There is a lot of talk today about being a conscious person.
Being a conscious person means being aware of people’s needs, considerate of different perspectives, and respectful of those around us.
When it comes to dealing with other people, being conscious is a good thing.
However, when we are self-conscious, it’s a totally different story.
When we become self-conscious, it usually means we judge ourselves very harshly and think everyone else around us is doing the same.
But why do we feel so self-conscious at times? What causes the feeling of being self-conscious? And why are some people more self-conscious than others?
In this article, I want to answer these questions. I’ll share the reasons why we feel self conscious, how being self conscious affects our emotions, and how self consciousness can cause social anxiety.
I also want to talk about some ideas and practices I have learned to stop feeling self conscious and to become more confident in social situations.
Shy, Awkward, and Anxious
But first, let me share my story of being incredibly self-conscious.
Ever since I was able to talk, I have felt shy and awkward in social situations. From the age of about five years old, I was always the quietest kid in school and felt terrified if the teacher asked me a question or if I had to speak in class.
Through my early years up until the age of 13, I was convinced that other people around me were judging me and that what I was doing or saying was not impressive to them.
As a teenager, I always got tongue-tied when I had to meet people in a social situation or make a presentation in a group.
Even as I got to the end of high school, I was constantly trapped in my negative thoughts and felt anxious in social situations. I assumed that nobody else felt like I did on the inside and didn’t have an inner critic.
By the time I left school, I was terrified about what to do in my life and career. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t seem to overcome the feeling of worrying about what other people were thinking about me.
It was around this time that I started to read a lot of personal development and self-help books. I studied a lot of the science of self-confidence and began experimenting with ways to overcome my own sense of self-consciousness.
Honestly, it wasn’t an easy thing for me to overcome. It took me until my mid-30s to reach a point where I started feeling comfortable in social situations and was eventually able to overcome my feelings of being self conscious.
One of the big breakthroughs I had was when I read Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In that book, he talked about awareness and the fact that when you understand something, it makes it much easier to change.
For this reason, I want to share what I have learned about self conscious feelings and how you begin to overcome them.
What Does Self Conscious Mean?
The dictionary definition of self-conscious is feeling an undue awareness of oneself, one’s appearance, or one’s actions.
The most important word here is ‘undue.’ A person with healthy self-esteem does not have a high amount of focus on how they appear to others. But for some reason, as a self-conscious person, we can’t stop thinking and worrying about how other people perceive us.
Self-consciousness can sometimes feel like you are being watched, observed, or judged. It is the uncomfortable feeling that everyone is looking at you.
As Jordan Peterson explained in a recent interview, when we are self-conscious, it is typically associated with feeling inadequate. “It’s like having an inner tormentor that constantly natters at you about how useless, weak, and inadequate you are.”
Other words to describe feeling self conscious are insecure, awkward, ill-at-ease, bashful, sheepish, shy, tense, or inhibited.
When we become self-conscious, we start to feel uncomfortable, nervous, or embarrassed in the presence of other people. Sometimes being self conscious can lead to social anxiety, panic attacks, depression, neurosis, and wanting to avoid socializing altogether.
Like a loud alarm bell ringing in your ears, the feeling of being self conscious is tough to ignore. It stops you from enjoying yourself in a social situation and makes you constantly judge and second guess your own actions.
What Causes Self Consciousness?
Everyone feels self conscious for a different reason, and we often think that we are the only person who feels that way.
The reality is that there are very common negative thoughts that cause us to become a self conscious person.
The most significant cause of feeling self conscious is our own perception that others are judging us harshly or that we are looking or saying something that reflects negatively on us.
Here are three ways that self consciousness can start to grow in us:
1) Feeling inadequate in ourselves
If we feel that we are not up to the ‘normal’ standards in life in some way – physically, intellectually, or emotionally – we start to feel inadequate. We often tend to overemphasize our flaws and ignore our strengths. We think that other people are also seeing us as inadequate, and this makes our sense of personal value and self-esteem drop.
2) Comparing Ourselves to others
Often we can tend to look at others as being ‘better’ than we are or see ourselves as being ‘less than’ the people around us. Almost everyone sees other people through rose-colored glasses. This means that we see them more favorably when compared to us. We assume that other people feel confident and that we are the only ones struggling with negative emotions.
3) Overanalyzing our words or actions
The final way that we cause our self-conscious feelings is by obsessing about what we say or how we act in the presence of others. It’s like we put a bright spotlight on ourselves and worry that we didn’t say the ‘right’ thing or that we should have done or said something differently.
These three behaviors are all started by us, and very often, they are driven by low self-esteem or a lack of confidence. The good news is that as you become aware of the things that can cause a self conscious feeling, the better you can start to change them.
Common Self-Conscious Emotions
A crucial part of good mental health is understanding your emotions. If you have a negative emotion, it is essential to be able to identify it and call it out in the moment.
Negative thinking and negative self-talk cause us to feel negative emotions towards ourselves.
With each negative thought, we become like a bully to ourselves. And if we aren’t aware that we are doing it, or we make it a habit, it can lead to low confidence and self conscious thoughts.
