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Self-Conscious Emotions - A Definition of Self-Conscious Emotions

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Updated November 02, 2010

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Definition:

What are self-conscious emotions? While some emotions are considered "basic emotions" (i.e., they require little or no sense of self or consciousness to experience), the self-conscious emotions are related to our self-concept and an understanding of our relationship to other people and/or society.

For example, to experience the basic emotion "fear," we need only to perceive something as threatening. But to experience a self-conscious emotion, such as guilt, we must both have a sense of our self and an appraisal of our behavior (i.e., "I did something wrong.")

The self-conscious emotions include both positive emotions (i.e., pride, confidence), and negative emotions (i.e., shame, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy).

Why do we have self-conscious emotions? These emotions probably have an evolutionary basis-- they help us survive by promoting social inclusion (i.e., they help us stay in the good graces of others). For example, when we express embarrassment after violating some social norm, the expression of that emotion helps us to repair relationships (i.e., if others know that we feel badly because we blush and look away, they will be less angry with us).

These feelings also probably help prevent us from violating social norms in the future. If we know we will feel guilty if we take something from someone, we will probably avoid that behavior.

Sometimes, however, the self-conscious emotions can cause problems. For example, people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often experience intense and pervasive feelings of shame. This chronic shame may be linked to high risk behaviors such as suicidality and self-harm.

Alternate Spellings: self conscious emotions
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