(Note: an excessive amount of self conscious feelings could be symptoms of an anxiety disorder where you may need to seek professional help not found on this blog). There is no “cure all” to feeling self conscious, and most people experience it quite routinely. My definition is “feeling uneasy about yourself in relation to others, and the world around you,” and the terminology literally describes the phenomenon: you’re thinking excessively about yourself, versus living in the moment. Self consciousness seems to dissipate with age and experience, hence why teens have it the worst. Although, I believe it never goes away for some people, and it goes hand-in-hand with the insecure behavior that both adults and teens exhibit.
In my non-professional opinion, a healthy individual is generally not self-conscious unless some external event pushes him or her into that mind-set (somebody insults you, brings up a bad memory, or you can’t fix your hair and it’s sticking out in several directions). And then, if you’re mentally healthful, you can quickly return to a normal state of mind after the external event dissipates.
On the flip-side, if you often linger in this state of mind without any external trigger, there may be an issue. Here is my opinion of the symptoms that accompany an abnormal level of self-consciousness:
– Comparing your own subjective physical flaws to what you believe are other people’s physical strengths as you walk around (I’m not as tall as that person, not as skinny as her, not as masculine or young as that guy).
– Constantly comparing your attributes to things like media-created images, such as in advertisements, actor portrayals, etc. (I sure wish I looked like Robert Downey Jr.), culturally reinforced stereotypes (Black men are supposed to be tall, why am I not?) or peer-related comparisons (My friends are all rich, but I’m not).
– Attempting to create self-conscious or insecure feelings in other people as a way to offset your own feeling of inadequacy, such as subtly insulting a person’s looks, intelligence, or covertly mocking somebody who is not present (such as insulting somebody behind their back, making fun of a person’s appearance who is in the distance, on TV, etc.).
– Continually second-guessing your words and actions, believing they are by default inadequate. This is expressed by hesitancy and insecurity in conducting actions
– Imagining that other people are thinking negative thoughts about you.
– Spending excessive amounts of time on your image, attempting to cover up flaws.
– Continually re-examining your image by checking yourself in mirrors and in reflections.
– Handling conflict, insults, and disapproval by becoming even more self conscious, making all above behaviors magnified.
There are also negative environments which foster self-conscious feelings. Something people seldom discuss is our day-to-day struggle to “stay on our horses” and keep our sense of self-worth high enough so we don’t fall prey to negative thoughts about ourselves. Some of these bad environments include:
High-school: A combination of a peer-based popularity system reinforced by youth with a lack of worldly experience creates a breeding ground for emotional problems. Psychological bullying is often the norm, and having even ordinary flaws can make a person resent themselves.
Looks-based work environments: Ever wonder why supermodels are so self conscious? It’s because their entire career depends on their appearances. The same is true for large corporate environments, where men are expected to uphold a certain masculine appearance. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of judging yourself in these environments.
Social environments: A nightclub with a quota of attractiveness could spell bad-news for your sense of self worth if you’re the oldest, skinniest, most overweight, or have some other ‘minority classification’ which makes you stand out.
Peer groups: If all of your friends are expected to behave a certain way, appear a certain way, etc. Being different will probably foster criticism, and this will have a backlash effect where you become self conscious.
Finally, self consciousness is inherent in those of us who have been dealt a more challenging set of cards. Most of us don’t win the genetic lottery, and we don’t look like the images we want to be (or others want us to be). Tackling self consciousness is, by far, harder for those of us with unusual physical attributes, handicaps, and deformities. However, having to climb a larger mountain isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The people who do successfully handle this area of their lives from a disadvantaged starting point, almost consistently, become even more balanced, healthy, and charismatic by the time their inner-journey is completed.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article, where I discuss some personal methods I’ve devised to help get past self-consciousness.