Here are the eight most common self conscious emotions that we experience:
When we are too self-conscious, we can hesitate to say something in a public setting, such as in class or at a party. We tend to keep quiet because we think we will say something ‘wrong’ or ‘foolish.’
Worry is when we make a mental picture of what we fear. We might imagine that other people are judging us harshly (when in reality, it is only us who are doing the judging). This worry leads to avoidance and anxiety because we trigger our fight and flight mechanism.
If we are feeling anxious or overly self conscious, it can lead us not to know what to say to another person. We sometimes stay silent, which makes it even more uncomfortable. Awkwardness is actually us creating imaginary tension on the inside, which we then project on the outside.
One of the hardest self-conscious emotions to overcome is the feeling of inadequacy about our actions, our appearance, or something about our lives. Feeling embarrassed is very close to feeling shame on the inside, but sometimes it can lead us to judge ourselves much more harshly than we would another person.
The feeling of shame is another type of self conscious emotion that is a deeper sense of embarrassment or negative self-comparison. We see ourselves in a negative way due to our actions, physical appearance, or life circumstances. Often feelings of shame can also make us feel hopeless or powerless.
If you have felt self-conscious, then you know what anxiety feels like. It’s like a voice inside your head that is making you feel threatened or unsafe. Prolonged anxiety can cause us to go into fight and flight mode and try to get away from what we perceive as unsafe.
The feeling of fear is more severe than anxiety, but it comes from the same root cause of feeling threatened or unsafe. Once we feel fear, our logical brain will shut down, and our body chemistry will override. We will find ways to escape or try to protect ourselves.
The final self conscious emotion is panic. This is a state of acute fear that triggers us to try to act in the moment. Once the sense of panic has set in, it is tough to find a logical thought that can calm it down.
Why We Feel Self-Conscious in Social Situations
Why do social situations make us feel self conscious? More than anything else, when we are in a group dynamic, especially in a public place, it can trigger us to feel awkward, uncomfortable, and self-conscious.
Luckily, there has been a lot of scientific research that can help us understand social psychology and what causes social anxiety.
Human beings are driven by their base needs to be accepted by the social group and to have a sense of positive social status. The human species evolved in tribes, and a big part of our survival depended on our inclusion in a group. Our ancestors learned how to fit into a social group, and so we have the same genetic traits in us.
Modern society throws us into threatening situations that our primate brains didn’t really evolve with. We meet a lot more people than we would have in a tribe, and we are put into a lot of new environments that the primal parts of our brains can’t process.
For this reason, when we are in a new social situation, it is very easy to feel that your acceptance or social status is threatened because you don’t know where you stand yet.
This need to fit in for survival triggers a hyper-consciousness that makes us feel an undue sense of awareness about how we look, talk, and act. Sometimes this is known as the spotlight effect, where we think that everyone is judging us.
Of course, the reality is that most people are so focused on what others think of them that they don’t have any energy or time to judge you. Remember that the social anxiety trigger is inherent in all of us, and it’s just your primal brain trying to survive in the modern world.
Can You Stop Feeling Self-Conscious?
The good news is that the more you are aware of the reasons why you feel self conscious, the easier it becomes to change the feeling.
Self-consciousness is driven by emotions, but very often, we can catch ourselves in the act of triggering our emotions.
The first step to stop feeling self conscious is to go easy on yourself.
If you feel a sense of shyness, awkwardness, or inhibition, then just accept that you are feeling it in the moment. Don’t judge it, don’t try to change it, just let the feeling flow through you.
Remember that even though you feel self conscious, you don’t look self conscious. You look just like everyone else looks to you: calm, in control, and able to deal with the situation you are in.
The second step to stop feeling self conscious is to focus on your strengths.
Because a lot of our self-consciousness is driven by feeling inadequate, you must reverse the cycle. Look at yourself objectively as another person would, and focus on your strengths.
What do you do well? In what ways are you competent? What is one thing about you that other people value and can depend upon?
Take some time right now and write down 5-10 positive things about you. Ask someone you trust if you have to, but make a list of your strengths and positive traits.
The third step to stop feeling self conscious is to stay present in the moment.
When a person becomes self conscious, their mind starts racing. They think of what people are thinking, what they are saying, and a million other things. The key to reducing the feeling of self-consciousness is to stay present.
Try these simple actions to help focus on the current moment:
- Notice your breath.
- Notice your feet on the ground.
- Notice the sights and sounds around you.
- Keep your eyes still and focused forward.
- Keep your mind focussed on what is happening around you, outside your head.
This practice of being present is a form of resetting your mental state. As you focus on the current moment, you let your inner thoughts release.
Self-Consciousness and Self-Awareness
It’s important to understand that your self-conscious feelings are coming from a good place deep down. Your ability to see yourself objectively and to assess your behavior is what allows you to grow and improve in life.
Taken too far, your sense of self-awareness can work against you. But if you keep it balanced and in check, it can be a great asset in relationships, your career, and in life.
The more you learn about your brain and how it works, the better you are equipped with the self-awareness you need to feel confident and grow a sense of positive self-esteem.
Remember that every person on earth feels self conscious at times in their life. You are not alone in your feelings, and given enough time and self-care, you can find ways to feel more confident and let go of the self-consciousness you feel.