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Self-conscious. It’s a word I’ve often used to describe myself, but I don’t think I ever really understood what it meant until recently.


As it relates to human behavior, “self-conscious” is defined as “uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” Let’s break this down. This definition carries two major implications. First, it is to be uncomfortably conscious of oneself. In other words, to be painfully aware of your own existence.


What do I mean by “aware of your own existence”? I’ve been mulling over this question a lot lately, and I thought of an example that I think demonstrates the concept well. Imagine sitting alone in a quiet room and listening as your breath goes in and out, in and out. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.  After a while, you wonder how you ever did it without thinking. You become acutely aware of something that you normally wouldn’t even give a thought to. And just like that, something so habitual, so commonplace, becomes a chore.


Inevitably, being alive means being self-conscious to an extent, and that’s normal. For example, most people giving a speech in front of a class are going to be especially self-conscious of how others perceive them. In fact, being self-conscious can actually be a good thing if used as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth.


But if you take that consciousness—that acute awareness—and apply it to, say, worrying about how you eat in front of other people, you’re probably leaning toward the unhealthy side of self-consciousness. For what it’s worth, I can almost guarantee you that people are far less concerned with how you look and what you’re doing than you think they are.


Now, I want to focus on the last part of that definition: as an object of the observation of others.


As long as no one can see you, you are less focused on your appearance. That’s why you don’t feel embarrassed when you trip over something when you’re alone and almost fall flat on your face. In the presence of another person, however, that same incident can produce a completely different feeling. This may seem obvious, but bear with me.


I have found that sometimes, the root of my self-consciousness is a result of misplaced priorities. Add to this social media, which emphasizes what you bring to the table and how you stack up to others, and the problem is only exacerbated. I’m not bashing on social media, because it really can be a good thing. But it can also be a very dangerous thing when it comes to your self-esteem. It’s important to evaluate your relationship with social media and the role it plays in your life. Sometimes I have to step back and ask myself, “am I basing my decisions, however big or small they may be, on the reactions of other people?”


The more I focus on things that truly matter in my life, the less time I focus on what people think of me. It’s amazing how quickly you stop worrying about trivial things when you have your priorities in order. I’m often reminded to be more intentional with my relationship to God, my family and my friends.


Of course, this is often much easier said than done, and I would be lying if I said I had it all figured out. Being self-conscious is still something I struggle with daily, but I’m slowly learning how to retrain my mind and catch myself when I start to over-analyze how I appear to others.


Hi, my name is Carrie and I am a Professional Writing junior minoring in sociology at the University of Oklahoma. I enjoy tutoring writing, playing my guitar, creating Spotify playlists, or reading random stories on Quora.
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