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  • The Timothy Center

Shame Fuels Hypersexual Behavior, Guilt Fuels Change

By: Randy Gilliland, Mikle South, Bruce N. Carpenter

The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of both shame and guilt in hypersexual persons, to examine the associations between the intensity of these emotions and the degree of hypersexuality.

Although conceptualizations of shame and guilt are varied and often overlapping, most recent explications have sought to distinguish them. Under this perspective, both shame and guilt are viewed as self-conscious emotions involved in negative self-evaluation. The difference between the two is that, during a shame experience, the entire self is negatively evaluated, whereas during a guilt experience the specific behavior which brought on those feelings receives the negative evaluation.

Guilt says “this behavior is bad” while shame says “I am a bad person.”

Shame has a strong positive relationship with externalization, e.g., blaming others or circumstances for your own behavior . Thus, addictive behavior generally and hypersexual behavior specifically may be driven in part by individuals who are prone to experiencing intense feelings of shame and who use maladaptive behaviors to take the blame off themselves and place it elsewhere.

These individuals may be self-medicating to treat the psychological pain of shame and their externalization may be keeping them ignorant of the potential consequences of their behavior

Alternatively, individuals experiencing guilt still internalize the blame but isolate it to their behavior and its effect on others, which motivates them to change the guilt-inducing behavior.

We, therefore, hypothesize that guilt will have a negative relationship with measures of hypersexuality because the experience of guilt tends to motivate a person to change behavior that is viewed as harmful.


Results from this sample of people receiving therapy for pornography show that shame and guilt have different effects on hypersexual behavior patterns.

Shame has a significant, positive predictive relationship with hypersexual behavior, while guilt has a significant, positive predictive relationship both with Motivation to Change and self-reported Change behaviors. Conversely, Guilt had a reliable negative predictive relationship with hypersexuality while shame had a reliable, negative predictive relationship with motivation to change and self-reported change behaviors.

Clearly, these exploratory findings don’t establish a causal link between shame and pornography use, but they are consistent with theories that hypersexual behavior may be engaged as a maladaptive substitute or deflection of existing shame rather than seeing shame only as the result of such behavior. This may lead to a vicious circle of behavior and consequence that feeds itself repetitively.

Although this is the first time these associations appear in research specifically on hypersexuality, similar findings appear in previous research among other populations affected by compulsive and addictive behaviors more generally.

They suggest that shame, in particular, may be a critical issue for treatment with patients who struggle with hypersexuality. For example, practitioners may be able to teach their client(s) the difference between shame and guilt and assess how their client reacts when tempted by or after engaging in hypersexual behavior. Therapists can educate their clients to recognize shame reactions and offer techniques to reduce feelings of shame.

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