Trauma-Related Shame and Guilt as Prospective Predictors of Daily Mental Contamination and PTSD Symptoms in Survivors of Sexual Trauma

Jesse P. McCann, Jordyn M. Tipsword, C. Alex Brake, Christal L. Badour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Mental contamination (MC), the experience of dirtiness in the absence of a physical contaminant, has established links with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Shame and guilt have well-documented relationships with symptoms of PTSD and may play a role in the development and maintenance of MC. The present study examined whether trauma-related shame and guilt prospectively predicted daily MC and symptoms of PTSD among 41 women with a history of sexual trauma. Women completed baseline and twice-daily assessments of MC and symptoms of PTSD over a 2-week period and baseline measures of trauma-related shame and guilt. Two sets of hierarchical mixed linear regression models examined individual and combined fixed effects of baseline trauma-related guilt (guilt cognitions and global guilt) and shame in predicting daily trauma-related MC and symptoms of PTSD. Trauma-related shame positively predicted both daily MC and PTSD. This association remained robust even when accounting for the experience of trauma-related guilt. Neither trauma-related guilt cognitions nor global guilt predicted daily MC or PTSD. While other studies have addressed shame related to sexual assault, this is the first study to demonstrate a positive prospective relationship between shame and trauma-related MC. Findings regarding PTSD and shame are consistent with a growing literature. Further research is needed to better understand the temporal relationships between trauma-related shame, MC, and symptoms of PTSD, including how these variables interact and change over the course of PTSD treatment. A better understanding of the factors influencing the development and maintenance of MC can inform efforts to more easily target and improve MC, and subsequently PTSD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11117-11137
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number19-20
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • PTSD symptoms
  • daily monitoring design
  • mental contamination
  • trauma-related guilt
  • trauma-related shame

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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