Self-awareness seems like a good thing because it allows you to know yourself, understand your motivations, and ultimately make better decisions. But it can also lead us to second guess ourselves and spin out into an excruciating state of self-consciousness, micro-analyzing every nuance of our thoughts and actions. Let’s take a closer look at the two components of self-awareness and see how they work.
Internal or private self-awareness is a metacognitive process in which we take an observer’s perspective of our own thoughts. Internal self-awareness occurs when people become aware of some aspects of themselves, but only in a private way. For example, seeing your face in the mirror at home is a type of private self-awareness. Noticing that you can’t stop thinking a certain thought. Feeling your stomach drop when you realize you left your phone at a restaurant or feeling your heart skip a beat when you see someone you are attracted to are examples of internal self-awareness.
External or public self-awareness emerges when we become aware of how we appear to others. We take the perspective of a public observer. That is, we’re aware that others can see us – and we may start to speculate on what we think they are seeing. External self-awareness often comes on line in situations where we are at the center of attention, such as when giving a presentation or talking to a group of friends. This type of self-awareness is often what compels people to adhere to social norms. When we are aware that we are being watched and possibly evaluated, we are more likely to try to behave in ways that are considered socially acceptable and desirable.
Both types of self-awareness are necessary to maintain our sense of self and to navigate complex social interactions. For instance, in a conversation at a social gathering, we need to be aware of our thoughts and feelings so we can decide whether or not to share them. We also need to be aware of how others are perceiving us and reacting to what we are saying. However, certain habits of self-awareness can make us self-conscious.