Is there a personality subtype where it’s really common to feel embarrassed about one's past self, like cringing about something you said, wrote, or did some time ago? It may change over time, but I think some people just naturally have this inclination, like a propensity towards social anxiety.

Is this a known phenomenon?

  • $\begingroup$ Your described extreme form of embarassment as social anxiety as yourself pointed out is related to ability of exceptional selected episodic memory about specifics such that the subject is unable to forget some unpleasant moment in life which most people just let go. Such subjects may constantly and obsessively rehearsal and retrieve episodic memories in their prefrontal cortex. $\endgroup$
    – cinch
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 21:46

3 Answers 3


Positive and negative self-criticism plays out in many different ways and can depend on the person's mental health or state. It can induce guilt, shame, and sometimes embarrassment. A Google Scholar search for self-criticism came up with a great deal of research, including Petrocchi, et al. (2019),

Results support the growing evidence that not all positive self‐relating processes exert the same protective function against psychopathological consequences of self‐criticism. Implications for psychotherapy and the validity of using compassion‐focused interventions with clients with self‐critical issues are discussed.

Mills, et al. (2007),

Paranoid beliefs are associated with negative and malevolent views of others. This study, however, explored hostile and compassionate self‐to‐self relating in regard to paranoid beliefs

and Whelton, et al. (2005)

When Self-Critics and Controls were induced into a dysphoric mood and asked to criticize themselves and to respond to the criticism, the Self-Critics were judged to be more contemptuous and less self-resilient than the Controls. The Self-Critics and Controls both expressed self-critical thoughts, but the Self-Critics expressed them with greater contempt. The Self-Critics were also found to be less self-resilient to the criticism than the Controls.


Mills, A., Gilbert, P., Bellew, R., McEwan, K., & Gale, C. (2007). Paranoid beliefs and self‐criticism in students. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 14(5), 358-364. https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.537

Petrocchi, N., Dentale, F., & Gilbert, P. (2019). Self‐reassurance, not self‐esteem, serves as a buffer between self‐criticism and depressive symptoms. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 92(3), 394-406. https://doi.org/10.1111/papt.12186

Whelton, W. J., & Greenberg, L. S. (2005). Emotion in self-criticism. Personality and individual differences, 38(7), 1583-1595. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2004.09.024


Shame, guilt and embarrassment, and other emotions closely linked to self-evaluation come under the general category of self-conscious emotions. Some people are indeed more predisposed to self-conscious emotions than others, see the SCAII[1]. This can be associated with many personality and/or developmental factors, for example:

[1] Tangney, J. P. (1990). Assessing individual differences in proneness to shame and guilt: Development of the Self-Conscious Affect and Attribution Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(1), 102–111.


Yes, this is called neuroticism.

Embarrassment as a personality trait can be measured using the Embarrassability Scale (ES), Susceptibility to Embarrassment Scale (SES), Acceptance of Shame and Embarrassment Scale (ASES), among others. A comprehensive list of scales used to measure embarrassment, guilt, and shame as traits can be found in Robins, Noftle, & Tracy (2007).

However, it turns out that many emotion traits, including embarrassment, guilt, and shame, correlate with each other in a manner that shares an underlying factor. Thus, personality inventories typically do not need to measure embarrassment specifically, as individuals high in embarrassability tend to score high in other personality sub-facets that share this factor.

In personality psychology, anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, and shame, fall under the trait of neuroticism - one of the Big 5 traits:

For example, in the Big Five approach to personality trait theory, individuals with high scores for neuroticism are more likely than average to be moody and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness.

Embarrassment belongs under the neuroticism sub-facet of self-consciousness (as mentioned in another answer), and in fact, embarrassment scales are often validated against self-consciousness.

These emotions are also more broadly included in the trait of negative affectivity:

Negative affectivity subsumes a variety of negative emotions, including anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, fear, and nervousness. ... Trait negative affectivity roughly corresponds to the dominant personality factor of anxiety/neuroticism that is found within the Big Five personality traits as emotional stability.

Also worth mentioning, the tendency to obsess over past experiences and stress is called "rumination":

State rumination, which involves dwelling on the consequences and feelings associated with the failure. State rumination is more common in people who are pessimistic, neurotic, and who have negative attributional styles.

Rumination can also be measured as a personality trait using a variety of scales.


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