In Praise of Self-Consciousness—i.e. Self-Awareness

Embracing--dancing with my loveI remember as a kid that I frequently felt self-conscious—you know, that awkward feeling of discomfort when you said something and were all too aware that it didn’t come out right.  Or you did something and you thought you looked stupid or foolish—like that first time I slow-danced with a boy at a party.  I was just reading an article that used the expression “self-conscious” when I suddenly saw the words in a different light.  Out of curiosity I looked up the definition of self-conscious and this is what it said, “Aware of oneself as an individual or of one’s own being, actions or thoughts.  Such an awareness can impair one’s ability to perform complex actions.  Synonyms include: awkward, uncomfortable, insecure, even embarrassed”.

Ah, but to be self-conscious is a wonderful thing if looked at from another perspective.   And this perspective doesn’t entirely fit the dictionary definition.  Yes, I agree that to be conscious of yourself means that you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings.  You are self-aware.  I would add that to be self-aware also means that you are aware of the impact of your words, actions and behaviors not just on yourself—you are aware of your words, actions, and behaviors on others as well.  But here is where I diverge from the standard definition.  It doesn’t have to be the case that such an awareness impairs your ability to perform complex actions.  To be self-conscious can be such a powerful way to be.  To be aware of your thoughts, actions and behaviors and understand their impact on you and on others is to fully experience life!  Why should it make you insecure or embarrassed?

Playing among the apple treesNow granted, as a student of linguistics, I am well aware that “self-conscious” has a non-literal interpretation or connotation and not just the literal interpretation: “conscious of self”.  It is true that in some instances when you are more aware of what you are saying or doing, you become stuck on that awareness.  Perhaps you said something that was misunderstood or you did something that didn’t make you look so good so you are embarrassed.  But can’t it simply be that your awareness is just that—an awareness of whatever it is you are being or doing in that moment?

So today I am redefining “ self-consciousness” as “self-awareness”.  I say that it is a wonderful and completely not uncomfortable thing to be self-aware.  I say that it is the best way to live and love your life so that you can feel the depth of your experience, feel the impact on your actions on yourself and others.  And if you do feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, you get to learn from the experience and perhaps change your future action—or not change your future action :).  Or maybe you could even relish looking foolish if it is something that isn’t hurting anyone—like slow dancing with a boy, or frolicking in an apple orchard!

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