The Self Consciousness ‘Habit’(*)
Last week’s newsletter article on Self Consciousness produced quite a few e-mails. One was from Bob (not his real name) who is in his mid-30’s, has had the self consciousness habit all of his life and finds that it’s getting in the way of his finding a life partner.
He said he found the simplicity of last week’s explanation of self-consciousness enlightening and is now actively putting the tips into practice – and wondered what else he could do.
The answer, in a nutshell, is: relax, stop trying, be yourself and others will find you more interesting and attractive. See, that was simple, wasn’t it. Not only that but as a strategy it works for many people.
And yet… there are important missing pieces in the advice; pieces which distinguish between platitudes and useful directions!
- The advice isn’t tailored to Bob’s personal circumstances (although there’s nothing we can do about this short of moving onto personal coaching mode)
- There is no rationale for why this advice might be useful (that’s addressed to some extent below)
- The advice lacks specific and practical ‘how to’ steps which Bob could choose to follow (that’s also addressed below).
This was to illustrate how so much advice, and so many positive thinking books, fail their audience i.e. they don’t deal with points 2 and 3. On the other hand the precision of NLP enables us to define step-by-step methods for doing things such as ‘be yourself’.
Let’s take the wonderful suggestion of the late Ann Richards, a former Governor of Texas: ‘Learn to enjoy your own company. You are the one person you can count on living with for the rest of your life’.
Why learn to enjoy one’s own company?
If we don’t enjoy our own company we feel lonely – we need someone to fill the void. And we come across as needy, clinging, or even desperate. People sense this and withdraw. They don’t want the burden of fulfilling our emptiness, our neediness.
It’s too much responsibility for most people. (Though not everyone; we will attract the people who are out there looking for waifs and strays to look after – so they can always feel needed and therefore in control in the relationship. But that’s hardly a recipe for future happiness.)
Neediness communicates itself
When we are needy, when we ‘need’ a partner as opposed to ‘would like’ one, our body language lets us down. It gives us away. People pick up the non-verbal signals to the other person to ‘beware, beware’. They pick up the need, the desperation, and the threat to their independence – our behaviour is interpreted: ‘Danger! Run!’
Lifelong relationships based on one person needing the other creates an imbalance, can be exhausting, and often results in jealousy-and-control manipulation on the part of the needy person – they are so desperate not to lose the person on whom they depend as they begin to manipulate.
Neediness scares people
When we are needy we tend to do or say just about anything to win and keep the affections of the other person. So we try to please, to placate, to be nice, to be what they want us to be, and sometimes we even try to seduce.
Again the other person picks up the danger signals. They know we are being false. And we are so desperate to please that, for them, there’s no challenge or excitement or tension. Not only that but there is no equality – our neediness puts them on a pedestal. And it can be pretty lonely up there.
Neediness hides us
If we are needy in this way then the other person will never get to see the real person – all they see is our placatory, trying to please, ‘whatever you save’, etc behaviours. So we don’t give them a chance to know who we are and what we’re like. We are not giving the other person the chance to see us at best – only at our loneliest.
Neediness makes us boring
If we’re not comfortable with our own company and are desperately on the lookout for a partner conversations with attractive people evoke a lot of tension.
Because there is so much riding on the conversation our brain switches into ‘needy’ mode and we become one-tracked. Now, instead of enjoying a relaxed and engaging conversation and letting the other person see us at our best, we risk becoming boring, off-putting, and not very good company.
Alone or lonely?
There’s an important difference between alone-ness and loneliness.
Being alone simply means we are not sharing our lives intimately with another person. But we are sharing our lives with ourselves.
Being alone means we enjoy our own company, enjoy mixing with friends, and are self sufficient. The lonely person doesn’t like their own company and continually reminds himself or herself of how badly off they are.
They also continually compare their ‘inadequate’ lot with that of ‘couples’. For them happiness = coupledom and anything short of that is unhappiness and failure. So they go through life letting people know, verbally or in nonverbally ‘I’m lonely and unhappy – I need you, or someone’
Begin by learning to become friendly with yourself. Take a longer term view – put the search for Mr or Ms Right on hold for a while – so that you can make an investment in the rest of your life. Because by getting to know yourself better, getting to become more comfortable with and appreciative of yourself, ensures that you’ll value yourself more – and won’t end up settling for anyone rather than be alone.
In learning to be at ease with your own company you’re rising the bar and deciding that you deserve a future with someone who thinks and feels similarly. So that, instead of clinging to each other out of fear of loneliness, you can go through life together thriving, and having fun, and comfortably and confidently sharing strengths and weaknesses.
Start small – with little practical steps. The following are a few starting points:
- Replace ‘alone’ with ‘with myself’ – both in your conversation and, more importantly, in your self talk.
- Challenge your upbringing! Most of us are raised to be husbands and wives – and to produce grandchildren for parents. This is usually not done overtly nor blatantly but it’s the theme we become used to. Result of this? ‘Being alone is failing everyone!’ which is not going to boost confidence or self esteem.
- When did you last ‘plan’ to enjoy your own company – a meal with yourself, a day out with yourself, an evening in with yourself? Usually we go to great lengths to PLAN good experiences with others but never for ourselves. Is it any wonder that time with ourselves isn’t much fun!
- Look out for role models of people who are obviously at ease with and enjoying their own company – get to know them and find out what makes them tick.
- Decide that a year or two learning to enjoy your own company is an investment in the future. If Bob’s in his mid thirties now, and is taking reasonable steps to look after himself, he probably has another 60+ healthy years on this planet. Investing a year of this in a quality future might be a good investment…
One last thought, for now, and one that was profound for me from when I first came across it. It’s an observation by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French author of The Little Prince fable: ‘Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction’.
You may have noticed an asterisk in the header at the top of the article ‘The Self Consciousness Habit* Why call it a ‘habit’? Because we are not our moods! And I am not my mood. I may get angry or shy or nervous at times – or even a lot of the time. But that’s not me!
My moods are just states which I get into from time to time and which I have learned to get into during my upbringing. They are habits – but they are not me They do not define who I am now nor who I am going to be for the rest of my life.
For example, I may act stupidly at school but, even though the overworked and impatient teacher shouts ‘You stupid boy!’ I am not stupid. I just acted stupidly. (But try to explain this to the upset 7-year old when he arrives home from school.)
Acting in a self conscious manner, however good you’ve become at it, is just what you’ve got into the habit of doing. It’s not you.
© Reg Connolly & Pegasus NLP
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