Self-consciousness is a complicated experience, but it’s a natural part of being human. Understanding what self-consciousness is and what causes it can help you recognize your own self-conscious thoughts and emotions, which is a great way to improve your mental health.
What Is Self-consciousness?
Self-consciousness is your awareness of yourself and the way others perceive you. Like other mental and emotional experiences, different people have different degrees of self-consciousness. You can feel more or less self-conscious from day to day or even from hour to hour.
Being self-conscious and developing self-awareness are key steps toward emotional maturity. A healthy amount of self-conscious emotions can encourage you to act carefully and consider how your words or actions may affect those around you. If you went through your life without caring at all how others feel about you, you wouldn’t make it very far. Self-conscious emotions help you function in your relationships, at work, and in your community because they make you put your best foot forward.
Self-consciousness can also be excessive, though. If you have anxiety, low self-esteem, or other emotional struggles, you may worry constantly about what others think of you. If you think poorly of yourself, you may assume that others feel the same way. Self-conscious emotions get out of control when your fear of being perceived negatively starts to control all your decisions.
Here are some signs of unhealthy self-conscious emotions
• Excessive worry about how others perceive you
• Avoiding social situations for fear of being embarrassed
• Feeling extremely angry or ashamed of yourself for small mistakes
• Blaming yourself when someone wrongs you
• Difficulty expressing your wants, needs, or opinions
• Difficulty making decisions
• Negative self-talk
• Anxiety or depression
Causes of Self-consciousness
Self-consciousness develops in childhood. In the 1970s, psychologists tested the self-awareness of young children by putting some blush on their noses and placing them in front of a mirror. Most children under 18 months of age did not reach up to touch their nose, which suggests that they didn’t realize that the mirror showed their reflection. Most of the subjects who were older than 18 months did touch their nose, which means they knew they were looking at themselves.
As we grow up, our self-conscious emotions become more complex. We’re not just aware of what we look like, but we also think about who we truly are and how we appear to others. Self-conscious emotions become particularly strong during adolescence. At this point, many teens start seeking support from their friends more than their family, so being accepted by peers is very important.
Self-conscious emotions tend to level off in adulthood as we form a more stable sense of self. We still experience self-conscious thinking, but it’s usually not overwhelming. However, some people continue to struggle with excessive self-conscious thoughts, which can happen for a number of reasons.
Some mental health experts cite childhood trauma as a reason for negative self-conscious emotions in adulthood. Difficult childhood experiences can make you feel different or “less than.” When you have such a critical inner voice, you may start to believe that others think negatively of you, too.
Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can make you more self-conscious as well. One of the most common symptoms of depression is low self-esteem, which goes hand-in-hand with negative self-conscious emotions. Anxiety can cause you to dwell on self-conscious thoughts more than is healthy. Social anxiety is a particularly big risk factor for excessive self-conscious emotions as it makes you fixate on what others think of you.
It can be very easy to form negative thinking habits. If you get used to feeling self-conscious, your brain will keep producing self-conscious thoughts. These thought patterns can become stronger and stronger until they’re at the forefront of your mind all the time.
What to Do if You’re Struggling with Self-conscious Emotions
Negative self-conscious thoughts can be very difficult to deal with, but it’s always possible to break the habit. Here are some steps you can take to start working through your self-conscious emotions:
1. Recognize That the Thoughts Are Illogical
Before you can overcome your self-conscious thoughts, you have to realize that there’s a problem. This is definitely easier said than done, but it’s important to notice that you shouldn’t feel as self-conscious as you do.
Think about how often you think critically about others. You probably don’t spend a lot of time judging people for their appearance or over-analyzing someone’s small mistake. Most people are too focused on themselves to worry about others, so fewer people notice your flaws or mistakes than you may think.
2. Pay Attention to Your Strengths
It’s easy to fixate on the things we don’t like about ourselves. To reduce your negative self-conscious emotions, create a list of every accomplishment and positive trait that you’re proud of. Regularly read your list to remind yourself of your strengths.
Also, engage in activities that help you feel good. Make a hobby out of one of your skills, or use your positive personality traits to help others. Find every opportunity to lift yourself up instead of letting the self-conscious thoughts take over.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the ability to recognize your thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment. You’re not ignoring anything, but you’re also not over-analyzing what you feel. You’re simply observing yourself and your experience.
It takes time and practice to develop mindfulness, but it’s an excellent way to manage anxiety, depression, and self-conscious thoughts. Start with one five-minute mindfulness meditation per day. During this time, try to focus on your breathing, your body sensations, or anything you hear or see around you. When your mind wanders, gently redirect your thoughts back to the current moment.
As you build up your mindfulness practice, the habit will start to take root in your daily life. It will become easier to let self-conscious emotions enter and exit your mind without dwelling on them, and your self-judgment will gradually decrease.
4. Work with a Therapist
Overcoming self-conscious thoughts can be incredibly challenging. It sometimes involves unraveling years of negative self-talk and anxiety, so professional treatment with a therapist may be your best option.
Your therapist can help you identify the source of your self-conscious emotions and develop the ability to recognize and challenge your unhealthy thoughts. They can also work with you to find healthy coping mechanisms to use as alternatives to self-criticism.
Treatment is especially important if your self-conscious emotions are linked to a mental health condition like depression or anxiety. It’s difficult to manage these disorders without support from a therapist or other mental health professional.
Self-awareness is a normal part of the human experience, but it can get out of control. If your self-conscious emotions are taking a toll on your quality of life, consider seeking therapy.
Beverly Hills Therapy Group offers therapy for a wide variety of emotional concerns. Whether you need treatment for a diagnosed mental health disorder or are looking for help managing stress or other emotions, we’re happy to offer support. To connect with a licensed therapist in Los Angeles, contact us today.