The More Self-conscious, The Worse I Feel

If you’re reading this, chances are you or someone you know has experienced being self-conscious.

But how is this connected to low mood and what can we DO about it?

Self-consciousness (SC) or the technical term, self focused attention, is often parsed into two types, public and private self-consciousness.

Public SC, refers to an individual’s concern for what others think of them.

Private SC, being an individual’s acute awareness of their thoughts, feelings and sensations.

From an evolutionary standpoint self focused attention would’ve been a great trait to have within a tribe, and was necessary for self-regulation.

Our ability to be self-aware of our actions and thoughts, helped guide and evaluate our behaviours.

This all sounds rather positive doesn’t it? And probably contributed to our ancestors’ survival.

HOWEVER, when self focused attention (self-consciousness) becomes excessive and extreme it is no longer beneficial and starts to become harmful.

This is called Pathological Self-Focus, and is often associated with depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

So, why is it that the more self-conscious we are, the lower it makes our mood?

The concept of self-focus was initially introduced by Duval and Wickland in 1972 that made up a model of self- and emotion-regulation.

They proposed that attention on the self leads to self-valuation and if this evaluation exceeds our expectations we receive positive emotion, but if it falls short of our expectations then we receive negative emotions.

This was later built upon by Carver and Scheier who put forward that if we feel we cannot live up to our standard or ‘ideal’ in our mind then this is what can trigger low mood, depression and anxiety (See Graphic).

(A similar concept also exists for loneliness, see Cognitive Discrepancy Model of Loneliness)

SO, what’s the ANTIDOTE?

Let’s take an example.

If you go into a party and make a conscious effort to make everybody else feel at ease… you won’t be anxious.


You’ve reduced your self-focused attention and moved the attention to other people instead.

But if your goal is ‘I don’t want to be anxious’ then all you will do is think about how anxious you are, then that makes you more awkward, which makes you more anxious, and then you’ll have a miserable time at the party.

It’s a vicious cycle.

On the contrary, we may believe ‘oh I’ll just stop thinking about myself’ but this only makes it harder because you think about yourself even more.

So, propose to yourself to be intentional, ‘I am going out with my friends on Saturday, how can I make them happy?’ and through doing that it will bring positive emotion to you.

To recap, self-consciousness known as pathological self-focus is an excessive, sustained and rigid focus on ourselves.

This compulsive focus on ourselves often leads to rumination of negative information more so than positive.

In order to overcome this pathological self-focus, a great practice is to pay less attention to ourselves and more to the people around us and our environment.

Through this conscious effort, combined with improving our self-esteem we can reduce our compulsive self-focus and garner more positive self-focused attention.

Contributed by William J. Colgrave