Shame, Guilt, and Suicide

  • Mark E. Hastings
  • Lisa M. Northman
  • June P. Tangney

Summary and Conclusions

In this chapter, we’ve discussed the potential role of shame and guilt in both the causes and consequences of suicide. Theory and emerging empirical research indicates that feelings of shame are more prominent than guilt in the dynamics leading up to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Nonetheless, experiences of shame often go unnoticed by both client and therapist in the therapeutic session (Lewis, 1971). Treatment of suicidal clients may be enhanced to the extent that therapists and other mental health professionals develop a ‘third ear’ for subtle markers of hidden shame experiences. The importance of considering shame and guilt in connection with suicide extends to the ‘survivors’ of suicide, as well. Although often overlooked, friends and family members are also vulnerable to experiences d shame and/or guilt in the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide. Therapists, too, often experience similar emotional reactions that may be exacerbated by concerns Unique to their professional role as treatment providers.


Suicidal Ideation Suicidal Thought Attributional Style Patient Suicide Bryn Mawr 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anderson, R.N., Kochanek, K.D., & Murphy, S. L. (1997). Advance report of final mortality statistics, 1995. Monthly Vital Statistics Report, (11, Suppl. 2). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. DHHS Publication No. (PHS) 97-1120.Google Scholar
  2. Baechler, J. (1979). Suicides. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  3. Baumeister, R. F., Stillwell, A M., & Heatherton, T. F. (1994). Guilt: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 243–267.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Beck, A T. (1972). Measuring depression: The depression inventory. In T. A. Williams, M. M. Katz, & J. A Shields (Eds.), Recent advances in the psychobiology of the depressive illness (pp. 299–302). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, H.N. (1987). The impact of suicide on therapists in training. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 28, 101–112.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Chemtob, C.M., Hamada, R.S., Bauer, G., Kinney, B., & Torigoe, M. (1988). Patients’ suicides: Frequency and impact on psychiatrists. American Journal of Psychiatry, 145, 224–228.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Derogatis, L. R., Lipman, R. S., & Covi, L. (1973). SCL-90: An outpatient psychiatric rating scale — Preliminary report. Psychophar macology Bulletin, 9, 13–28.Google Scholar
  8. Durkheim, E. (1966). Suicide: A study in sociology. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  9. Goldstein, L.S. & Buongiomo, P.A. (1984). Psychotherapists as suicide survivors. American Journal of Psychotherapy. 38, 392–398.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Harder, D. W. (1995). Shame and guilt assessment and relationships of shame and guilt proneness to psychopathology. In J. P. Tangney & K. W. Fischer (Eds.), Self-conscious emotions: Shame, guilt, embarrassment andpride (pp. 368–392). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  11. Harder, D. W., Cutler, L., & Rockhart, L. (1992). Assessment of shame and guilt and their relationships to psychopathology. Journal of Personality Assessment, 59, 584–604.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Harder, D. W. & Lewis, S.J. (1987). The assessment of shame and guilt. In J. N. Butcher & C. D. Spielberger (Eds.), Advances inpersonality assessment (Vol. 6, pp. 89–114). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Hassan, R. (1981). Suicide in Singapore. European Journal of Sociology, 21, 2.Google Scholar
  14. Hassan, R. (1995). Suicide explained. Victoria: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hoblitzelle, W. (1987). Attempts to measure and differentiate shame and guilt: The relation between shame and depression. In H. B. Lewis (Ed.), The role of shame in symptom formation (pp. 207–235). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  16. Janoff-Bulman, R. (1979). Characterological versus behavioral self-blame: Inquiries into depression and rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37. 1798–1809.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Jones, F.A. (1987). Therapists as survivors of client suicide. In E. Dunne, J. McIntosh, & K. Dunne-Maxim (Eds.), Suicide and its aftermath: Understanding and counseling survivors (pp. 126–141). New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  18. Kahne, M. J. (1968). Suicide among patients in mental hospitals. A study of psychiatrists who conducted their psychotherapy. Psychiatry, 31, 32–43.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Kleespies, P.M., Smith, M.R., & Becker, B.R. (1990). Interns as patient suicide survivors: Incidence, impact, and recovery. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 21, 257–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kohut, H. (1978). The searchfor the self. New York International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kolodny, S., Binder, R.L., Bronstein, A.A., & Friend, R.L. (1979). The working through of patients’ suicides by four therapists. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 9, 33–46.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Lansky, M. (1987). Shame and domestic violence. In D. L. Nathanson (Ed.), The many faces of shame (pp. 335–362). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lester, D. (1998). The association of shame and guilt with suicidality. Journal of Social Psychology, 138, 535–536.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Lewis, H. B. (1971). Shame and guilt in neurosis. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lewis, H. B. (1987). The role of shame in depression over the life span. In H. B. Lewis (Ed.), The role of shame in symptom formation (pp. 29–50). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  26. Lindsay-Hartz, J. (1984). Contrasting experiences of shame and guilt. American Behavioral Scientist, 27, 689–704.Google Scholar
