Self-Awareness vs Consciousness
Self-awareness is often confused with self-consciousness, however the two are not the same. Consciousness is the state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself, e.g. being aware of one’s body, lifestyle, character traits, etc. Self-awareness is recognition of that awareness (awareness of awareness, if that makes sense) along with capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from everything else in one’s environment.
As Scientific American puts this,
Another way of considering it: to be conscious is to think; to be self-aware is to realize that you are a thinking being and to think about your thoughts. Presumably human infants are conscious—they perceive and respond to people and things around them—but they are not yet self-aware.
Things get confusing because in everyday English self-consciousness means being overly sensitive to opinions of others and is strongly associated with shyness while self-awareness is used for expressing the quality of knowing one’s self.
Thankfully, there is such thing as objective self-awareness. Whenever you look deep inside yourself and evaluate your own behavior, lifestyle and other areas of your life in order to compare them to your personal values and standards, you are displaying what psychologists call “objective self-awareness”.
While we are at it, a lot of people feel unhappy and unfulfilled because their behavior doesn’t match their own values. Failing to live up to your own standards may be, in fact, even more painful than meeting them. This, of course, is a deep subject and, in some situations, it might be wise to lower or change some of the standards rather than trying to meet them.
Sometimes It’s Hard
About half of the time we operate on autopilot and may not be completely self-aware. For example, we may not be aware of some of the emotions we feel and how these emotions impact our actions or other people; and if we are unaware of our negative feelings, we can’t manage them or deal with them in a responsible manner. Without realizing, we may become hurtful towards other people or we may develop mental illnesses.
You Can Develop Self-Awareness
Although it might be hard to be completely self-aware at times, you can consciously work on becoming more self-aware. Here are some ways you could improve your self-awareness:
- Ask questions: What stresses me? What am I good at? Do I worry needlessly? What do others like about me? What do other people not like about me? Is there a particular type of people I don’t like and why? Is there a particular type of people that don’t like me and why?
- Find out what others think about you. Their feedback may have important clues that can help you understand the real you, however it’s important to remember that their judgement may not be completely objective.
- Step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Notice how you react to new situations.
A pathological lack of self-awareness (here self-awareness is used as a psychological term) is called anosognosia and may be related to frontal lobe damage. Some of the most notorious mental illnesses have an element of anosognosia to them, e.g. bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder (DID) or multiple personality disorder as it was known before (MPD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD).