Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 22, Issue 8, pp 1112–1119 | Cite as

Maternal Guilt and Shame: The Role of Self-discrepancy and Fear of Negative Evaluation

  • Miriam LissEmail author
  • Holly H. Schiffrin
  • Kathryn M. Rizzo
Original Paper


Guilt and shame are emotions commonly associated with motherhood. Self-discrepancy theory proposes that guilt and shame result from perceived discrepancies between one’s actual and ideal selves. Fear of negative evaluation by others may enhance the effects of self-discrepancy especially for shame, which involves fear of others’ reproach. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between self discrepancy, guilt, shame, and fear of negative evaluation in a cross-sectional, self report study of mothers. Mothers of children five and under (N = 181) completed an on-line survey measuring guilt, shame, fear of negative evaluation, and maternal self-discrepancies. Guilt and shame were related to maternal self-discrepancy and fear of negative evaluation. In addition, fear of negative evaluation moderated the relationship between maternal self-discrepancy and shame such that mothers who greatly feared negative evaluation had a very strong relationship between these variables. Maternal self-discrepancy and shame were not related among mothers who had low fear of negative evaluation. The results are discussed in terms of the detrimental effects of internalizing idealized standards of perfect motherhood.


Guilt Shame Mothers Fear of negative evaluation Self-discrepancy 


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, M. J., & Higgins, E. T. (1993). Emotional tradeoffs of becoming a parent: How social roles influence self-discrepancy effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 1259–1269. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.65.6.1259.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arendell, T. (2000). Conceiving and investigating motherhood: The decade’s scholarship. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1192–1207. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.01192.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Calogero, R. M., & Watson, N. (2009). Self-discrepancy and chronic social self-conciousness: Unique and interactive effects of gender and real-ought discrepancy. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 642–647. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2009.01.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Churchill, A. C., & Davis, C. G. (2010). Realistic orientation and the transition to motherhood. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29, 39–67. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2010.29.1.39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cook, D. R. (1994). Internalized shame scale: Professional manual. Menomonie, WI: Channel Press.Google Scholar
  7. Deonna, J. A., & Teroni, F. (2008). Distinguishing Shame from Guilt. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 725–740. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.02.002.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Elvin-Nowak, Y. (1999). The meaning of guilt: A phenomenological description of employed mothers’ experiences of guilt. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 40, 73–83. doi: 10.1111/1467-9450.00100.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Franzoi, S. L., Vasquez, K., Sparapani, E., Frost, K., Martin, J., & Aebly, M. (2012). Exploring body comparison tendencies: Women are self-critical whereas men are self-hopeful. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 99–109. doi: 10.1177/0361684311427028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gilbert, P. (1998). What is shame? Some core issues and controversies. In P. Gilbert & B. Andrews (Eds.), Shame: Interpersonal behavior, psychopathology, and culture (pp. 3–38). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Gilbert, P. (2000). The relationship of shame, social anxiety and depression: The role of the evaluation of social rank. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 7, 174–189. doi: 10.1002/1099-0879(200007)7:3<174:AID-CPP236>3.0.CO;2-U.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gilbert, P. (2007). The evolution of shame as a marker for relationship security: A biopsychosocial approach. In J. L. Tracy, R. W. Robbins, & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), The self-conscious emotions: Theory and research (pp. 283–309). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Gonnerman, M. E., Jr, Parker, C. P., Lavine, H., & Huff, J. (2000). The relationship between self-discrepancies and affective states: The moderating roles of self-monitoring and standpoints on the self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 810–819. doi: 10.1177/0146167200269006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goss, K., Gilbert, P., & Allan, S. (1994). An exploration of shame measures. I: The ‘other as shamer scale’. Personality and Individual Differences, 17, 713–717. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(94)90149-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guendouzi, J. (2005). “I feel quite organized this morning”: How mothering is achieved through talk. Sexualities, Evolution, & Gender, 7, 17–35. doi: 10.1080/14616660500111107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Guendouzi, J. (2006). “The guilt thing”: Balancing domestic and professional roles. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 901–909. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2006.00303.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hays, S. (1996). The cultural contradictions of motherhood. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94, 319–340. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.94.3.319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Higgins, E. T. (1999). When do self-discrepancies have specific relations to emotions? The second-generation question of Tangney, Niedenthal, Covert, and Barlow (1998). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1313–1317. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1313.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kim, S., Thibodeau, R., & Jorgensen, R. S. (2011). Shame, guilt, and depressive symptoms: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 137, 68–96. doi: 10.1037/a0021466.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lareau, A. (2002). Invisible inequality: Social class and childrearing in black families and white families. American Sociological Review, 67, 747–776. doi: 10.2307/3088916.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Leary, M. R. (1983). A brief version of the fear of negative evaluation scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9, 371–376. doi: 10.1177/0146167283093007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lee, C. (1997). Social context, depression, and the transition to motherhood. British Journal of Health Psychology, 2, 93–108. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8287.1997.tb00527.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lindsay-Hartz, J., de Rivera, J., & Mascolo, M. F. (1995). Differentiating guilt and shame and their effects on motivation. In J. P. Tangney & K. W. Fischer (Eds.), Self-conscious emotions: The psychology of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride (pp. 274–300). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  25. Marschall, D. E., Sanftner, J., & Tangney, J. P. (1994). The state shame and guilt scale. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University.Google Scholar
