Why are we self conscious?
The very handy dandy dictionary.com defines self-conscious as follows:
- Aware of oneself as an individual or of one's own being, actions, or thoughts.
- Socially ill at ease: The self-conscious teenager sat alone during lunch.
- Excessively conscious of one's appearance or manner: The self-conscious actor kept fixing his hair.
- Showing the effects of self-consciousness; stilted: self-conscious prose.
The first time I sat down to write some notes for this week I wrote, “I am not self-conscious, I am merely conscious of myself. I am aware of my actions.” So when I later went elsewhere for assistance on the topic, i.e. friends and dictionary.com I thought it funny that the very first definition provided was almost word for word the same thing I had written as to why I claimed I was not self-conscious… making me realize that I am. A friend I had emailed on the subject wrote “I think I personally am self conscious about some things, but when I think about these things they are not negative (as in the teenager example.) They are more closely conscious-of self. I think "self-conscious" has over time swayed from its original definition, and has taken on some baggage and slang.” Her comment made me realize that I had been defining self-conscious as insecure and I am not insecure, not like I was as a teenager.
So what am I self conscious about?
When I am among a group of friends and I don’t know everyone in our discussion, or don’t know them well, and the story I am going to contribute comes from an experience that involves my ex-husband I do what I can to avoid talking about being divorced. I very consciously said during a conversation, “when I lived with this guy” rather then “when I was married,” which in the end sounded weirder then if I had just said, when I was married because it made everyone who knew that I was talking about my ex-husband (the majority) smirk, some even chuckle out loud. It was obvious I was extremely conscious of the words I had used and as a result they came out sounding dishonest, like I hadn’t lived with a guy at all, which wasn’t true, it was just untrue how I portrayed it and made it clear that I was embarrassed that I was divorced. It ended up being really funny for all of us and now I no longer try and say something else in place of “when I was married”, but I am still very conscious of when I bring up being married in conversations.
I am also very conscious of what I wear. I spend a great deal of time and money filling my wardrobe with young hip business professional garb and young hip going out garb and then still spend hours trying to figure out which I want to wear for which occasions. I will begin working at a new company in the middle of March and I have already thought about which outfits I will be wearing the first week and a half – you know, to make a good first impression and all.
My list of what I am self conscious of could go on, but I am going to choose to end it here because, well, I am self-conscious about the things I am self-conscious of. Which leads us to the “why”?
Why are we (am I) self conscious?
I believe, or maybe hope is a better word, that all of us strive to be better individuals. I want to be perfect and I want the people around me to view me a certain way, perfect. I try and present myself to people as the person I want to be seen as and I try and become this person. Sometimes it is as simple as putting on a nice pair of slacks and a nice sweater with tall heels and tying it all together with the perfect handbag or broach in hopes to appear as if I take my job seriously even for early morning meetings. I am conscious with myself in the use of language when I am speaking with clients, meeting people for the first time, etc. I consciously avoiding using the words, “like” and “uh” and “so”, words I don’t consciously think about among friends and family. I am conscious of my self because I want to be seen and see myself a certain way, a way that takes effort and doesn’t come naturally.
In general I don’t think that it is a bad thing to be self-conscious, although I do think there are occasions when it can be and I think those occasions always represent the insecurity part of the definition of self-conscious, the negative connotation that my friend I quoted earlier brought up. Two examples of this come to mind. First, some things about us can’t be changed, such as my divorce. I got married and now I am not. This is a fact just as I am 5’2” is a fact. Maybe I wish I would only be married once in my life and that this once would last through out my life, not just for a portion of my twenties and maybe I wish I were taller, but wishing, being embarrassed, being self-conscious about these facts isn’t going to help me in anyway and it isn’t going to help anyone around me either. Second, over examination of ones self can end up hurting us rather then making ourselves better. The person that is already thin that constantly tries to diet, that is never comfortable with the body she has and harms it in the process of becoming this concept of perfection she has created in her mind is dangerous, yet it is her self-consciousness, her insecurities that have brought her to this point. It is the same self-conscious that makes some people better people that make others self destructive. It is a fine line and what drives all of us is our desire to be seen and be certain perfection we have created within our minds. Self-conscious can be a good thing if used properly.
Last night I had finally figured out what it was that I was going to say… which is what is above. But then I called my parents to chat… When the topic of this week’s blog came up my dad explained that philosophy doesn’t believe in a self-consciousness, it simply doesn’t exist. So in the end maybe I am not self-conscious, how could I be if it doesn’t exist? Or am I possibly just being self-conscious about what a philosopher would think?