  27. Litman, R. (1965). When patients commit suicide. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 19, 570–576.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Meade, J.F. (1998, November). Presentation at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.Google Scholar
  29. Mokros, H. B. (1995). Suicide and shame. American Behavioral Scientist, 38, 1091–1103.Google Scholar
  30. Momson, AP. (1996) The culture of shame. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  31. Pinguet, M. (1993). Voluntary death in Japan. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  32. Robins, C. J. (1988). Attributions and depression: Why is the literature so inconsistent? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 880–889.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Scheff, T.J. (1997). Emotions, the social bond, and human reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Shneidman, E. S. (1968). Classification of suicidal phenomena. Bulletin of Suicidology, 1–9.Google Scholar
  35. Shreve, B. W. & Kunkel, M. A (1991). Self-psychology, shame, and adolescent suicide: Theoretical and practical considerations. Journal of Counseling and Development, 69, 305–311.Google Scholar
  36. Small, AM., & Small, AD. (1984). Children’s reactions to a suicide in the family and implications for treatment. In Linzer, N. (Ed.), Suicide: The will to live vs. the will to die. (pp. 151–169). New York: Human Sciences Press.Google Scholar
  37. Stelmachers, Z. (1989, April). Review of inpatient suicides. Paper presented at the conference of the American Association of Suicidology, San Diego.Google Scholar
  38. Tangney, J. P. (1990). Assessing individual differences in proneness to shame and guilt: Development of the self-conscious affect and attribution inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 102–111.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Tangney, J. P. (1991). Moral affect: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 598–607.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Tangney, J. P. (1992). Situational determinants of shame and guilt in young adulthood. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 18, 199–206.Google Scholar
  41. Tangney, J. P. (1993). Shame and guilt. In C. G. Costello (Ed.), Symptoms of depression (pp. 161–180). New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  42. Tangney, J. P. (1995a). Recent advances in the empirical study of shame and guilt. American Behavioral Scientist, 38, 1132–1145.Google Scholar
  43. Tangney, J. P. (1995b). Shame and guilt in interpersonal relationships. In J. P. Tangney & K. W. Fischer (Eds.), Self-conscious emotions: Shame, guilt, embarassment, and pride (pp. 114–139). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  44. Tangney, J. P. (1996). Conceptual and methodological issues in the assessment of shame and guilt. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34, 741–754.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Tangney, J. P., Burggraf, S. A, Hamme, H., & Domingos, B. (1988). The Self-Conscious Affect and Attribution Inventory (SCAAI). Bryn Mawr, PA: Bryn Mawr College.Google Scholar
  46. Tangney, J. P., Burggraf, S. A, & Wagner, P. E. (1995). Shame-proneness, guilt-proneness, and psychological symptoms. In J. P. Tangney & K. W. Fischer (Eds.), Self-conscious emotions: Shame, guilt, embarassment, and pride (pp. 343–367). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  47. Tangney, J. P., Miller, R. S., Flicker, L., & Barlow, D. H. (1996). Are shame, guilt, and embarrassment distinct emotions? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1256–1269.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Tangney, J. P., Wagner, P. E., Barlow, D. H., Marschall, D. E., & Gramzow, R. (1996). The relation of shame and guilt to constructive vs. destructive responses to anger across the lifespan. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 797–809.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Tangney, J. P., Wagner, P. E., Burggraf, S. A., Gramzow, R., & Fletcher, C. (1991, June). Children’s shame-proneness, but not guilt-proneness, is related to emotional and behavioral maladjustment. Poster presented at the meetings of the American Psychological Society, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  50. Tangney, J. P., Wagner, P. E., Fletcher, C., & Gramzow, R. (1992). Shamed into anger? The relation of shame and guilt to anger and self-reportedaggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 62, 669–675.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Tangney, J. P., Wagner, P. E., & Gramzow, R. (1989). The Test of Self-Conscious Affect Fairfax, VA: George Mason University.Google Scholar
  52. Tangney, J. P., Wagner, P. E., & Gramzow, R. (1992). Proneness to shame, proneness to guilt, and psychopathology. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 469–478.Google Scholar
  53. Valente, S.M. (1994). Psychotherapist reactions to the suicide of a patient. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 64, 614–621.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Wicker, F.W., Payne, G.C., & Morgan, R.D. (1983). Participant descriptions of guilt and shame. Motivation and Emotion, 7, 25–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark E. Hastings
    • 1
  • Lisa M. Northman
    • 1
  • June P. Tangney
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyGeorge Mason UniversityFairfax

Personalised recommendations