and related loss of data. We either personally blamed participants for causing the incident (blame group) or told them that it was a technical failure and therefore not their fault (no-blame group). Levels of guilt before and after the incident as well as number and associated distress of incident-related intrusions were assessed using a one-day diary and compared between groups.

Results: The guilt manipulation was successful: feelings of guilt significantly increased in the blame group but not in the no-blame group. Furthermore, the blame group showed a significantly higher number of intrusions and associated distress compared to the no-blame group at one-day follow-up.

The emotion of guilt in particular has been consistently linked to the development and maintenance of PTSD symptomatology (Kubany & Watson, 2003; Lee et al., 2001; Wilson, Drozdek, & Turkovic, 2006). Using a self-report measure, Henning and Frueh (1997) found severity of combat-related guilt in veterans to be positively correlated with re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms of PTSD, as well as with a general measure of PTSD severity. Another study by Beck et al. (2011) found guilt-related distress and cognitions to be positively associated with PTSD severity in a cross-sectional study with women experiencing intimate partner violence. Despite sound evidence for a guilt-PTSD link, the exact nature of the relationship remains evasive and in pressing need of further clarification. Pugh, Taylor, and Berry (2015) presented four putative models of the association between guilt and PTSD: (1) trauma-related guilt plays a causal role in the development of PTSD symptomatology; (2) PTSD symptomatology plays a causal role in the development of guilt; (3) guilt and PTSD symptomatology are both products of a traumatic event, occurring alongside rather than causing one another; and (4) concepts closely related to guilt such as shame mediate the trauma-PTSD link and this process overlaps with guilt. Due to a lack of longitudinal and experimental research, supporting evidence for the respective models is scarce and causation and directionality of the guilt-PTSD relationship remain to be investigated (Pugh et al., 2015).

The putative model that is the subject of investigation in the current study fits within this clinical framework of guilt-based PTSD by describing guilt as part of the causal mechanism that drives the development of the disorder (Pugh et al., 2015). According to the model, a traumatic event can cause individuals to experience severe feelings of guilt, the degree of which depends on the perceived personal involvement. The evaluation of personal involvement may be influenced by factors such as perceived wrongdoing, responsibility, and self-blame (Foa & Rothbaum, 1999; Kubany et al., 1996). Feelings of guilt, in turn, may form the basis of trauma-related intrusions typical of PTSD symptomatology (Lee et al., 2001). Thus, this model proposes guilt to function as a meditational process underlying the development of PTSD following a traumatic experience.

As previously discussed, cross-sectional designs are not suited to determine causation and directionality of effects. In order to draw firmer conclusions about the nature of the guilt-PTSD link and to test whether the putative model presented by Pugh et al. (2015) is appropriate, experimental research can be used. Experimentally manipulating aversive states like guilt causes ethical issues, thus a non-clinical analogue population can be suitable for investigating basic psychological principles underlying the guilt-PTSD relationship. In addition to providing theoretical insights into non-anxiety factors that influence the development of PTSD, such research can have important implications for clinical practice, since enhanced understanding of the emotional profile underlying the disorder can help tailor interventions specifically to the needs of patients suffering from guilt-based PTSD (Dalgleish & Power, 2004; Power & Fyvie, 2012; Stapleton, Taylor, & Asmundson, 2006).

In order to test for the effect of guilt-levels on intrusion frequency and related distress, two univariate ANOVAs with post-manipulation levels of guilt as independent variable and number of incident-related intrusions as well as associated distress as dependent variables were performed. Results showed a significant effect of guilt-levels on both, incident-related intrusions F(1, 37) = 5.36, p = .002, η2= .38 and associated distress F(1, 37) = 9.63, p =

Besides the theoretical implications, clarifying the directionality of the guilt-PTSD relationship can help to improve the treatment of PTSD patients. Even though research points towards a diverse emotional profile underlying PTSD development, the alleviation of fear remains the main focus of therapeutic interventions (e.g. Shalev, Bonne, & Eth, 1996). Advancement in the understanding of emotional factors that underlie PTSD emphasizes possible benefits of more idiosyncratic treatment approaches that aim to change guilt-related feelings and cognitions associated with the traumatic event. Such interventions may be especially helpful for trauma groups that experience high personal involvement and therefore greater levels of guilt and more severe PTSD symptomatology (e.g. soldiers; Litz et al., 2009). In this context it needs to be noted that findings supporting the notion of increased trauma-related guilt intensifying PTSD symptomatology do not indicate, in turn, that a decrease in trauma-related guilt will help alleviate these symptoms. Further research is necessary to examine the effects of interventions targeted at guilt-related feelings and cognitions.

Finally, one issue that complicates a clarification of the relationship between guilt and PTSD is a lack of consensus about how guilt relates to and distinguishes from the theoretical concept of shame (Kubany & Watson, 2003). Our manipulation aimed to induce guilt as defined by Tilghman-Osborne et al. (2010) by letting participants in the blame group believe that their action (pressing the SHIFT-key) led to a negative outcome (computer crash and loss of data). Results indicated that shame showed a similar pattern to guilt over time as assessed with the PANAS, however, guilt-levels showed a larger increase than shame-levels and scores of the TRGI scales confirm that substantial feelings of guilt in relation the to the computer crash were present in the blame group. Also, analyses of the effect of both guilt and shame on intrusion frequency and related distress showed a stronger effect of guilt that remained significant after controlling for shame. Thus, shame cannot explain the increase of number and distress of intrusions observed in the blame group.

We tend to do whatever is necessary to avoid judgment and rejection, which means a low tolerance for blame or responsibility (and decreased likelihood of apologizing or acknowledging our own faults). While partners may perceive them as premeditated, these survival behaviors are often subconscious and automatic.

Within this process lies invalidation of Self and Other. Over time, the shaming inherent in these strategies can change those around us. As they lose their light, they may initiate less, which may make them feel safer (less confrontational) to us. But what this also means is that they may be growing closer to the point of rejection that we expected all along. In this way, by rejecting their bids for intimacy, we create what we fear and expect: rejection by those closest to us.

Why Spurgeon? Aside from his legendary way with preaching and words, it is widely held that Spurgeon himself struggled mightily with symptoms of "catastrophic guilt" and depression after a prankster yelled "fire" one night while he was preaching to a packed house. Many were hurt, and some died as a result of the ensuing panic. The young, twenty-two year old Spurgeon was devastated, and dealt with the aftermath for many years follwing.

The word of God is indeed sufficient for what ails man, and the best of its preaching delivers to us doses of unparalleled heart-level hope for healing in the midst of all forms of sin, suffering, and their effects. We hope you'll be encouraged as you read and engage with these posts.

On the Lord's Day morning of February 28, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, Charles Spurgeon preached what it is referred to as Sermon 181. Spurgeon's topic, most specifically, was the doctrine of "particular redemption."

For counselees who find themselves struggling against the guilt of besetting sin, or the shame of days gone by, the need to have the glory of biblical redemption by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone impressed upon their souls cannot be overstated. To this end, Spurgeon took an interesting first step. He taught them to measure their redemption in Christ by their own sin:


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