When we hear the word “self-conscious” we instantly remember an embarrassing event followed by feeling insecure. We remember those days in middle school when our sneakers weren’t as nice as everyone else’s. Or that time we were dining out with friends and later realized that we were talking and laughing with a giant green piece of food stuck in our front teeth the entire time. However, self-consciousness can have some perks as well. But the self-consciousness I’m talking about is a little different. Psychologist Allen Fenigstein believes it is important to distinguish between two types of self-consciousness: public self-consciousness and private self-consciousness.
I love going to parties, and I love socializing. Nothing is better than meeting inspirational people and forming long-lasting friendships. However, I have experienced self-consciousness at least once in every single party I’ve attended.
Amidst the light conversations and the laughter, I suddenly become very aware of how I look and how I’m behaving. My mind fills with a thousand questions. Am I slouching? Is there something in my teeth?
These questions are then followed by a wave of negative criticism. What was I thinking when I wore this ridiculously short crop-top? Why am I laughing so unattractively loud at someone’s not-so-funny joke? I look and sound stupid. I shouldn’t have come here in the first place.
In this moment I feel like I’m not good enough. I just want to leave, or better yet, disappear. I withdraw to a corner of the room, take out my cellphone, and try looking busy by scrolling down my Twitter feed so no one approaches me.
In such situation, I’m being publicly self-conscious.
When we are publicly self-conscious we become concerned about how we are perceived by other people. We become extremely aware of what we are wearing and what we are doing. We don’t want to stand out and attract more attention than we like. So we become quiet and inactive to avoid doing or saying anything that might make us look stupid in front of others.
If we are publicly self-conscious all the time, we suffer from social anxiety and excessive self-control. We watch what we do and say all the time and can’t get a minute of peace unless we’re by ourselves.
We get caught up in feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed so much that we don’t realize how being aware of our internal states can also be good for us. In order to use self-consciousness to our benefit, we need to shift our attention from what other people think about us to what we think about ourselves. This is called private self-consciousness.
To be privately self-conscious we need to become aware of ourselves. We need to notice how we think and feel about ourselves, and not what the world thinks of us.
I must admit. It can be scary to become aware of my own feelings. Not all my thoughts and emotions are positive. What will happen if I feel something I don’t want to feel? What if I realize something about myself that I will not like? Will that make me like myself less as a person?
I tend to try really hard to stay close to my friends and be there for them. But just recently I became very aware of how I felt when I was around some of my friends. After a couple of hours of interaction with them, I felt like I’d had enough. I got distant and counted the seconds until I was by myself.
I realized that I was trying too hard to stay friends with the wrong people. They may have been amazing human beings, but we didn’t have anything in common. I didn’t enjoy being with them as much as I thought, and they didn’t contribute to my life in any way. Being with them made me feel lonelier than if I was actually alone.
For once, I didn’t care about what they thought of me. What mattered was how I felt, and what I thought of them.
Imagine what would happen if I didn’t realize this about myself. I would spend the rest of my life surrounded with the wrong people, and I would feel miserable and lonely forever.
This realization was not something I liked about myself. But becoming privately conscious of my thoughts about my friends helped me surround myself with those who I connected to the most.
There are many perks to being privately self-conscious. When we are self-conscious in private, we:
Experience emotions more intensely.
If we’re feeling happy about our latest achievement, we experience joy even more. If we are sad about a recent break up, being self-conscious makes us feel even more upset.
When I became conscious of the big emotional distance that existed between my friends and I, I felt lonelier than ever, but it also helped me realize who the most important people in my life were.
Feeling emotions so strongly is good for us, because it helps us understand the depth of our emotions, and recognize the importance of the event that triggered those emotions.
Stick to our personal standards and values.
When we are self-conscious in private, we analyze our behavior by ourselves. Since there is no one else around us that would be judgmental, we use our own belief system, and we don’t think about what other people would do.
Regardless of anyone else’s opinion, I knew deep inside that those friendships did not match my standards. It felt nice to be able to hold on to my beliefs and act on them. It made me feel as though I was taking the right steps towards having a happier social life.
Become more accurate about who we are as a person.
When we think about ourselves in private, and obsess a little bit about the things we have done, we learn a lot about ourselves. When we think about the last time we did something nice for someone we learn that we are kind beings. When we think about the last time we did something embarrassing, we realize that we are not without faults. We obtain the ability to pinpoint our faults and try to fix them.
Becoming conscious of my feelings towards my social life helped me understand myself as a person. I realized that maybe I’m not the type of person that can form close bonds with everyone. Although I didn’t like that realization, it ended up working in my favor by teaching me the importance of being careful about who I surround myself with.
Now a fun fact about being privately self-conscious: we get sick less.
When we are privately self-conscious, we pay more attention to our body and how it feels. So we instantly notice if there is a problem with our health. People who are privately self-conscious don’t suffer from sickness as much as others. Who doesn’t want that?
It’s important to remain moderately conscious, both privately and publicly. Remember, thinking about yourself is good. Overthinking, not so much.
Don’t be so publicly self-conscious. Leave your thoughts below.