We humans are creatures who are aware of ourselves existing in a greater world. We are conscious of ourselves as living beings and we can contemplate and experience our existence here on Earth. This is not to say that other animals are not Self-Aware; it could just be that humans may be more so, or perhaps we are simply more detached from the moment and self-absorbed from an ego-driven perspective?
Is our Self-Awareness the fundamental curse that separates us from God? Or is it ultimately a blessing, as we gain awareness of ego and this helps us find our way back to God in a conscious manner?
Beyond the most basic consciousness of being, the element of Self-Awareness asks questions. It is an explorer. Self-Awareness is a seeker of Truth and Wisdom. It is a peeler of onions. It cleans mud off of pearls.
What are my thought and behavioral patterns? How do I relate to others? What pushes my buttons? What am I most afraid of? What brings me joy? When do I feel most safe? How do I deal with conflict? How do I handle criticism? Rejection? Abandonment? In what ways am I a hypocrite? What do I value? Am I able to be alone? Am I a good listener? What turns me on? What are my addictive tendencies? Am I judgmental? What are the secrets I tell to no one? What are the things I don’t like to talk about in general? How was I wounded as a child? How have those wounds affected me? Am I in denial about anything? Do I carry shame? Do I express and manage my emotions effectively? Am I controlling? How do I delude myself? Am I attempting to constantly please others? Have I given up on life? Am I trustworthy? How do I best serve others? What is my Truth?
These types of questions are self-directed, to be sure. Self-Awareness is a mode and a way of being whereby we are constantly looking for greater self- knowledge and understanding of ourselves. We are attempting to be objective about ourselves. Self-Awareness seeks information without judgment. It wants to connect the dots. It develops theories. It looks for ah-ha moments. And it notes the mundane.
Self-Awareness is ultimately biased towards Change, self-improvement and gaining a greater proximity to Truth. In doing so, it knows that judgment would initially interfere with information gathering. Later we may make decisions for different life choices based upon the information gathered. Self- awareness leads to insight and understanding, which naturally leads to self-improvement and Change.
Self-Awareness may abandon an insight, understanding or theory of behavior upon the presentation of new information. It builds upon the current model of personal understanding that exists within and does so constantly and consistently. It looks out for blind spots, delusion and denial. It stays open-minded to all possibilities because it really wants to learn.
Self-Awareness is introspective. It is a curiosity of self. It wants to know what makes “me” tick. It seeks a solid sense of self.
It wants to de-clutter. It wants to clean the mud off the pearls to see how they shine.
It agrees with Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
It knows that the mere act of being Self-Aware about some specific issue can bring Healing and Change regarding it.
It sees life as a process and humans as spiritually-evolving beings.
It notes the past but does not tie itself to it. Self-Awareness can be the magic key which releases the power the past may hold over you.
Self-Awareness is work. It is not worthwhile if done superficially. It looks in the mirror and then looks again. It peels layers off of the onion with zeal but knows when to slow the process down. It is Body-connected in that our Bodies our often the roadmap of where we have been and when we are in our Truth. The Body provides good information.
Self-Awareness is about comfort, too. With Self-Awareness, we shed false beliefs and social convention that conflict with our Truth. Through Self-Awareness, we literally become more comfortable in our own skin. Wisdom is its patron; as true Wisdom stands on a strong foundation of Self-Awareness.
Self-Awareness is knowing our story. We uncover the narrative and all of its subplots and themes that have shaped us thus far so that we may author the next chapter.
It is an ancient admonition: “Know thyself.”
In the end, Self-awareness equals self-worth and self-love because within it, our Divinity is exposed. This is a discovery process. We always need to dig to discover.
“The only hope for humankind is the transformation of the individual.” -Krishnamurti
Mindfulness is a primary tool of Self-Awareness. With Mindfulness, we are constantly observing ourselves. We can be aware of each thought, emotion or Bodily reaction in the moment. This is good information to be received without judgment.
We take Self-Awareness to another level through inquiry. What does what I am experiencing in this moment tell me about myself right now? How does this information relate to the greater database of information I have stored up about myself? How does what is happening now relate to my past? What can I learn about myself from this?
Mindfulness is Self-Awareness of the moment. Each moment links to a greater personal history and knowledge base, and this provides for greater Self-Awareness overall.
What is My Story?
When I was actively counseling, I used to like to have clients draw up what I called a “Lifeline.” This was simply a line drawn across a piece of paper, starting at a birthdate and then zig-zagging up or down based upon the client’s perception of good and bad times in their life up to the present. What we would end up with was something that looked like a seismograph of an earthquake or a reading from heart monitor. The client would label the events corresponding to each peak and valley.
The Lifeline was a simple yet curious exercise. The clients would often leave out major events that they had already told me about. Sometimes this was because they simply did not want real- world documentation of an event. Or they might want to focus just on the good times or, conversely, just on the bad.
If we asked the client’s close family member to create a lifeline of the client’s life, we might end up with a totally different graph as perceived by them.
