Self-awareness is our perception of ourselves and our relationship with the rest of the world. We are more open and intimate with some people than we are with others. We make decisions, often without thinking. The same mistakes or habits recur, sending us into a tailspin of self-recrimination. Self-awareness places us in a better position to find problems and solutions. When we improve our self-awareness, we make conscious decisions, monitor behavior, and lead a life of genuineness and integrity.
Self-awareness fascinates me. I am innately and profoundly drawn to explore human development, mine and others. My family discouraged feelings, whether happy or sad. I learned to stifle my feelings and muffle their expression. Self-defeating behaviors held my feelings in check. Over time, I lost touch with my feelings which resulted in dire consequences. Through years of journaling and counseling, I thought my self-awareness and sense of self were rather good. But each time I take a deeper look within, more evidence reveals that much remains for me to learn. I engage in beliefs and behaviors that annoy me and defy my best efforts to eradicate them. Some have been with me many years. And, so it goes with most people. We all have habits, beliefs, and idiosyncrasies we want to change or eliminate.
I identified basic feelings when I joined a Twelve-step group in my early forties. There, people talked discussed sad, angry, scared, hurt, guilty, embarrassed, ashamed. They focused on the harm done to them by others and how those experiences shaped their self-awareness. Several years later I began to look at my responsibility for the decisions I made and the ways I tried to cope with emotional distress. When I ventured into the recesses of my “dark” side, I found beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and intentions of which I had been unconscious. Now, deep introspection helps me clarify what I need and how I want to experience my existence. Insights unfold for me to examine and embrace.
The process of self-awareness is an ever-evolving essential guide to how we live, and interact with others, and respond to stressful circumstances. Gaining insight into our inner life is a process of personal growth and development—mental, emotional, spiritual, social and physical. We take an honest, nonjudgmental look at our needs, desires, successes, failures, losses, strengths, and limitations. Our characteristics and attributes reveal themselves. Self-awareness helps us answer questions such as “Why do I keep doing this?” Whole billion-dollar industries are built on weight loss and financial independence. Many diets and wealth-building strategies fail because they do not address the deeply entrenched feelings and beliefs. The answers lie in our subconscious mind.
The introspection that leads to self-awareness is not an easy or simple task. Facing ourselves demands willingness, honesty, tenacity, and a healthy dose of courage. We may be led into places we do not want to go. Self-examination may be an emotionally stressful trek through buried memories. We may have avoided parts of our life because they are painful or shameful. The journey into the unknown can be frightening. When we encounter difficult memories or feelings, self-compassion is foremost and crucial. This does not mean we make excuses for ourselves or others. Rather, we listen to ourselves without judgment and censoring even as we may feel the full brunt of the suppressed feelings. We discuss our plan with someone we trust to support our effort. That person can support you as you explore your internal landscape. Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center clinical staff are skilled in assisting clients on their path of healing and wholeness; click here to get started. The revelations are worth the journey. We learn how we developed a shield to protect ourselves from emotional distress. Change can be difficult but cannot happen if we are unaware of the problem and how it formed.
But, how can we cultivate self-awareness? We start by asking deep reflective questions relating to who we are, what we want, and how we react to others. Several years ago, I created a list of questions to ask myself, and I have added to the list since then. “What fascinates me?” “What about life am I questioning?” “What does healthy mean to me?” My list has grown to fifty-four questions which I sometimes use as journaling prompts. You can ask these questions in your journaling, counseling, and spiritual practice. Or, you may choose to delve into an emotionally charged situation. It is common for initial questions to lead deeper, more challenging questions. In time, you learn that you will be okay, and the experience has set you on a path of transformation. Introspection is quite possibly the most powerful journey you will undertake. Solutions to problems may emerge as you discover your ability to manage circumstances that formerly baffled you.
A ritual I use for self-exploration can be adapted to your needs and comfort:
- Approach your journey into self-awareness in small steps. What are you looking for in a particular event? What are you looking for—peace, comforting, insight, clarity, relief?
- Get physically comfortable where you will not be interrupted or distracted;
- Set the mood, if you like, with music, candles, or incense;
- Read an inspiring quote or passage from a book or sacred text;
- Make a list of questions you want to explore or, chose a question from an existing list;
- Set a timer for 5-10 minutes, if you choose, and allow yourself to relax into the quiet;
- Let the question sink into your subconscious;
- Try to allow the insight or epiphany to arise without judgment or emotional engagement;
- When you are ready, write your insights without regard to punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.’
- Review your writing to find the golden nuggets of wisdom that surfaced;
- Give yourself time to let the revelation develop;
- Connect with the person you trust;
- Begin to take small steps to integrate the lesson or message into your life.
You can now decide how you want to move forward with your discovery. Consider how the change will impact your life for the better for you and the people important to you. Consider who can help you continue your journey of self-discovery as your self-awareness grows. Allow your newly acquired transformation to unfold gradually. It takes as long as it takes. Recently, I explored an emotionally traumatic series of events that defined my life for many years. While self-assessment is difficult, I experienced clarity and peace with what happened.
Self-awareness determines how we perceive ourselves and others and the events that inform our lives. Situations and the level of intimacy we have with others depend on our interpretation of happened or is happening. As we bravely explore our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, we discover who we really are and ways to better manage our lives. We become our best friend.
May your journey of self-discovery lead you into truth, clarity, joy, and peace.