What is the meaning of "Self-conscious"?

I know self-conscious means worrying about how other people think about you. For example, I'm very self-conscious about my appearance. But, in the next following example, I cannot how people are self-conscious in that kind of context. Can you help me?

When we hear that someone we care about has lost a job, started chemo, or is going through a divorce, our first impulse is usually “I should reach out.” Then right after that impulse doubts often flood our mind. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if talking about it makes her feel self-conscious?” “What if I’m overstepping?” Once raised, these doubts are followed by excuses like “He has so many friends and we’re not that close.” Or “She must be so busy. I don’t want to bother her.” We put off calling or offering help until we feel guilty that we didn’t do it sooner…and then it feels too late."

  • 1
    Self-conscious = embarrassed by something about yourself.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 1:56
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    The meaning in that context is essentially the same as your own example of being self-conscious about your appearance. It doesn't exactly mean worrying what others think about you, it's more being excessively aware of or sensitive to being observed by others, and feeling uncomfortable and awkward about it.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 2:14
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    Note that it also depends on the sense of conscious. As such, it's quite possible for self-conscious to mean "awareness of one's own thoughts or sentience," which is quite a different sense of the word. Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 3:16
  • @nnnnnn Suppose I start chemo and feel self-conscious. Can you explain how I feel self conscious in that situation? For example, I think that I would tell them and they would be worried about I don't want to burden or disrupt other people. In this context can I use self-conscious? Or Someone heard about that sad news and they worried about me and I didn't wish they knew about that cause I didn't want to burden them. In this context can I use self-consiocus?
    – ILoveMath
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 3:32
  • Yes, it can embarrass you if I try to 'help' by talking to you about private matters that you want to keep private - or not talk to me about. Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


This is definition 2 from Merriam-Webster

uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others

or definition 1 from Lexico

Feeling undue awareness of oneself, one's appearance, or one's actions.

Your example about your appearance is simply a specific example of this, but there can be many reasons why you can feel self-conscious. In the quoted article, reminding someone that you're aware that they're going through something unfortunate can also do it. This results in a conundrum: you'd like to comfort them, but raising the issue can cause discomfort.

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