Getting Trapped Versus Getting Out, people spend little time actually thinking about the self—and when they do, they wish they were doing something else. According to self-awareness theory, self-focus brings out our personal shortcomings the way that staring into a mirror draws our attention to every blemish on the face. It comes as no surprise, then, that self-focus seems to intensify some of the most undesir- able consequences of emotion-focused coping. Here’s the script.
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The state of self-awareness can be induced in us by external stimuli, such as mirrors, cameras, and audi- ences. Mood, too, plays a role. Peter Salovey (1992) found that, compared with a neutral mood state, both pos- itive and negative moods increase awareness of the self. Thus, when a stressful event occurs, the negative feelings that arise magnify self-focus. What happens next depends on a person’s self-esteem, as people with a negative self-concept experience more negative moods when self-focused than do those with a positive self-concept. The end result is a self-perpetuating feedback loop: Being in a bad mood triggers self-focus, which in people with low self-esteem further worsens the mood. This vicious circle forms the basis for a self-focusing model of depression according to which cop- ing with stress by attending to your own feelings only makes things worse.