Updated: Apr 27, 2022
What is self-consciousness, what causes it, and how do you overcome it?
Do you find yourself thinking about how others see you? Do you often worry about offending or upsetting others? Do you get stressed out about having to perform in front of others? Then you might be self-conscious.
According to those who study self-consciousness, it's human nature to focus on ourselves sometimes and to focus on others at other times. We might reflect on our thoughts, emotions, behaviors or the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of others. The extent to which we focus or self-reflect on ourselves is thought to indicate our level of self-consciousness. Given this broad definition of self-consciousness, researchers suggest that there are two types of self-consciousness.
Private self-consciousness. Habitual attendance to our thoughts, motives, and feelings.
Public self-consciousness. The awareness of oneself as a social object. This person might have concerns about how they appear to others (Turner, Carver, Scheier, & Ickes, 1978).
Public self-consciousness is sometimes further divided into two types:
Style consciousness. Awareness of our behaviors as they are observed by others.
Appearance consciousness. Awareness of how we look, physically, to others (Takishima-Lacasa, 2014).
Private self-consciousness is also sometimes divided into two types:
Internal state awareness. Awareness of feelings and physical responses.
Self-reflectiveness. Tendency to reflect on the past, ourselves, and our motivations (Takishima-Lacasa, 2014).
When we feel self-conscious, we might experience a variety of self-conscious emotions. They are:
We tend to experience self-conscious emotions when we feel we have lived up to—or failed to live up to—some expectation or ideal we have for ourselves (Tracy & Robins, 2004). For example, we might feel we have reached an ideal--yay! pride!—or we might feel that we have failed to reach an ideal--yuk, shame.
Although self-conscious emotions are not always fun to experience, they help motivate our behavior in important ways. They can drive us to achieve more, to behave in ways that help us win friends, and to engage in more kind behaviors. Overall, they help us achieve important social goals (Tracy & Robins, 2004).
How to Overcome Self-Consciousness
Self-consciousness generally develops when we are young. Although it can get easier in adulthood, it doesn't always. If we were worried about how others thought about us when we were young, we can sometimes bring these habits with us. That's why learning how to change these thought processes can be useful. So, here are some tips to overcome self-consciousness.
1. Build self-trust
When we're self-conscious, we constantly question ourselves—our thoughts, emotions, and actions. We need to learn to trust ourselves—only we know who we are deep down and it's up to us to decide how we want to live our lives. But that requires self-trust.
To begin trusting yourself, start by being honest with yourself. Are you working a job that's not the right fit for you? Do you hang out with friends who you don't really like? Are you living a life that doesn’t feel authentically yours? It can be hard to trust yourself if you're making decisions that aren't in your own best interest. So work on being honest with yourself about who you really are and what you really want.
Next, act on your beliefs and values. The more you follow your own path and do what feels right to you, the less it matters what others think. When you know something is right for you, then it is right, for you.
2. Cultivate mindfulness
In some ways, mindfulness might just be the opposite of self-consciousness. It involves staying present in the moment (versus getting stuck in your head) and accepting situations and emotions as they are (versus worrying about them or trying to control them).
You can build your mindfulness skills by practicing mindfulness exercises—things like noticing the details of an object or doing mindful meditations. Check out apps like Headspace or Calm to learn more.
Self-consciousness can be both a blessing and a curse. Hopefully, you learned some strategies here that helped you better understand self-consciousness and what to do about it.
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Takishima-Lacasa, J. Y., Higa-McMillan, C. K., Ebesutani, C., Smith, R. L., & Chorpita, B. F. (2014). Self-consciousness and social anxiety in youth: The Revised Self-Consciousness Scales for Children. Psychological assessment, 26(4), 1292.
Tracy, J. L., & Robins, R. W. (2004). "Putting the Self Into Self-Conscious Emotions: A Theoretical Model". Psychological Inquiry, 15(2), 103-125.
Turner, R. G., Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Ickes, W. (1978). Correlates of self-consciousness. Journal of Personality Assessment, 42(3), 285-289.