Self-consciousness is a heightened sense of self-awareness. It is a preoccupation with oneself, as opposed to the philosophical state of self-awareness, which is the awareness that one exists as an individual being, though the two terms are commonly used interchangeably or synonymously. An unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness may occur when one realizes that one is being watched or observed, the feeling that "everyone is looking" at oneself. Some people are habitually more self-conscious than others. Unpleasant feelings of self-consciousness are sometimes associated with shyness or paranoia.
When feeling self-conscious, one becomes aware of even the smallest of one's own actions. Such awareness can impair one's ability to perform complex actions. Adolescence is believed to be a time of heightened self-consciousness. A person with a chronic tendency toward self-consciousness may be shy or introverted.
Unlike self-awareness, which in a philosophical context is being conscious of oneself as an individual, self-consciousness, being excessively conscious of one's appearance or manner, can be a problem at times. Self-consciousness is often associated with shyness and embarrassment, in which case a lack of pride and low self-esteem can result. In a positive context, self-consciousness may affect the development of identity, for it is during periods of high self-consciousness that people come the closest to knowing themselves objectively. Self-consciousness affects people in varying degrees, as some people are constantly self-monitoring or self-involved, while others are completely oblivious about themselves.
Psychologists frequently distinguish between two kinds of self-consciousness, private and public. Private self-consciousness is a tendency to introspect and examine one's inner self and feelings. Public self-consciousness is an awareness of the self as it is viewed by others. This kind of self-consciousness can result in self-monitoring and social anxiety. Both private and public self-consciousness are viewed as personality traits that are relatively stable over time, but they are not correlated. Just because an individual is high on one dimension doesn't mean that he or she is high on the other.
Different levels of self-consciousness affect behavior, as it is common for people to act differently when they "lose themselves in a crowd". Being in a crowd, being in a dark room, or wearing a disguise creates anonymity and temporarily decreases self-consciousness (see deindividuation). This can lead to uninhibited, sometimes destructive behavior.
- Laing, R.D. (1960) The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness. Harmondsworth: Penguin (this book has a chapter explaining self-consciousness).
- Richard P. Lipka/Thomas M. Brinthaupt Self-perspectives Across the Life Span, p. 228, SUNY Press, 1992 ISBN 978-0-7914-1003-5
- W. Ray Crozier Shyness: Development, Consolidation, and Change, p. 71, Routledge, 2000 ISBN 978-0-415-22432-1
- Nathaniel Branden The Psychology of Self-Esteem, p. 42, Nash Publishing Corp., 1969 ISBN 0-8402-1109-0
- Bernd Simon Identity in Modern Society, p. 30, Blacwell Publishing, 2004 ISBN 978-0-631-22747-2