How to Be Less Self-Conscious in Social Situations

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Feeling self-conscious can lead to feelings of anxiety and discomfort. While people with certain conditions such as social anxiety disorder (SAD) are often more likely to feel self-conscious, it is something that many people experience at least occasionally. It tends to be particularly common in situations where you are the focus of attention or are being evaluated by others.

Fortunately, some strategies can help you become more outward-focused and less self-conscious. This article discusses what it means to be self-conscious, situations that can trigger this feeling, and what you can do to cope.

What Does It Mean to Be Self-Conscious?

Self-consciousness refers to a tendency to be preoccupied with your own appearance or actions, particularly about how you think others might perceive you. This heightened awareness of the self can contribute to distress, discomfort, and anxiety.

Being self-conscious can make your anxiety symptoms worse. Such feelings also make it harder to be aware of what is happening around you. This can cause you to think that other people are judging you negatively; in reality, they likely aren't paying attention at all.

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the "spotlight" effect. Although it feels like all eyes are on you, people probably only notice about 50% of what you think they are. So, you are over-imagining everything by about half.

Signs of Being Self-Conscious

Feeling self-conscious can lead to a range of behaviors and emotions. Some signs that you might be feeling self-conscious include:

  • Constantly apologizing for mistakes
  • Feeling as if everyone is watching you
  • Feeling embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed
  • Feeling responsible for everything that happens
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Struggling to deal with criticism

Self-consciousness isn't always a negative thing, however. Healthy self-conscious feelings can contribute to feelings of pride and accomplishment.

The primary self-conscious emotions include pride, empathy, shame, guilt, and embarrassment.

What Causes People to Feel Self-Conscious?

Emotions related to self-consciousness begin to emerge during early childhood. As children develop a sense of self, they become more aware of social expectations and how others perceive them as they mature. 

There are many reasons why people might feel self-conscious. Some factors that can play a role include:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Difficult childhood experiences
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Other mental health conditions, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Traumatic events

While most people experience some degree of self-consciousness from time to time, unhealthy levels can lead to significant problems in a person's life. High levels of self-consciousness can contribute to social anxiety, isolation, loneliness, poor self-esteem, and depression.

Ways to Feel Less Self-Conscious

There are steps you can take to deal with self-conscious emotions and reduce your focus on the self. It may take some time, but using these techniques can reduce your self-consciousness.

Identify Triggers

Consider some of the situations or factors that might contribute to feelings of self-consciousness:

  • Perhaps there are some roadblocks holding you back from making the change.
  • Maybe you think that it is too scary to focus on the outside world.
  • Maybe it is mentally exhausting for you to keep up with conversations.

As an alternative, consider what benefits there could be from being more confident. Being self-conscious is only making your anxiety worse, and focusing on the opinions of others can limit your quality of life. It is easier to be yourself and be spontaneous if you are not focused on editing yourself. You need to learn to lose yourself to become who you really are.

Understand the emotions or situations that make you feel self-conscious is the first step to feeling more assured and self-confident.

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Consider the Drawbacks of Being Self-Conscious

One of the most significant issues with self-consciousness is trouble accurately reading situations. You may remember fewer details about situations where you did well and instead focus on your slight mistakes or faux pas.

Self-consciousness can also lead you to judge other people as being exceptionally good conversationalists when that is an exaggeration. That can cause you to analyze everything happening around you, inhibiting you from relaxing and having a good time.

Feeling self-conscious makes it difficult to see social situations clearly. Being aware of these drawbacks can help you better spot problems with your interpretations.

Develop an Outward Focus

Self-consciousness stems from being too inwardly focused, so shifting to a more outward perspective can help lessen these feelings. It won't be easy at first to develop an outward focus, particularly if you have used self-attention as a safety strategy for a long time.

In order to make the switch, try to become curious about other people as an objective outside observer. The goal is not to imitate behavior, but simply to become more aware of what exchanges really go on.

Watch what others do. Listen to what they say; and think openly about the situation. Be objective as you observe the situation from an outside perspective.

Instead of focusing on your own feelings, shift your attention to focus on others. If you have trouble, assign yourself a task of learning something about the person.

Reframe Your Negative Thoughts

Negative self-talk can cause you to feel more self-conscious. If your inner monologue is constantly berating yourself, you are less likely to feel confident and more likely to think that others are also viewing you negatively.

Reframing how you think about yourself can help reduce these feelings of self-consciousness. When you think negative thoughts, make a conscious effort to change these thoughts to be more positive and realistic. 

Instead of thinking, ""I'm going to mess up," reframe your thought to something more positive like "I'm going to do well because I am prepared."

Practice Switching Perspectives

One way to develop control over your focus is to learn how to switch between an inward and outward focus and notice the differences between the two.

The next time you are in an observational situation (such as riding on a bus), try focusing on yourself first. Do this for about five minutes and notice how you feel. Then, switch and try noticing everyone else and how they appear. Try talking to them if it seems appropriate.

Afterward, notice how you felt and what you took in. This experiment aims to become more aware of where your attention is directed, how to control it, and how it makes you feel. As you gain practice, try switching perspectives while in conversation with someone and notice the differences.

Remember Others Don't See What You See

It is important to remember that other people don't have the same perspective or experience things in the same way you do. People are not thinking about you or your actions in the same way as you do.

If you start to get down on yourself or feel as though directing your focus outward is too dangerous, remember that in the broader picture, making a mistake or coming off as awkward is not the end of the world.

While it might feel like others notice what you are doing, the reality is that they are much more focused on themselves. Reminding yourself of this simple fact can help you feel less self-conscious in social situations.

Change Your Perspective

When you are self-conscious, you likely become tense and say very little. As you focus attention outward, try some behaviors that encourage you to break free from the negative cycle of self-attention.

It is hard to think negative thoughts about yourself when you are positive, happy, and talking. When in doubt, asking people questions about themselves, such as about their passions or pets, is a great way to break the ice and make people feel valued. You'll be remembered as charming and flattering, not socially awkward.

Practice Self-Acceptance

You're more likely to feel self-conscious if you listen to your inner critic. Instead of focusing on what you think are flaws or mistakes, try to practice accepting yourself for who you are.

Some strategies that can help you embrace who you are:

  • Appreciate the things that make you unique
  • Focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses
  • Celebrate your successes
  • Treat yourself with kindness
  • Let go of things you cannot change

When to Seek Help

These suggestions can help you become less self-conscious, but if you are experiencing excessive anxiety that keeps you from enjoying activities or meeting friends, it may be time to talk to a therapist. Social anxiety is a treatable disorder, and a comprehensive treatment plan can help you enjoy a higher quality of life.

A Word From Verywell

Excessive self-consciousness can lead to feelings of social anxiety. If you are always worried about how you are being evaluated by others in social situations, you are more likely to experience anxiety when you are around other people. Taking steps to gain control of your feelings of self-conscious may help ease some of your feelings of social anxiety.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."