Self-criticism IS NOT Self-consciousness

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How many times have you felt “self-conscious” because you did something “stupid”? Now more than ever, in the age of Zoom conferences, we are becoming more of what society considers “self-conscious”. But is it really self-consciousness?

You do something for which you feel ashamed, you get self-critical, which society calls “self-conscious”, and then others tell you, “there is no need for you to be self-conscious”. Oh, really! But wait! That is not self-consciousness, that is self-criticism. And the only way to overcome that is to “be more self-conscious”. To be aware of that voice, that inner-critic that is telling you that you should be ashamed of yourself for being stupid.

Because guess what, that is not even your own voice. That is not even you. So how could you be self-conscious if you don’t even know who you are? But before we go there, let’s step back just a bit.

What does it mean that this self-critical voice is not even you?

This self-talk is the internalization of the voice of a culture that has decided the norms of acceptable behavior. Most times these are not even your own standards of what is acceptable behavior – that would be real self-consciousness. Most times, it is the judgments of your friends, family, teachers, authority figures, and other actors in your life that have been internalized. And this layer over yourself is what you now consider to be you.

Real self-consciousness is becoming aware of this layer that has suppressed your authentic voice, the one that would naturally know what is acceptable and what is not, beyond the arbitrary judgments of others. There is such a thing as authentic shame, or a conscience that can inform us of the line of appropriateness. Unfortunately, we rather pay attention to the echoes of phantoms and ghosts of the pasts, which themselves are echoes of ghosts and phantoms of ancestors and cultures from the much more distant past, that live through scars and wounds in our individual and collective psyche.

Self-consciousness is realizing these echoes are not “you” by waking up to our true “Self”, our authentic voice from within. The voice that guides us in the appropriateness of the moment, not based on judgments from the past.

What we need is not to be “not self-conscious”, we need to have a deeper self-consciousness, one that recognizes the true self, and can filter through the trash we have collected over years. This does not mean there is nothing to be learned from the world outside ourselves. There is plenty to be learned. What we need to learn is to distinguish between knowledge that has real value, and trash that others spew when they echo the judgmental opinions that have wounded themselves. This requires an active conscience, which is one of the living dynamic aspects of someone who is Self-conscious.

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