self-consciousness and me
First of all, my self-conscious tendencies require that I tell you right from the start that a) my kind of self-consciousness may be very different from yours, and b) I wonder if this reveals a lot of pride on my part.
My kind of self-consciousness, which I consider one of my bigger weaknesses, is truly a self-consciousness. It is fairly separate from any sense of being conscious of how others are seeing me. I could be locked in a house all by myself with no windows, and I would still be really self-conscious.
Take dancing for instance: I’m about as unlikely to dance alone at home as I am to dance in public (and contrary to local opinion, I am quite ok with any [maybe not any…] dance in which one actually gets to learn what to do – square dancing, for example – as opposed to jerking one’s body around spasmodically in some vague relationship to loud music).
Self-consciousness is not entirely a bad thing – it is the price we pay for having a frontal lobe, that part of the brain that is much more developed in us than our fellow mammals (or cetaceans). It enables us to live reflectively and intentionally, to empathize or (for better or largely worse) to deceive.
But it also separates us from ourselves and from direct experience. Those of us who are too self-conscious often hold back from life, particularly from spontaneity and emotional engagement. We experience the pros and cons of being too careful.
A couple of things have been important for me: 1) Deeply accepting myself and my self-consciousness without shame. Though I have tried in the past, I think it has been pointless to try to change this aspect of myself. Yes, it is a weak point in my personality, but it is probably a necessary flipside of some strengths that I wouldn’t want to do without. So I acknowledge the inherent weakness but fully embrace that it is a part of me. (So, no, I do not want to get over it and get out on the dance floor, thank you very much.)
2) I have tried to pay attention to the kinds of things that help me bypass the self-consciousness when I can. Here is a list:
– giving primary attention to someone else instead of myself
– getting absorbed in a novel or film
– getting physically active (the inertia of inactivity feeds self-consciousness)
– “knowing what to do”
– reminding myself that one should deliberately be foolishly spontaneous on occasion just for the sake of balance regardless of feeling self-consciously critical while doing it
– and stretching the limits of what I permit myself more in the evening than the morning
These things all seem to help me to avoid letting my self-consciousness make me too detached.
So let me check with myself – am I ok with what I just wrote? I guess so; it’s late in the day.