  26. Mauthner, N. S. (1999). Feeling low and feeling really bad about feeling low”: Women’s experiences of motherhood and postpartum depression. Canadian Psychology, 40, 143–161. doi: 10.1037/h0086833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ogilvie, D. M. (1987). The undesired self: A neglected variable in personality research. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 379–385. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.52.2.379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ozgul, S., Heubeck, B., Ward, J., & Wilkinson, R. (2003). Self-discrepancies: Measurement and relation to various affective states. Australian Journal of Psychology, 55, 56–62. doi: 10.1080/00049530412331312884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pavot, W., Fujita, F., & Diener, E. (1997). The relation between self-aspect congruence, personality, and subjective well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 22, 183–191. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(96)00196-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Perälä-Littunen, S. (2007). Gender equality or primacy of the mother? Ambivalent descriptions of good parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 341–351. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00369.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Phillips, A. G., & Silvia, P. J. (2005). Self-awareness and the emotional consequences of self-discrepancies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 703–713. doi: 10.1177/0146167204271559.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pinto-Gouveia, J., Castilho, P., Galhardo, A., & Cunha, M. (2006). Early maladaptive schemas and social phobia. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 30, 571–584. doi: 10.1007/s10608-006-9027-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Polasky, L. J., & Holahan, C. K. (1998). Maternal self-discrepancies, interrole conflict, and negative self affect among married professional women with children. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 388–401. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.12.3.388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rizzo, K. M., Schiffrin, H. H., & Liss, M. (2012). Insight into the parenthood paradox: Mental health outcomes of intensive mothering. Journal of Child and Family Studies,. doi: 10.1007/s10826-012-9615-z.Google Scholar
  35. Rotkirch, A. (2009). Maternal guilt. Evolutionary Psychology, 8, 90–106. Retrieved from
  36. Rubin, S. E., & Wooten, H. R. (2007). Highly educated stay-at-home mothers: A study of commitment and conflict. The Family Journal, 15, 336–345. doi: 10.1177/1066480707304945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Seagram, S., & Daniluk, J. C. (2002). “It goes with the territory”: The meaning and experience of maternal guilt for mothers of preadolescent children. Women & Therapy, 25, 61–88. doi: 10.1300/J015v25n01_04.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Slevec, J. H., & Tiggemann, M. (2011). Predictors of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in middle-aged women. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 515–524. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.12.002.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Smith, R. H., Webster, J. M., Parrott, W. G., & Eyre, H. L. (2002). The role of public exposure in moral and nonmoral shame and guilt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 138–159. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.83.1.138.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Snell, W. E., Overbey, G. A., & Brewer, A. L. (2005). Parenting perfectionism and the parenting role. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 613–624. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.02.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sutherland, J. (2010). Mothering, guilt and shame. Sociology Compass, 45, 310–321. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00283.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tangney, J. P. (2002). Self-conscious emotions: The self as a moral guide. In A. Tesser, D. A. Stapel, & J. V. Wood (Eds.), Self and motivation: Emerging psychological perspectives (pp. 97–117). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi: 10.1037/10448-004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. L. (2002). Shame and guilt. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  44. Tangney, J. P., Dearing, R. L., Wagner, P. E., & Gramzow, R. (2000). The test of self-conscious affect-3 (TOSCA-3). Fairfax, VA: George Mason University.Google Scholar
  45. Tangney, J. P., Niedenthal, P. M., Covert, M. V., & Barlow, D. H. (1998). Are shame and guilt related to distinct self-discrepancies? A test of Higgins’s (1987) hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 256–268. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.256.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Mashek, D. J. (2007). Moral emotions and moral behavior. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 345–372.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tummala-Narra, P. (2009). Contemporary impingements on mothering. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 69, 4–21. doi: 10.1057/ajp.2008.37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wall, G. (2010). Mothers’ experiences with intensive parenting and brain development discourse. Women’s Studies International Forum, 33, 253–263. doi: 10.1016/j.wsif.2010.02.019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Warner, J. (2006). Perfect madness: Motherhood in the age of anxiety. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  50. Wasylkiw, L., Fabrigar, L. R., Rainboth, S., Reid, A., & Steen, C. (2010). Neuroticism and the architecture of the self: Exploring neuroticism as a moderator of the impact of ideal self-discrepancies on emotion. Journal of Personality, 78, 471–492. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00623.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miriam Liss
    • 1
    Email author
  • Holly H. Schiffrin
    • 1
  • Kathryn M. Rizzo
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Mary WashingtonFredericksburgUSA

Personalised recommendations