The adjective ‘self-conscious’ gets a bad rap.
The first definition in Merriam-Webster is “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself: aware of oneself as an individual.”
The second definition is more concerning: “intensely aware of oneself.”
The third definition is “uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others. Ill at ease.”
The website PsychAlive says being in a state of self-consciousness often drags us down: “If we operate from a place of feeling like we stand out in some negative way, we tend to alter our behavior in response to those self-conscious feelings. We may become introverted and self-contained … These feelings can be reflected in everything from our facial expression to our body language.”
Introverted, self-contained, and anxious.
We’ve all had that feeling of awkwardness, right? Of being uncomfortable? It’s hardly a moment when we feel like we are on top of the world.
In fact, it’s usually the opposite. We want to slink out of the room.
That “shy” feeling—don’t single me out! I don’t want to be the first one on the dance floor or the audience member plucked out of a crowd to be the magician’s prop.
But what’s wrong with being self-conscious?
Of being “aware of oneself as an individual”?
Well, if it’s debilitating—if it makes you “ill at ease”—it’s not a good thing.
Of course a million internet rabbit holes are waiting to take you down into various philosophies about where the body and mind connect. And why. And a quick online search shows that brain researchers have long tried to isolate the location of the brain function that puts up these warning flags.
(Side question: if you could sign up for surgery that would make you confident and secure in every single facet of your life, would you do it? Or are those little hesitations part of what makes us human?)
The point is this—and it’s a point Jon Zahourek (Anatomy in Clay® Learning System) founder makes all the time:
Each of us only owns one thing in this world.
We may as well learn its form and function in as much detail as possible—right? Our bodies do so much for us. A large part of what they do is unconscious. The body’s movements are based on memories and models it has learned—and stored. Our kinesthetic mind is powerful.
Our movements, such as taking a shower or taking the pup for a walk, don’t require much thought. Our bodies just go along, as if they know what to do. (And they do.)
That is, except for when our bodies tense up because we’re asked to give a speech or because we get singled out in a way that suddenly makes us keenly aware of our body and its hesitations, sending signals to our brain that we should be afraid, that we feel should suddenly feel self-conscious. We sweat or go light-headed. Our mouth stops working as well. What gives?
Well, two good things happen when you put your hands on clay and build human anatomical structures.
The first is that you engage in a process of self-discovery—you are literally learning about your self.
The second is you develop a sense of self-empowerment. Understanding is enlightenment.
In this case, increased self-consciousness is good. It might even reduce those “ill at ease” jitters.