I hear people say “but if you only knew me”, meaning that if you saw what was inside of me, you would not like me. I know it can be frightening to look inside and see what’s there.
“I don’t believe that one can live a peaceful existence without self-awareness.”
It can take years of work to understand our challenges, pain, and behavior, how we affect others, how others affect us, and why we react to others in ways we don’t always understand. This is self-awareness and it is a lifelong journey.
One of the most painful and yet liberating moments for me is when I recognize something about myself that was previously not in my awareness. It is far easier to be aware of the pain that others bring to me, but to look at the pain that I bring to others, well – that is not so easy.
However, the liberation in being self-aware is that I know who I am and I can change what I want to change. I have been witness to people struggle without self-awareness – it can be a tortured existence. One consequence of not being self-aware is that you relive your emotional triggers relentlessly. It is painful for you and for those around you.
Being self-aware provides you the opportunity to see the beauty within you!
Recognizing the positive is a wonderful and necessary balance. In addition, it is imperative that the work of self-awareness needs to be done with self-compassion. It does help to explore oneself with another person who provides compassion, understanding and empathy to you. I know that many struggle with self-compassion and my goal is to minimize the hurt you do to yourself.
How do I know if I am self-aware?
Do you repeatedly make the same mistakes?
Do you continue draw people into your life, whether they are friends or lovers, who are not good for you?
Do you find yourself repeatedly in relationships that fail?
Do you struggle with trusting others?
Do you and your partner find yourself in a repeating pattern that you cannot change?
Do you feel angry, depressed or unhappy and have no idea why?
Do you feel defensive more often than not?
Do you accept blame that is not yours to accept?
Do you blame others or are you accused of blaming?
Do you struggle with low self-esteem, self-worth and have no idea why?
If you answered yes, an increased understanding of self-awareness will be helpful if you find yourself repeatedly in one or more of these situations.
So – let’s talk about self-awareness!
I remember many years ago, I stumbled upon the book “The Highly Sensitive Person”; I thought, “Wow, this is a thing?”
For a long time, I didn’t understand my sensitivity. I was told I was “too sensitive”, which is actually sometimes true. However, my sensitivity was never presented to me as something positive and I didn’t fully understand all of the complexities of having a sensitive temperament. Self-awareness provided me the ability to understand and appreciate my sensitivity, both positive and negative aspects. And I recognize how I affect those close to me.
How can I benefit from self-awareness?
When we are self-aware, we are empowered. Without self-awareness we suffer and, commonly, it affects those close to us as well.
Have you ever had an experience when someone has said something to you, whether it is an accusation or a criticism, and you have questioned yourself based on what has just been said?
While it is important to be open to learning about ourselves from others, it is equally important to have self-awareness so that we do not fall into the trap of accepting unfair blame, accusations or criticisms.
Self-awareness is liberating because if you desire change in your life, you cannot change those around you – but you can change you!
A brief example:
My client, a loving, thoughtful and caring person, has been unhappy with her weight most of her life. She has tried every diet, exercise program, and weight loss supplements. I asked her to describe her relationship with food. She described food as fulfilling many things for her – food is reward, a cure for boredom, loneliness, and food is a comfort and so on. We explored more about her relationships – she described feeling let down by people in her life i.e. Mom, Dad, and Siblings and at times, her friends. Food on the other hand, never let her down. Food was there to celebrate with her, comfort her and help her in her moments of loneliness. This newfound self-awareness made her sad, while at the same time it empowered her – there is not a diet, exercise program or weight loss supplement that would ever address her relationship with food. What she needed was: self-awareness.
Now she can redefine her relationship with food. Food can now be viewed as nutrients for her body, yes, pleasure as well, but not to meet an emotional need. She can begin to learn to talk with her friends and family about what she needs from them. None of this will be easy, however now she has something to work on where as before she was simply stuck in feeling terrible.
How do we get to self-awareness?
First, and perhaps most importantly, please recognize that we are unique individuals. I am always amazed, in a good way, at the layers of complexity in people. Each and every one of us is uniquely different from another person. I know that is stating the obvious but let me ask you this question, have you ever read a book, an article or even a blog post and questioned if they were describing you? Possibly you felt frightened and thought – oh no, could this possibly be describing me?
It can be easy to doubt ourselves. There will be times when others will try to impose their image of how they see us, but when we are strong in self-awareness, we can reject what does not fit who we are as a person. It is necessary to find the balance between being open to how (trusted) others see us and learning to reject what does not fit who we actually are.
Where to start?
I have never met two people who are exactly the same regardless of gender, personality traits, having had the same experience and so on. The pathway to self-awareness is to go deeper. Learn to discover how you are uniquely different from others and don’t forget to do it with self-compassion.
As a psychologist, I worry about people who have been given a diagnosis. On one hand, a diagnosis can be helpful to provide the best treatment to fit a diagnosis. On the other hand, a diagnosis is what you go through – it is not who you are as a person. It is only one aspect of you – there is so much more to you than a diagnosis!
Ideas to increase self-awareness!
Ask trusted friends to provide you with feedback about yourself
Talk to a qualified therapist
Reflect by journaling
Remember my mantra – “What you don’t own – owns you!” If you own it, you can control it or change it!!
These ideas can help you understand your life story, how it has affected you and who you are as a person.
But, and this is a big but, always look for how you are different when taking these tests. Not all sensitive people, extroverted, introverted people and so on are the same.
One more thing, it is important to be open to learning more about others as well. We are constantly changing based on experiences that we have every day. If we allow ourselves to be curious about other people, we will go deeper into understanding more about them and ourselves. I am always learning about myself – it is a never-ending journey of self-discovery. If done with self-compassion, it is a beautiful journey.
Thanks for reading!
One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. I know it is not easy to do! I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section.
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit: MoyanBrenn@flickr.com