NLP and Self Consciousness

(See also this article on self-consciousness)

Painfully self conscious

As a teenager and right into my early twenties I was painfully self-conscious.

With anyone other than a handful of close friends I was so wrapped up in myself, my world, my feelings, and my anxiety about what people might be thinking of me, that I had great difficulty in communicating with others, let alone communicating in a relaxed manner.

I didn’t know where to look, how long to make eye contact for, when to speak, when not to speak, what to say, how to listen and actually hear!

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, a short period of months or even weeks, we can transform from free spirited and alive youngster to 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 to be self conscious throughout their lives.

What to do?

In my own case I was fortunate, even as a young teenager, in having a belief in the potential for personal change and development. As a result I was continually experimenting with ways of overcoming my self-consciousness. The approaches I experimented were many and varied and probably spanned the best part of a decade. And, happily, the sum total of these approaches and experiments did negate the painful self consciousness - though I'd be hard put to say which was most useful.

However, looking back and using NLP to understand what went on, I can identify what they added up to. My self absorption was gradually replaced by a genuine interest in other people. To be honest, this began as a feigned interest in others. But in the true spirit of the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach it worked and I did, indeed, develop a genuine interest in other people – which replaced my utter self-absorption.

‘Other Consciousness’ and NLP

In retrospect I can see that I’d gradually moved from being self-conscious to being ‘other-conscious’. And this was reinforced, some timer later, when I came across a newly developing field called Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP. (Incidentally, although NLP is nowadays more widely known and marketed as a collection of quick-fix techniques, it was designed as a much more in-depth process of attitude plus methodology plus techniques).

Now a key state in this 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 what somebody is doing or saying or feeling your attention is fully on them – and not on yourself!

For these few (in the beginning) 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.

‘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 pivot around which the universe revolves. It’s a set of beliefs about other people - about the great ‘they’ out there!

We 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! They 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 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.

The NLP Attitude

The easy way to do this is to attend a reputable and well-established NLP course that emphasis ‘attitude’ over mere techniques. And, to be sure of your NLP training provider, ask some searching questions on how their course helps participants develop the NLP Attitude.

Of course this may nether be possible nor convenient for everyone so here are some quick tips to begin developing a more curious and other-conscious attitude:

  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.



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