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How to Overcome Self-Consciousness

What is self-consciousness, what causes it, and how do you overcome it?

Key points

  • It's human nature to focus on ourselves sometimes and to focus on others at other times.
  • Self-conscious emotions are not always fun to experience, but they help motivate our behavior in important ways.
  • In some ways, mindfulness might just be the opposite of self-consciousness.
 Bekah Allmark/Unsplash
Source: Bekah Allmark/Unsplash

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, and 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:

  1. Private self-consciousness: Habitual attendance to our thoughts, motives, and feelings.
  2. Public self-consciousness: The awareness of oneself as a social object. Such a person might have concerns about how they appear to others (Turner, Carver, Scheier, and Ickes, 1978).

Private self-consciousness is sometimes divided into two types:

  • Internal state awareness: An awareness of feelings and physical responses.
  • Self-reflectiveness: A tendency to reflect on the past, ourselves, and our motivations (Takishima-Lacasa, 2014).

Public self-consciousness is also sometimes further divided into two types:

  • Style consciousness: An awareness of our behaviors as they are observed by others.
  • Appearance consciousness: An awareness of how we look, physically, to others (Takishima-Lacasa, 2014).

Self-Conscious Emotions

When we feel self-conscious, we might also experience emotions including:

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 and 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 and Robins, 2004).

How to Overcome Self-Consciousness

Self-consciousness generally develops when we are young. Although it can ease in adulthood, it doesn't always. If we were worried about how others thought about us when we were young, we can sometimes carry these habits with us. That's why learning how to change these thought processes can be useful.

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 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 (vs. getting stuck in your head) and accepting situations and emotions as they are (vs. 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.

Adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.

References

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.

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