For many performers, self-consciousness can feel like an impediment to career growth. And while extreme self-conscious emotions can be crippling, particularly for those who wish to live their lives in the limelight, the other side of the self-conscious coin is self-awareness—a useful state for performers who want to make an impact on their audience. Here’s a breakdown of the different aspects of self-consciousness and advice from experts on how to be less self-conscious.
At its core, being self-conscious simply means being aware of oneself as an individual entity separate from others. Consciousness of self usually takes place during what theorist Jacques Lacan deems the mirror stage. When people are aware of themselves as beings able to be viewed by others, they enter a state of subjectivity. This state has social benefits, since it means that the individual is aware of their behavior and the consequences of their behavior.
Today, the definition of self-consciousness refers to a heightened, often detrimental awareness of oneself associated with uneasiness, worrying, and social anxiety.
Self-consciousness vs. self-awareness: While self-consciousness and self-awareness are sometimes used interchangeably, they’re two sides of the same coin. Self-awareness is the ability to engage in metacognition: thinking about how you think and perceiving one’s own thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relation to others. Alternatively, self-consciousness means “preoccupied with oneself, especially with how others may perceive one’s appearance or actions,” according to Dr. Rohini Radhakrishnan. Self-conscious people may feel as though others are watching them, judging them, and finding them wanting. They may feel emotions including guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, paranoia, embarrassment, and (somewhat paradoxically) hubris.
Self-consciousness can be caused by low self-esteem or low self-confidence. It can also be situational: Should you somehow end up at the Oscars wearing pajamas, for example, you would likely feel self-conscious because of the disparity between your casual attire and the formalwear of the rest of the attendees. People may also become self-conscious of certain attributes based on external feedback. Anything that makes you hyper-vigilant about yourself, your look, and your behavior can cause self-consciousness.
Since actors must be aware of themselves in order to give compelling performances, they may end up experiencing more aggressive self-consciousness than people whose work isn’t contingent upon putting on a show.
These tools and techniques can help reduce your self-consciousness and put you on the path toward confidence in yourself and your craft.
Figure out why you’re self-conscious: Is your self-consciousness innate or situational? Is it something that’s motivating you to improve as an actor, or is it hindering your development? Once you know what triggers your self-consciousness, you can try and address the source—or, depending on what it is, you can find ways to avoid it.
Address the source: If your self-consciousness comes from a perceived lack of ability, experience, or expertise, the good news is that’s something you can change. “The more you do anything, the more experienced and skillful you become,” says acting coach Carolyne Barry. “So the more you properly study, rehearse, audition, and work, the more confident you are about your craft.” Self-conscious about your performance of an accent? Try working with a dialect coach. Worried about the chance of a cold read? Spend time perfecting your cold-reading abilities. Nervous about acting in general? Sign up for an acting class.
Boost your confidence: While it’s easy to assume being confident is something you’re either born with or not, there are steps you can take to becoming a more self-assured person. Try out a few of these confidence-boosting exercises and tips.
Think outward: Self-consciousness stems from inward thinking. You may feel anxious about an upcoming performance, worried about how you look on camera, or concerned about how well you respond to other actors. Instead of dwelling on your own behavior, try shifting the focus to your environment (whether real or the setting your character resides within). Thinking about the external world means you won’t have as much time to spend on internal judgment and conflict.
Switch perspectives: As an actor, you should be well-practiced in switching perspectives. Make that work for you by actively trying to experience the world as people other than yourself.
“Something I do is I make it about the other person, right?” acting coach John Walcutt advises actors who become self-conscious doing partnered scene work. “You’re doing a scene, and you have a scene partner…. Put that energy on them, on giving them what they need to do the scene. Listening to your scene partner. Responding, reacting, giving your scene partner what they need to have something to work with. You do that, suddenly it’s not all about you. That pressure is off, and you can focus on the scene and the person you’re working with.”
Practice self-compassion: Remember to be kind to yourself. If you flub a line or bomb a performance, just remember that “to err is human, to forgive [yourself] divine.” Practice positive self-talk, focus on your abilities and strengths rather than any flaws or blunders, and remind yourself that you’re capable of success.
Engage in self-care: Besides being kind to yourself in your thoughts, it can also help to engage in self-care activities such as yoga, meditation, exercise, and of course therapy.
Reach out: Reach out to those you know in the industry about how they deal with their own self-consciousness. You may find that they have helpful advice on how to deal with self-consciousness—and even just knowing that you’re not alone can help.