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This is often a difficult idea to get across because of the pervasive confusion about "self" in our society. However, the first step in explaining self-consciousness in a critical sense is to distance it from the commonsense or conventional meanings so prevalent. A conventional meaning involves being acutely aware of yourself in relation to others...about what you do, say, etc. In other words, its the common idea of feeling singled out or embarrassed. This meaning has nothing to do with what is meant by a critical self-consciousness.

Rather, as presented here, this concept might be even better described as awareness of one's self as someone other than who others see or interact with as a "social self." This brings us to the already mentioned confusion about the concept of "self." I am NOT referring to an "ego" (as if there was a separate entity within us). I'm NOT referring to a "social self" (our identities derived from formal and informal roles we play). I'm certainly NOT referring to some nebulous idea of a "soul" (as if caged inside a physical body...waiting for release).

So, what kind of self AM I referring to? The best terms I've found to describe it are "core" and "authentic." These terms refer to our "self" which is independent of who we say we are or who others think we are. Put another way, our core/authentic self is who we "really" are when what we do or say or even wear (etc.) can't be viewed by others. It's not a place, nor is it a's us...our agency. One might say it is our sense of who we are when we're most "alone" (literally and figuratively).

Our core self is the locus of all we do...of our being...regardless if we are aware of it or not. It remains very nebulous as long as we confuse ourselves by believing in an ego or the social selves of conventional societal life. Yet, its "there"...our being exists one person put it...our best attempts to bury it or kill it off. In conventional terms its rarely allowed to emerge...what with all the layers piled upon it by our parents and many others. One might say its that little voice we hear but most often ignore...reminding us of who we really are compared to who we've been told we are and think we are.

So, self-consciousness, as used here, refers to a consciousness of this core or authentic the agent of our lives. This awareness of the difference between the self of social existence and our essential self is crucial to stepping back from the taken-for-granted realities of everyday life. To be self-conscious is to know where our actual choices exist. We can BE or we can BE LIKE others and as they dictate. The difference is in being really in charge of our lives and destinies...or...allowing others to determine them.

Fuzzy as this may seem to some...only by becoming self-conscious can one understand self-consciousness. Contradictory? Yes, but dialectical processes usually are. Once one becomes aware of and recognizes their core/authentic becomes almost impossible to return to the fictions we once believed...unless, of course, a wilful choice is made to do so. However, even THAT is based on the self-consciousness of awareness.