The relationship between trauma, shame, and guilt: findings from a community-based study of refugee minors in Germany

Background: The relationships between traumatic stress and self-conscious emotions, such as shame and guilt, remain to be fully explored, especially in refugees, who frequently are exposed to a multitude of stressors.
Objective: The aim of the present study was to investigate shame and guilt in refugee minors and to assess to what extent a greater cumulative exposure to traumatic stressors would result not only in more severe posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms but also in higher levels of shame and guilt.
Methods: Thirty-two male refugee minors, who were all below the age of 18 when they sought asylum in Germany, agreed to participate. At the time of the assessment, the age ranged from 11 to 20 years. Eighteen refugees had arrived without relatives in their host country (“unaccompanied minors”). In structured diagnostic interviews, a PTSD diagnosis was established using the UCLA PTSD Index. Posttraumatic guilt was assessed by means of the Trauma-related Guilt Inventory, and the Shame Variability Questionnaire was used to record the intensity, duration, and frequency of shame episodes.
Results: Feelings of guilt and shame as well as trauma symptoms were all associated with the number of traumatic event types subjects had experienced. Posttraumatic guilt and shame were both correlated with PTSD symptom severity.
Conclusions: The findings indicate that cumulative stress such as exposure to multiple traumatic events poses a risk factor for the mental health including greater suffering and functional impairment due to shame and guilt.

Sabrina J. Stotz, Thomas Elbert, Veronika Müller, Maggie Schauer | 2015
In: European Journal of Psychotraumatology, ISSN 2000-8066 | 6 | 1-10