Pastoral Psychology

, Volume 64, Issue 6, pp 783–801 | Cite as

Role Transgressions, Shame, and Guilt Among Clergy

  • Laura Barnard CrosskeyEmail author
  • John F. Curry
  • Mark R. Leary


After committing an error or transgression, people may experience shame (they feel badly about themselves) or guilt (they feel badly about their action or inaction). This study investigated the possibility that people experience more shame in domains that are relevant to their self-concept and that shame in these domains is more strongly associated with distress. Work or vocation is one domain in which self-concept is often entangled. For instance, many clergy fail to differentiate between who they are and what they do in their role as pastor, raising the question of whether transgressions that are relevant to the pastoral role evoke greater shame than transgressions in other domains. Across two studies, seminary students generated scenarios involving failures that clergy may experience in their role as clergy, and seminarians and clergy rated their reactions to these scenarios and completed a measure of burnout. Results demonstrated that higher shame, both in ministry situations and in secular situations, was associated with higher negative affect among seminarians and less satisfaction and more emotional exhaustion in ministry among clergy. Contrary to expectations, clergy did not experience more ministry shame than general shame, nor was ministry shame more strongly associated with clergy burnout than was general shame. Implications for the mental health of ministers are explored.


Shame Guilt Burnout Clergy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Barnard Crosskey
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • John F. Curry
    • 2
  • Mark R. Leary
    • 2
  1. 1.Crosskey Psychological Services, IncChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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