With the presence of the self comes the realization that we are all distinct individuals with peculiar behaviors, drives and desires. This individuation (which occurs on the most basic levels of human community and interaction) is defined by self-awareness. Self-awareness is like your rear-view and side-view mirrors: it gives you a way to evaluate your own position in relation to others.
With self-awareness, you become more aware of your positionality within specific contexts or situations. It gives you access to true knowledge regarding your own thought patterns and behaviors. Without self-awareness, you will not be able to exert influence over others because influence requires a mastery of the self, primarily, not of others.
Self-awareness plays a very crucial role in the formation of one’s identity, which is the cornerstone of influence in society. Now, does self-awareness emerge along with other natural instincts, like suckling or moving around our arms when feel like we’re falling from a high place?
The answer is no: self-awareness, though it is peculiar to the human species, actually develops over a period of time. Babies are not born with a concept that they are distinct individuals moving
about in an environment with ever changing variables. An old study conducted a few decades ago proved that at the outset, babies will treat their own mirror reflections as other individuals.
However, when babies reached at eighteen months of age, they will begin to react to their reflection in the mirror by performing actions that will validate that they are indeed the ones in the mirror. For example, if you place a red dot on an eighteen month old baby’s nose, that baby will react by touching the red dot on his nose. That single action marks the transition from being ‘just’ a baby to a being a self-ware individual.
Now, why does this happen in the first place? According to studies in neurological science, it appears that the frontal lobe (which is responsible for intentional behavior) begins to develop at an accelerated pace at this age. During adulthood, there is evidence that there is also increased activity in the frontal lobe when a person chooses to be more self-aware.
There are generally two kinds of self-awareness: private self-awareness and public self-awareness. An individual becomes temporarily self-aware about his appearance or actions when he sees himself on a mirror or when he stops to think what he will be doing throughout the day. When a person chooses to engage in private self-awareness, three things happen:
- There is a heightened emotional response
- There is a more accurate analysis of existing condition
- There will be reinforcement of familiar beliefs
Let’s discuss these three consequences. The first consequence revolves around a person’s emotions. If a person is happy when he becomes privately self-aware, the tendency is that he will become even happier. There is a marked intensification of existing emotional states.
Inversely, a depressed individual, upon contemplating his current circumstances, may become even more depressed. A person’s state of mind is affected greatly by self-awareness and contemplation, which is why it’s important to shift out of negative emotional states because negative emotions will only attract more negative emotions.
The second consequence is that a person becomes more aware of what’s happening within himself and without. A person who is privately self-aware will base his analysis on what is truly happening rather than what is being said by others.
There is an increased drive to clarify new and existing knowledge and the person becomes more aware of the variables and conditions in his own situation. The third consequence concerns self-validation more than anything.
A person who is not self-aware will find it easier to change specific behaviors if these behaviors have a negative impact on himself; inversely, if a behavior is proving to be a beneficial behavior, he will continue on the same path.
Self-awareness on the other hand, will allow a person to ‘stick to his guns’ regardless of the impact of the behavior. Normative forces in society will not affect a person’s decision to stick to his behaviors. Influence, therefore, decreases, when a person becomes privately self-aware.
The second kind of self-awareness (based on a person’s positionality) is public self-awareness. Public self-awareness occurs when a person experiences heightened self-consciousness because he can be evaluated by another person or by a group of people (i.e. the media, an audience in a meeting, audience in an academic presentation, etc.)
Anxiety and other negative emotions are common when a person experiences public self-awareness. When you become too self-aware when you have to present something to an audience, your body language and speech will reveal your exact emotions. If you think that you will not look good when you talk to someone or when you present something to a large audience, you become even more anxious and nervous.
During periods of public self-awareness, a person also becomes aware of two different images or projections of himself: the private image (or what he thinks of himself) and the public image (the image seen by others when he is evaluated by the public). There is a big difference between what you think you look like and what others see in you.
If there is a big incongruence between these two images, people tend to think and feel negatively. Public self-awareness, unlike private self-awareness, has a normative impact on people. Public self-awareness can force a person to adhere to certain parameters of acceptable behavior. The kinds of behavior that may be adapted by a public self-aware individual will vary depending on the situation.
Now, it is important to note that it is normal for people to become self-aware at specific situations. There is nothing wrong with self-awareness; in fact, with self-awareness, you can discover more about yourself and you can improve the facets of yourself that have a direct impact on the persona that you are projecting to the public.
However, if you become too self-conscious and you fail to use this ability to reflect on your public image and your behavior, you may have to deal with certain consequences. According to studies, people who have a very high level of private self-awareness are more likely to develop neuroses or psychological problems (i.e. depression) because self-aware people tend to focus on negative aspects of their lives instead of the positive aspects.