Bound to Feel Bad About Oneself: Relations Between Attachment and the Self-conscious Emotions of Guilt and Shame in Children and Adolescents

Peter Muris*, Cor Meesters, Maaike Cima, Maaike Verhagen, Nanda Brochard, Angelique Sanders, Chantalle Kempener, Judith Beurskens, Vera Meesters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Web of Science)


Two cross-sectional studies were conducted to explore the relationship between attachment and the self-conscious emotions of guilt and shame in childhood. Study 1 was performed in non-clinical children aged 9-13 years (N = 688) who completed a single-item measure of attachment style and a vignette-based instrument for assessing guilt and shame. Results showed that children who classified themselves as insecurely attached displayed higher levels of shame and maladaptive types of guilt as compared to securely attached children. Study 2 was conducted in adolescents aged 12-18 years (N = 135), of whom the majority was referred to a clinical setting because of externalizing problems. Adolescents filled in a dimensional scale for measuring attachment quality to parents and peers and the above mentioned vignette-based instrument of guilt and shame. It was found that the clinical adolescents generally exhibited lower levels of self-conscious emotions as compared to non-clinical adolescents. Within this clinical group, communication to parents and peers was associated with higher levels of self-conscious emotions, and alienation was accompanied by higher levels of maladaptive forms of guilt and shame. Altogether, these results fit with the theory that attachment (in)security is involved in people's proneness to experience self-conscious emotions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1278-1288
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014


  • Attachment
  • Self-conscious emotions
  • Guilt and shame
  • Youth

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