Dealing with Self Consciousness

April 10th, 2014 by Sit up a Tree

The feeling can strike any of us. In a fraction of a second you can go from your smooth talking, confident, charming self to a sweating pile of self consciousness. Your ability to make words flow into coherent sentences has disappeared and you find yourself suddenly tongue-tied and awkward.

You notice the person you are speaking to looking at your ear and instantly you slide a finger in front of your nose. Oh my god, is there something there? You begin surreptitiously wiping at your nose and now the person is looking at it more. All you can think about is now getting to the nearest mirror to check your reflection. Full blown self consciousness has hit you! 

It’s important to say at this point, that this does happen to everyone at some point. You are not alone. It’s a human thing. And the main error in your thinking when it happens is that you’re forgetting to include yourself in the human race.

Are you sure you’re really conscious of yourself?


Most people in this position are not actually feeling conscious of themselves. They are conscious of what the other person is thinking of them.  We know what they are thinking. But the simple fact is we can never know what someone else is thinking, but in this situation we have conferred upon ourselves the power of omniscience. We believe that we can imagine what they are thinking with any degree of accuracy.

Plain and simple, thinking we can judge what is going on in someone else’s head is garbage. Even if you are super-skilled in reading body language, you can’t understand what is driving someone’s thoughts at that moment. Maybe they are worrying about something else entirely. Maybe they are feeling self conscious too. Maybe they are looking at your nose thinking that it is cute. Or maybe they are just focussing on your words and not aware where their own eyes are looking. So if it’s not possible to know what they’re thinking, stop trying.

Take back your perception!

One of the best ways to take your own perception back inside yourself is to focus on the sensations of your own body. Notice your breathing. What does your little toe feel like? Imagine the back of your knees. Bring your attention to the center of your body. Feel your breath rise and fall there and notice your sense of self radiating out from that point. You need only spend a few moments on this.

Take back the room!

Widen out your vision to the outside world, focussing first on your peripherals. When we are afraid our vision narrows down to a tunnel. Widen out that tunnel. Now start noticing things in the room. Notice red things or yellow things. Keep your center and your breathing as you think about what the coloured objects are. I like to notice pretty things – a flower, the pattern on someone’s clothing or a curtain. Notice the work that has gone into light fittings, ornaments, fence posts, accessories. All of things were made by people to be admired. Let them do their work by admiring them!

Take back the relationship!

Now that you are feeling calmer you can bring your focus back to the person you are speaking to. Don’t start by focusing on their eyes. Work up to it. Look at their hair, their clothing, accessories, their ears, their lips, their nose, their mouth and then their eyes. If you don’t want to appear rude during this process you can sneak a look at their eyes but gently slide your eyes back elsewhere. If you think they’ve noticed you are looking around, slow down your eyes and smile. Reassuring them will not only make you seem more in control of yourself but it will set them at ease too. When you are ready meet their eyes. Smile! Now remind yourself that you are meeting a unique human being, whether or not you are meeting them for the first time. They deserve your compassion and respect. And the very best of your conversation and all that another unique human being – you! – can offer.

Fear of getting it wrong

Many people are afraid to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. If this triggers feelings of self-consciousness and you’re finding the steps above haven’t really helped, then perhaps you are concerned about the consequences of your words or actions. If this is the case, it’s too big a subject to deal with here, but these few pointers might help.

Take a step back from responsibility. 

Are you taking too much on yourself and trying to control things that are not yours to control. We can’t control the reactions of others but we also can’t take responsibility for them either. If they don’t like what you have to say or the actions you choose, that is theirs to deal with, not yours. Assertiveness is about recognising the boundaries between us and others and it’s very easy to find ourselves taking on responsibility for the feelings of others. An assertiveness course can be really useful in highlighting those places where we are taking too much responsibility for other people or trying to exert our control.

Stop Projecting!

As I said above, we can’t know what someone else is thinking. But we also can’t know what their situation is, what their truth is, what their issues are. Yet we start to build up models of people in our minds almost as soon as we meet them.  Throw out this model. It is your representation of the person, not the person themselves. Stop projecting onto them who you think they are, and how you expect them to react, and let them be themselves and react as they will as unique people with their own minds.
Fears are Stories we Tell Ourselves - Susan Jeffers

Overrule your Fears

As Susan Jeffers’s book ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ teaches, the only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to get out and do it. Fear is highlighting a way we need to grow. All the time we are growing we will feel fear. So if you’re feeling afraid of offending someone, you fear abandonment or rejection, then your fear is telling you that you need to grow in this way. If this is a big problem for you then therapy can be a big help in finding out what is behind those fears.  Fear and avoidance need not be a permanent thing, and the solution may be just a few seconds of courage.

Play it as it lies!

Accepting the situation as it is can be a big help. It gets us past focusing on how we wish things were and get us back into the moment. Mindfulness and staying in the present can really make a difference. Again these are good skills to learn and a mindfulness course may be just the thing to get your thoughts out of ruminating about the past,  worrying about the future and especially with fixating on things that unlikely are to come to pass, which is what we are most often doing in situations where we are self conscious.


Trust in humanity! Start with your Own!

Many people are afraid that they will be laughed at and this is a major reason for self consciousness. One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is ‘would I laugh at someone if they made a mistake in this situation?’ Chances are the answer is no.

We are all only human and it’s important to extend the same allowances that we would extend to others to ourselves. It is so easy to forget this. By using the tips above and accepting your own humanity you can start to let your humanity shine. Very often you will find that your nervousness is seen as endearing. Actress Jennifer Lawrence fell flat on her face when climbing the steps to collect her Academy Award – and the world fell in love with her for it. Her humanity is endearing. It reminds us that it is ok to make a slip. We all know we can trip up. We can all relate. Extend this to yourself!!!

Fake it to Make it!

If all else fails, you can put your acting skills to good use. Ask yourself how your favorite actor would deal with the situation, and then do it!  Just a few moments of role-play can get you into your stride. You’ll find your words are flowing easier, the sweat under your armpits has stopped and your mouth is less dry. Now switch back to you – and no one will be any the wiser.

Nobody is Looking Anyway!

I know you may think that everyone would notice you the moment you walk into the room but it really is unlikely that they will. Likewise they probably won’t notice the fumble you make, the words you trip over, forgetting a name, tripping on a curb, the fact that you’ve lost an earring or are wearing odd socks. If they do notice, you can be the first to laugh about it. You are expressing your humanity and that puts folks at ease to express their own.

confidence casting

Transport out of the You-centered Universe!!

People often notice people who take themselves too seriously. So get in your Star Trek transporter and transport out of your You-centered Universe and step into the one with the rest of us!

Smile and try to always be prepared to laugh at yourself!

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 10th, 2014 at 2:51 pm and is filed under Communication, Personal Development, Public Speaking. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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