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Harter, K.S. Waldinger, R.J. Schulz, M.S. (2005). Abstracts of the 2005 Poster Session of the American Psychoanalytic Association Winter Meeting: The Relation of Shame to Anger in Intimate Adult Relationships. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 53(4):1333-1335.
   
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Abstracts of the 2005 Poster Session of the American Psychoanalytic Association Winter Meeting: The Relation of Shame to Anger in Intimate Adult Relationships

(2005). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 53(4):1333-1335

Abstracts of the 2005 Poster Session of the American Psychoanalytic Association Winter Meeting: The Relation of Shame to Anger in Intimate Adult Relationships

Kristina S. M. Harter, Robert J. Waldinger and Marc S. SchulzAuthor Information

This study examined the relation between shame and anger in couples who are at risk for relationship dissolution. The purpose of our research is to identify underlying processes that may impact adults’ capacities to regulate their emotions in intimate relationships. Unlike previous research on the relation of shame to anger, the current study distinguished shame from guilt and used a multidimensional assessment of anger. To date, research on the relation of shame to anger has been hindered by disagreement over the moral, self-regulatory functions of shame.

Methods and Hypotheses

The participants were 100 couples recruited from the Boston metropolitan area for a study of couples at particular risk for relationship dissolution. This high-risk sample was gathered by focusing recruitment efforts on women who had histories of childhood sexual abuse (50 couples) and couples with recent histories of physical violence (50 couples). Eligible couples had to be married or living together for a minimum of 12 months prior to participating in the study. The mean age for men was 32.1 years (SD = 9.0) and the mean age for women was 31.3 years (SD = 9.3). Thirty-five couples (35%) were married and 65 (65%) were living together in a committed relationship for a minimum of one year. The ethnic makeup of the sample was

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72% Caucasian, 17% African American, 5% Hispanic, and 6% other. Sixty percent of participants had completed a bachelor's degree or more advanced degrees, 11% had two or more years of college, and all but 4% had finished high school. The mean family income for the couples was approximately $45,000 per year.

To assess general proneness for experiencing shame and guilt, participants completed a well-validated measure of shame- and guilt-proneness, the Test of Self-Conscious Affect (Tangney et al. 1989). To assess anger, participants completed the Multidimensional Anger Inventory (Siegel 1986). This measure includes five scales that assess the occurrence of adults’ anger, as well as the mode of their anger expression. Although we generally expected that higher levels of shame would be associated with higher levels of self-reported anger for both husbands and wives, exploratory analyses (Pearson and partial correlations) were conducted to discern whether different shame-anger associations emerged for each spouse and for the five anger dimensions. Finally, we expected that adults’ shame would remain significantly associated with their anger after accounting for their level of guilt.

Findings

Different shame-anger associations emerged for men and women. Mens' shame-proneness was significantly positively associated with one of the five anger dimensions. Specifically, men who reported a greater general tendency to experience shame also reported a greater tendency to feel angry in a range of situations. Moreover, once men's guilt was accounted for, their self-reported shame was also significantly positively associated with anger arousal and a hostile life outlook, and was negatively associated with the expression of anger (Anger-Out), effects that were insignificant beforehand.

There were more significant associations between wives’ self-reported shame proneness and anger than were found for husbands’ reports. Wives’ self-reported shame-proneness was signif icantly positively linked with four of the five anger dimensions. Wives who reported a higher level of shame-proneness also reported greater anger arousal, a tendency to experience anger in a range of situations, and a hostile life outlook, as well as a tendency to hold anger inside and brood. Moreover, with the exception of wives' anger arousal, all of these associations remained significant, and indeed became stronger, after controlling for wives’ guilt.

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These results lend support to earlier work that views shame as a moral emotion inhibiting the expression of anger (Barett 1995) and lend support also to work challenging the moral, self-regulatory functions of shame (Tangney et al. 1992). The results specifically suggest that husbands who are prone to shame are likely to experience anger in the form of increased anger arousal, feeling angry in a range of situations, and having a hostile life outlook, but are less likely to express such hostile feelings than husbands who are not. A similar pattern emerged for wives whereby higher levels of shame were associated with a greater occurrence of anger and a greater tendency to keep anger inside and brood over anger-evoking events. An important implication of these results, taken together, is that the presence of shame in intimate relationships may create an atmosphere that intensifies the occurrence of anger while inhibiting its expression for both husbands and wives. These findings add to a growing body of work indicating that shame and guilt are distinct emotions (Tangney 1991) and support the evaluation of multiple aspects of anger (Siegel 1986).

References

BARRETT, K.C. (1995). A functionalist approach to shame and guilt. In Self-Conscious Emotions: The Psychology of Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment, and Pride, ed. J.P. Tangney & K.W. Fischer. New York: Guilford Press, pp. 25-63.

SIEGEL, J.M. (1986). The Multidimensional Anger Inventory. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 1: 191-200.

TANGNEY, J.P. (1991). Moral affect: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 61: 598-607.

TANGNEY, J.P. WAGNER, P.E., FLETCHER, C., & GRAMZOW, R. (1989). The Test of Self-Conscious Affect. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University.

TANGNEY, J.P. WAGNER, P.E., FLETCHER, C., & GRAMZOW, R. (1992). Shamed into anger? The relation of shame and guilt to anger and self-reported aggression. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 62: 669-675.

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Article Citation

Harter, K.S., Waldinger, R.J. and Schulz, M.S. (2005). Abstracts of the 2005 Poster Session of the American Psychoanalytic Association Winter Meeting. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 53(4):1333-1335

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