Are You Too Self-Conscious?

I have described my youngest daughter as the most confident person I know. Even as a baby, she would smile as she entered a room as if she could comprehend that everyone already loved her.

Then, around age 5, something changed. Molly started refusing to wear certain clothes. Anything “cute” was out of the question; it had to be “cool.” When I would ask her about the reasons for her clothing choices, she would actually refer to other kids’ thoughts, opinions, comments. This did make me sad. It’s one thing to wear what you really love, another to dress worried about what others will think.

My husband and I wonder if Molly’s self-consciousness has to do with getting so much attention and so many “You’re so cute" comments early on. She seems to want to avoid such attention now and may be too smart to be blissfully unaware. Maybe it’s just part of growing up. But sometimes, it gets in the way.

What does it mean to be self-conscious?

Wikipedia defines self-consciousness as a heightened sense of self-awareness. It seems to be an intense focus on oneself, either on inner thoughts and feelings or as one is viewed by others.

We focus on what other people think of us.

We know ourselves better than anyone else and we know exactly where we fall short of ideal. Combine this with egocentrism - our tendency to view the world from our own perspective - and no wonder we think everyone else is focused on our flaws.

This is normal but not helpful if it keeps us from doing what is important.

Self-consciousness can keep us from speaking, engaging with others or our environment (because focus is inward not outward), participating in activities that are challenging, unfamiliar, or require wearing a swimsuit. :)

Have you ever noticed the difference between posed photos and candids? Subjects are less self-conscious in candids. :)

Self-consciousness can make us think twice about running into the grocery store on a bad hair day (or is that just me?).

What to do about it?

  1. Remind yourself of a phenomenon called the “spotlight effect.”  Thomas Gilovich, PhD, and colleagues coined this term after conducting studies including one in which college students were asked to wear an “embarrassing” t-shirt (of Barry Manilow) and enter a room where others participants were sitting. The students wearing the embarrassing t-shirts were asked to estimate the number of people who noticed the t-shirt. The students wearing the t-shirts overestimated the number of others who noticed (they guessed about 50 percent would notice, but only about 25 percent noticed!). So remind yourself that the spotlight effect leads you to overestimate the amount of attention you’re actually getting.

  2. Watch your mind as it assumes knowledge of what everyone else is thinking of you. Notice your mind when it tells you what’s wrong with you, where you fall short, that you can’t dance, sing, write, speak and that everyone is going to see this if you dare do such things. Just notice the words going through your head. When you’re watching your mind, you’re not in it. Most people do not do this.

  3. Work on accepting everything about yourself and your life. Fully. Sounds like a lot to ask, right? It’s from a place of acceptance that we do great things. So, in full knowledge of your weaknesses and awareness of your thoughts and feelings, stand tall with shoulders back and do what you need to do to make your life workable and meaningful.


Want to explore this a little more? Let’s talk.