Guilt and Shame: Explaining Associations Between Emotion Socialization and Emerging Adult Well‐Being

AuthorLaura G. McKee,Jessica L. O'Leary,Alyssa L. Faro
Published date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
J L. O’L Clark University
L G. MK Georgia State University
A L. F McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School
Guilt and Shame: Explaining Associations Between
Emotion Socialization and Emerging Adult
Objective: Toexplore shame and guilt as poten-
tial pathways linking recalled emotion socializa-
tion (ES) parenting behaviors during childhood
with emerging adult outcomes.
Background: Although ES has been associated
with youth outcomes, more research is needed to
uncover variables that may explain such associ-
ations. Additionally, the present study addresses
limitations of extant literature by (a) exploring
ES within the context of recalled discreteexpres-
sions of fear, anger, and sadness; (b) indexing
both maternal and paternal ES responses; and
(c) considering the possible moderating role of
emerging adult gender.
Method: A sample of 206 undergraduate and
graduate students completed questionnaires
asking them to recall parental ES during child-
hood and to report on current shame- and
guilt-proneness, depressive symptomology, and
compassion for others. Following preliminary
analyses, path analysis and the Monte Carlo
method for assessing indirect effects were used
to evaluate the statistical signicance of the
indirect effects in the path models.
Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology,Clark University, 950
Main Street, Worcester,MA 01610 (
Key Words: emotion socialization, compassion, depression,
guilt, parenting, shame.
Results: Data suggest that shame and guilt
help to explain the associations between cer-
tain parental ES practices and emerging adult
outcomes. Associations between variables
differed when taking into account discrete emo-
tion expressed, parent gender, and participant
Conclusion: Results highlight the complexity of
ES processes and the importance of guilt and
shame in understanding relations between ES
and young adult outcomes. Important associa-
tions may be obscured in the ES literature by
the common practice of collapsing discrete emo-
tions into global indices and the tendency to pri-
marily investigate mothers’ ES practices.
Implications: A more nuanced understanding of
ES processes can contribute to the development
of targeted and effectiveES prevention and inter-
vention programs.
Parents explicitly and implicitly teach youth
about emotion through a variety of behaviors,
including parental responses to youth expression
of emotion (Eisenberg, Cumberland, & Spinrad,
1998; Garside & Klimes-Dougan, 2002; More-
len & Suveg, 2012). Research suggests that
these emotion socialization (ES) behaviors are
associated with youth psychosocial outcomes.
However,Katz, Malikin, and Stettler (2012) and
others have identied limitations in the body
608 Family Relations 68 (December 2019): 608–623
Parental Emotional Socialization, Guilt, and Shame 609
of research literature on ES. For instance, prior
work (e.g., O’Neal & Magai, 2005) has found
value in exploring discrete emotions, such as
sadness and fear, as opposed to relying on global
indices (i.e., negative emotion) and in consid-
ering potential moderators of the association
between ES and youth outcomes, such as youth
gender. Moreover, much of the ES literature has
focused on maternal responses to youth emo-
tion, neglecting the potential impact of paternal
behaviors. Finally, research exploring potential
pathways that link and explain the association
between parental ES and youth symptomatology
is needed. The present study attempts to address
these gaps in the literature with an emerging
adult sample. Given the scarcity of ES research
with emerging adults (Perry, Cavanaugh, Dun-
bar, & Leerkes, 2015), the literature review
that follows is primarily based on ndings
and trends noted with younger children and
L R
Although ES strategies include a wide range of
parenting behaviors, the present study focuses
on parental responses to youth expressions of
emotion. Malatesta-Magai (1991) delineated a
model of ve distinct strategies typically used
by parents to respond to youth emotion: reward,
punish, override, neglect, and magnify. Reward-
ing responses are characterized by providing
comfort and empathy or by helping the child
solve her problem. Punitive responses occur
when parents discourage the child’s emotional
expression by showing disapproval or mocking.
When overriding, a parent dismisses the emotion
(e.g., “things aren’t that bad”) or distracts the
child. Neglectful responses are characterized by
ignoring the emotional expression or by simply
not being available. Lastly, magnifying occurs
when a parent matches the child’s expression
of emotion equally or with more intensity, for
instance, by crying with a sad child (e.g., O’Neal
& Magai, 2005).
This range of ES parenting behaviors has
been associated with both healthy and patholog-
ical child development, including psychological
outcomes (e.g., Silk et al., 2011) and socioe-
motional outcomes (e.g., Eisenberg et al.,
1998). Specically, punitive and neglectful
ES responses to youth negative emotion have
been linked to increased youth psychological
distress (Garside & Klimes-Dougan, 2002)
and internalizing symptoms (O’Neal & Magai,
2005). Override responses have been linked
with low levels of socially appropriate behavior
(Eisenberg et al., 1998). Magnifying responses
have been found to be correlated with inter-
nalizing and externalizing symptoms and
behavioral avoidance (Eisenberg et al., 1998;
Silk et al., 2011). Lastly, rewarding responses
to negative emotion have predominantly, but
inconsistently, been associated with positive
socioemotional development, with rewarding
responses to youth expressions of sadness and
anger inversely related to internalizing symp-
toms, whereas reward of youth expressions of
fear has been linked to greater internalizing
behavior (Eisenberg et al., 1998; Fainsilber
Katz, Stettler, & Gurtovenko, 2016; O’Neal &
Magai, 2005).
The inconsistency in ndings, such as those
with rewarding responses to negative emotion,
highlight the need to study discrete emotions,
rather than collapsing youth emotion into global
indices of negative and positive affect, which
is the approach that has dominated the ES lit-
erature (e.g., Sanders, Zeman, Poon, & Miller,
2015; Silk et al., 2011). From a functionalist the-
oretical perspective and according to differential
emotion theory, youth’s diverse expressions of
emotion serve distinct interpersonal functions
(Izard, 1977). Consistent with this perspective,
O’Neal and Magai (2005) and Eisenberg
et al. (1998) suggested that parents use ES
strategies differently based on youth emotion
expressed. Further, the impact of parental ES
on youth outcomes may differ by emotion
expressed (Morelen & Suveg, 2012). Thus, the
widespread use of global indices may obscure
important nuances in ES processes (O’Neal &
Magai, 2005).
Like discrete emotion expressed, gender
of parent and child also appears to inuence
the way emotions are socialized (e.g., Le,
Berenbaum, & Raghavan, 2002; Perry, Leerkes,
Dunbar, & Cavanaugh, 2016). Although ES
research has predominantly focused on moth-
ers’ parenting behaviors (e.g., Sanders et al.,
2015), preliminary work indicates that fathers
play a unique role in ES (e.g., Nelson, O’Brien,
Blankson, Calkins, & Keane, 2009). Evidence
suggests that fathers use distinct ES response
patterns; for example, fathers generally use
more unsupportive ES responses than mothers
(e.g., Baker, Fenning, & Crnic, 2011), partic-
ularly when youth display negative emotions

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