All of us may have heard this statement in our heads, or from other people, at certain points in our lives.
Humans by nature, are social animals. Since the days of cavemen, we’ve depended on each other for survival. On an instinctive level, we know how important it is to get along with each other.
Throughout history, there has been a large focus on communal living that was built on structures laid down by religious and political systems. There was little or no focus on the development of one’s individuality, except during certain eras such as Ancient Greece and the Renaissance.
It was not until recently that the focus has been shifted from collectivism to the self. This broke down many barriers, liberating a majority of the world population to pursue a life that aligns with their personal values and dreams. This is a positive trend that now imbues most of the modern nations.
However, this new development comes with a caveat. The glorification of the self has induced tremendous pressure on people to succeed and to look like they have made it. The struggle to stand out in a crowd has made a significant number of people obsessive about how they appear to others.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with managing one’s image (it is often an essential to open doors in our careers and social life), it becomes a problem if we attach our self-worth to it and if we get out of integrity in an effort to look good to others.
All self-conscious individuals are insecure and, because of this, they depend on other people’s validation to feel worthy. Like any other dysfunctional behavior pattern, the root of self-consciousness can be traced to the beliefs that one developed in their younger years.
Self-conscious behavior is especially prevalent in the teenage years, because it is at this crucial juncture that a person first experiences life as an individual within the context of a social group. A teenager gains a sense of identity from the group that he or she belongs to.
Once we are past the teenage years, we should be ready to transition into adulthood with a more solid and secure sense of self that’s independent of a group. Yet a large percentage of adults don’t make it past this stage because of early childhood conditioning that did not create a strong internal foundation.
I was one of those self-conscious young adults. It became especially clear to me during a phase in my life when I was socializing with an elite clique of wealthy kids. In an effort to fit in and not appear too boring, I had consciously repressed my intellectual streak by limiting my conversations with them to trivial small-talk and senseless banter.
One morning, after waking up from a heavy night of partying, I had a good look at my disheveled self in the mirror. I couldn’t recognize the person I saw anymore. I realized that I’d lost myself in my efforts to fit in. My drive and sense of ambition were almost non-existent.
After that day, I made a conscious decision to move away from the bubble that I was living in and expand my social circle to include people who inspired me and challenged me to grow. This re-directed my focus towards building a life of meaning and purpose.
If you’re someone who feels limited in a situation because of your self-conscious tendencies, here are a few steps that I followed during my transition into self-acceptance, which I believe can help you too:
1. Get to the root of your self-consciousness: Underneath feelings of self-consciousness are feelings of inadequacy and not feeling good enough. These feelings can be traced to the messages we received in our childhood and other key experiences. The first step is to explore and shift these beliefs, preferably with the help of a therapist or a coach.
2. Put other people’s opinions into perspective: Self-conscious people are overly concerned about being judged because they give too much weight to other people’s opinions. What’s important to realize is that people will judge each other based on what they think is right and their yardstick for success. Their opinion is not the gospel truth and is merely a product of their thought system and beliefs.
3. Create your own goals and standards: Instead of placing so much importance on what other people think, we should focus instead on creating our own standards and living in accordance with them. Figure out what your values are and what matters most to you. Create an internal compass by setting goals and objectives, which can give you direction as you move along in your life.
4. Seek like-minded friends and mentors: While building our internal compass, we also want to be able to bounce our ideas off other people and get feedback from them. The people that we select for this purpose should be able to give us constructive feedback that we value and trust. We also need to choose people who have your best interest at heart.
5. Focus on making a difference: One of the best ways to move away from self-consciousness, after working on ourselves, is by making a contribution towards our planet. When we use our time and energy to participate in causes that are important to us, we will begin to see ourselves as being part of a global family where everyone is intrinsically linked to each other.
Like snakes, we need to shed old layers of skin that are filled with old conditioning and past pain before we can grow a new layer that will offer hope and promise for a beautiful tomorrow.
All my best on your journey,
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