Self-consciousness is a funny beast, don’t you think?
We human beings seem to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about how we look, how we look compared to others, how we’re being perceived, whether we’re cool enough, and what others might be thinking about us. And all of these concerns are natural extensions of life in an active society, and especially of life in an active society that puts great stock in physical beauty.
But there’s a piece of wisdom that floats through my brain any time I feel myself starting to truly obsess about how I’m being perceived: The vast majority of human beings are so busy worrying about THEMSELVES, they hardly even notice YOU. In other words, self-consciousness isolates and cancels. Yeah, if you walk into a crowded bar wearing a yeti costume most of the bar patrons will focus on you. But if you walk into a crowded bar wearing bar-appropriate clothes, you are unlikely to become the sole object of intense scrutiny. Everyone there is too busy wondering what you think about them to spend much energy sizing you up.
I’m fairly certain that this phenomenon isn’t limited to bars and crowds, but also spills over into one-on-one interactions. When my girlfriends complain of frizzy hair, problem skin, and bloated bellies, my assumption is that they’re honestly, truly worried about their own frizzy hair, problem skin, and bloated bellies. I do not assume that they are voicing their worries in an attempt to imply that MY hair is awful since it’s far frizzier, MY skin is offensive since it’s far spottier, or MY figure is repellent since it’s far lumpier. And some of that comes down to assuming positive intent, but more of it comes down to accepting that it’s not all about me. I may spend the majority of my time thinking about me and me-related things, but I’m quite likely alone in that respect.
And yes, anyone who feels compelled to bemoan in herself a trait she knows to be one of your worry-triggers is being insensitive and careless. And yes, there are some people who kvetch about themselves in pointed, intentional ways as a means of sparking self-consciousness and doubt in others. But in my experience, those people are exceptions. Self-consciousness is both normal and prevalent, so when someone confesses a worry about her own appearance she is likely doing so out of frank personal concern and a need to vent. For better or worse, she probably hasn’t even considered your set of insecurities before voicing her own.
Obviously some people are more attuned and sensitive than others, and many will not only consider your feelings before voicing their worries but also seek to reassure you that what they’re saying is no reflection on you. Furthermore, I don’t mean to imply that all human beings are navel-gazing, self-absorbed jerkwads; In my opinion, this kind of gut-level focus on the self is natural, and in no way negative or conceited. And I may be alone in this, but I find it relieving and comforting to know that the people surrounding me aren’t scrutinizing me nearly as closely as I’m scrutinizing myself! It makes sense that people would be self-focused critters as a kind of survival mechanism, and I like knowing that what other people believe, think, and potentially dislike about themselves is entirely unrelated to me.
Image courtesy messtiza.