Self-conscious emotions are those affected by how we see ourselves and how we think others perceive us. They include emotions like pride, jealousy, and embarrassment.
Self-consciousness and self-awareness are sometimes healthy signs of emotional maturity. They can help you fit in and function within a community. Feeling guilty after saying something hurtful is often perceived as showing good character. Feeling remorse after making a mistake may help patch up relationships. Positive self-conscious emotions and negative self-conscious emotions can be healthy and powerful motivators.
Excessive self-conscious emotions can be extremely unhealthy. They may worsen symptoms from conditions like anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. They can also cause social anxiety and isolation.
Having self-conscious emotions in moderate amounts is healthy. Having overwhelming self-conscious emotions isn’t.
Symptoms of healthy self-conscious emotions include:
- having pride in accomplishments
- enjoying engaging in social environments
- apologizing for mistakes and taking responsibility
Symptoms of unhealthy self-conscious emotions include:
- responding to embarrassment with anger and hostility
- avoiding social experiences
- placing blame on others for one’s mistakes
- feeling responsible for wrongs made against yourself
- having low self-esteem
- experiencing agitation, anxiety, depression, or nervousness
Self-conscious emotions develop in relation to an understanding of rules, standards, and goals. Young children start to form a sense of self at around 18 months old. This is when self-conscious emotions start developing. Many children have a full range of self-conscious emotions by the age of 3.
Adolescents are particularly prone to high levels of self-consciousness. At this age, children are experiencing significant social pressure for the first time.
Low self-esteem can cause unhealthy self-conscious emotions. You may dwell on negative conscious emotions as a result of mental health conditions. These conditions may include:
- borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
Healthy self-conscious emotions have many benefits. Pride often drives people to work hard for accomplishments. Confidence gives us the self-esteem boost we need to take on new challenges. Even negative self-conscious emotions have a positive role in our lives. Jealousy helps us determine what we want most.
Self-consciousness comes from self-awareness. The emotions that come from them help us perceive how we fit into society. Self-awareness helps us improve social functioning. Violating a group’s social rules causes guilt, shame, and embarrassment. While uncomfortable and disconcerting, these emotions can result in social acceptance.
Unhealthy self-consciousness can result in social anxiety. This can lead to isolation, which in turn increases the social anxiety further. It may also result in low self-esteem and depression.
Self-conscious emotions can also prevent healing from traumatic events. This is especially true in patients with mental health conditions. One study evaluated women who have BPD and had experienced a trauma. Because of their trauma, these women were dealing with feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. These emotions prevented healing and resulted in increased symptoms of BPD.
People may avoid medical care if they feel certain self-conscious emotions. A study found that many people experience shame, guilt, and embarrassment when they’re seeking screening tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Getting tested and talking to sexual partners both triggered these emotions. These emotions can cause people to delay or avoid getting the treatment they need.
There are many ways to treat unhealthy or excessive self-conscious emotions. To promote a more positive self-image and boost self-esteem, you can:
- engage in activities that make you feel good about yourself
- write a list of accomplishments or traits that you’re proud of
- combat social anxiety by interacting with people in low-risk activities, such as making small talk with a cashier when buying groceries
- be punctual and keep your commitments, as the discipline this requires can raise self-value
- take responsibility for mistakes, and make amends if necessary
- avoid activities that can cause negative emotions like guilt or shame if you’re caught, such as lying or gossiping
- take a deep breath and practice mindfulness if you’re dwelling on past events that cause negative emotions
Make an appointment to see a certified counselor or psychologist if these methods don’t offer relief from persistent self-consciousness. A counselor can help you determine the cause of unhealthy self-conscious emotions and get you prescriptions to ease anxiety.
Self-conscious emotions are tied to self-awareness. Healthy self-conscious emotions can give you positive motivation and improve social functioning. Unhealthy and overwhelming self-conscious emotions can result in social anxiety and isolation.
Make an appointment to speak to a counselor or therapist if you think you’re struggling with overwhelming self-consciousness.