This one has been gnawing at me for basically my whole life, so let me know just how far I have strayed from normal thought or logical conclusions in the comments.
You know how when you're in middle school you are beset with a self-consciousness so profound that it can literally freeze you solid mid-behavior? You have the horrible feeling that everyone is staring at you and judging you, and you can't even do whatever it is you meant to do next: answer the person you're talking to, or hand in your homework, or take another step? And when you suffer these paroxysms, people say, "Oh, you shouldn't be so self-conscious!" You might even say it to yourself, taking yourself to task for being too self-conscious: why can't you be more carefree and easy-going like the popular kids, who don't seem to torture themselves in quite this way? (Am I giving too much of myself away here? In all likelihood, yes.)
Here is my theory: while I believed this about awkward, shy, "self-conscious" people for years, I think, in fact, that the reality is the reverse of what I believed. I think that the awkward among us (or maybe only me, uh oh) are actually LESS self-conscious than most, and that this lack of self-consciousness is at the source of these awful moments.
Here is what I mean: these aren't just attacks of heightened self-consciousness; they are attacks of self-awareness at all. My half-baked theory is that while these more assured "popular kids" seem to feel easy and free from self-consciousness, in fact they just feel it all the time. They are always aware of the outside world, so it never jumps up and bites them in the ass. While the awkward and introverted can (or at any rate, I can, let's be honest) completely forget that the outside world is there. One can get so completely absorbed in something—or nothing—that the jarring realization that one is among other people, and that they are aware of one's presence (don't you like how distanced that "one" makes it sound?) is enough to create utter panic.
Or at least, so says my theory.
I am convinced of its visceral truth. But I might be a little bit crazy on this front. What do you think?