Understanding self consciousness

Self consciousness can also be labelled as shyness, introversion, OES (overwhelming embarrassment syndrome), or plain (very) old fashioned ‘inferiority complex’.

Whatever the label it’s severely uncomfortable and can be very limiting: it can limit one’s career, social connections and even the ability to meet a life partner. Most of us go through a period of painful self consciousness with the onset of adolescence. Here, in a short period of months or even weeks, we can change from a free spirited and alive youngster to a grunting, self-centred, uncommunicative and, above all, very self consciousness adolescent!

This phase is often seen as funny by those well-adjusted adults (especially stand-up comedians) who have forgotten their own struggles and can now smirk superiorly at the trials and traumas of this aspect of adolescence – but it’s not fun for those going through it.

More importantly it’s not fun for those who get stuck in this phase of development and who, instead of slowly metamorphosing into confident adulthood, continue to be self conscious throughout their lives.

‘Other Consciousness’ and NLP

A key state in the Pegasus NLP Attitude, or blend of states, is Curiosity and curiosity is the an ideal antidote to self consciousness. Why? Because if you feel truly curious about  somebody or about what they are doing or saying or feeling your attention is fully on them – and not on yourself!

For these few moments of curiosity you forget about yourself in your curiosity about what is happening ‘on the outside’. You get to have a short holiday from self absorption. And the more you practise this curiosity thing the longer these moments of ‘other consciousness’.

‘They’ are thinking of me

Self-consciousness, on the other hand, is another word for self-centredness – and is the state of believing that we are the central point around which the universe revolves. It’s a set of beliefs about other people – about the great ‘they’ out there!

In this state we each believe and feel that ‘they’ are talking about me, thinking about me, are very aware of me, are interested in me. They like me. They don’t like me. I matter to them. And so on and on and on…

And in reality ‘they’ very rarely are. It’s much more likely ‘they’ are doing much the same thing to a greater or to a lesser extent – and are probably more interested in themselves and in what we are thinking about and feeling about them.

Some action steps

Self consciousness is something we all have to address and work through at some stage in our life – or, perhaps, at some stages. It’s a natural and normal part of our developmental process. We move from being happy, fairly uninhibited, and un-self-conscious young people to being painfully self-absorbed adolescents. And then, as mentioned, some of us get stuck in this stage and don’t move on.

First thing to be aware of is that it’s not about self analysis (or analysis by therapists). That’ll likely produce more of the same self-absorption. It’s about developing a genuine attitude of curiosity and sincere interest in other people. At first this is likely to be somewhat forced but the habit will catch on. You’ll get hooked on people.

  1. Chat with and learn something new about somebody each day – a friend or colleague, the barista in the coffee bar, the parking attendant, the receptionist in the organisation you’re visiting – you get the idea. Not an in depth interview just a couple of minutes’ light chat.
  2. Read about people in newspaper and magazines, listen to radio interviews and watch TV or YouTube interviews– all with an attitude of ‘I wonder what makes him/her’ tick?’
  3. When somebody behaves in a manner which you find difficult to understand ask yourself ‘What would have to be going on inside me for me to behave like that?’
  4. When somebody does something you admire get them talking about it – to discover what was going on for them while they were doing it e.g. how were they feeling, how were they thinking, what were they focussing on, etc.

The full newsletter version of this article is on the Pegasus NLP Website.

There is a follow-up newsletter article here


  1. Russell Ward on 29th July 2011 at 7:23 AM

    Great article and newsletter, thanks Reg!

    As someone who struggled for years with self-conciousness I know how painful it can be. My biggest problem was I didn’t know how to start to make a change. I went to assertiveness training which gave me techniques but still left me lacking the courage to apply them. My search went on. The challenge always seemed so big, so threatening.

    My first contact with NLP was thanks to a personal coach who encouraged me to be curious about people and interactions in daily life. I was sufficently curious to want to find out more about how he had helped me. My curiousitty led me to start my NLP training.

    Your article shows how simple it can be to get started. It took me many years to discover this fact. I hope the article finds a wide readership among all those who want to change but don’t know how to get started.

  2. Reg on 29th July 2011 at 7:52 AM

    Hi Russell: thanks for that comment. Yes, it can be simple and, like you, it took quite a while to identify the simplicity – ironically this occured after I’d dealt with the self consciousness.

    That, to me, is one of the key strengths of NLP; that it enables us to get to the core of an issue quickly and simply.

  3. Margaret johnson on 29th July 2011 at 11:07 PM

    I liked the straightforward approach in this article. it is all to easy for a lack of self confidence to escalate into paranoia and eventually cut off social contact and become Agoraphobia.
    Having an interest in other people and also knowing the etiquette of social conversation with a comparative stranger can be a great help.
    I remember as a young teenager reading something similar to your article Reg, in a teen magazine, It also recommended that wearing something you are comfortable in, when going out, not something that is brand new or a startlingly different colour to to a usual choice or something that is tight fitting. Very sensible advice for a self consious teenager I think.