Clients would sometimes be amazed by this simple exercise of looking at all they have been through and everything that they had survived. They might start to perceive some events which were tough to live through as having contributed to some strength gained. They might see how an event related to behaviors exhibited throughout the rest of their life.
Did abandonment in childhood affect all other subsequent intimate relationships in their life?
Did an event that made them feel inadequate in some way lead to similar feelings and instances down the road?
With Self-Awareness we can gain insight about how our story affects us Now. While some might say to “just let the past go,” this is not always easy to do if we are holding on to that past with our current behaviors. We may not be able to let go of the past until we have made sense of it and, in some way, rewritten our own history. When we can, for example, show ourselves that the abandonment we suffered had nothing to do with us or that the event that triggered feelings of inadequacy back then had nothing to do with us, then we may be able to “just let it go.” When my clients looked at their Lifeline, often times they discovered that they were, in fact, quite awesome individuals, considering all the situations they had endured.
“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Play Well With Others
Self-Awareness is inherently a self-involved pursuit without necessarily being narcissistic. Self-Awareness helps us relate to others better, with more effectiveness and honesty. How we relate to others also tells us much about ourselves. It is through being in the world and interacting with others that we see our behaviors play out─ in family, in the workplace, in intimate relationships and in various social groupings. The “Player” with a very active sex life may actually be petrified of true intimacy. The overachieving perfectionist may be attempting to compensate for some overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. The overzealous social justice advocate is perhaps channeling anger against an unspoken injustice imposed upon them in the past. The people-pleaser mistakenly learned early on that her needs didn’t matter so she now seeks validation from others as a way to feel worthy.
How we react and interact with others provides information for us if we look at it closely. We can look at these behaviors in the context of the bigger picture and it is through such engagement that we learn more about ourselves and how to improve our behavior in our relationships.
There is a somewhat cliché yet effective exercise that I used with counseling clients who struggled in personal relationships. I would suggest that they go out and interview their former intimate partners. With some distance from those relationships, they were to ask their former partners what they did well and what behaviors were not desirable. The “Ex’s” were usually happy to help in a compassionate manner if they sensed a sincere desire for greater Self-Awareness. The results were enlightening.
How others react to us provides information about how we are perceived by them. Self-Awareness requires presence with others so that we may sense the impact of our actions upon them.
“One purpose in discovering your own personality is to know how you affect others. Consciously or unconsciously, people feel your personality and their reaction is a clue.” -Paramahansa Yogananda
Additionally, our own Bodily reactions, thoughts, and even visible irritations that rise up in us in reaction to others is, again, simply information to take in.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
One starting point in looking at Self-Awareness is to consider the topic of Self-Identity Constancy. This term regards how much our mannerisms, actions and outright expressions for who we are change with different venues. Minor social adjustments are sometimes necessary and normal depending on the circumstance. The question is, however: Are we being basically the same person at work, home and play or are we instead a social chameleon, changing our personality drastically depending on who we are interacting with?
Noticing how we may change the way we behave in different social venues provides great information for further inquiry. I am always most interested in that part of myself that does not change because that part will always be consistent with my Truth.
Gaining Knowledge of Self
There is no one right way to gain knowledge about the self. In general, being in the mode of constant observance of ourselves and our impacts in a Non-Judgmental way is the primary step. Actively seeking feedback and honing our own ability to receive and accept criticism is important as well. Seeking professional help from talented healers whose job it is to elicit further self-inquiry and guidance is helpful to many.
Modern civilization has designed a plethora of categorizations to help us break down human behaviors in many ways through many different lenses. For example, these days there are a number of fairly sophisticated personality tests, such as the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, which can give us insight into behavioral tendencies. There are tests which discern how we best learn. We have an entire system in Western Medicine for clinical diagnosis of mental health issues. You may personally have received a clinical diagnosis via the lens of that system. That diagnosis (i.e., Clinical Depression, Major Depressive Disorder, etc.), just like anything else, is simply information to be processed which may prove useful or not. It may provide a label from which a treatment approach can be organized in a manner that works for you─ or not.
Many who eagerly seek greater Self-Awareness devour available books, articles and seminars on personal psychology and self-improvement that may serve to stimulate more internal dialogue. For example, a simple discussion in an article of how introverts and extroverts relate to the world proved to be very helpful to me in understanding my own social behavior. I am an introvert who recharges his Energy in Solitude; this doesn’t necessarily mean that I am anti-social. The understanding, however, gave me greater Self-Awareness so that I might appreciate and even embrace my introversion.
Overall, questioning and looking at the behaviors we don’t like and asking what purpose they might serve can uncover helpful information. A counseling client who saw herself as always sabotaging relationships just as they seemed to be getting serious learned that this behavior likely protected her from her fear of true intimacy. A client who engaged in overeating and who formerly had a serious substance addiction problem admitted that the totality of behaviors always left him with a feeling of shame that dated back to an even earlier time. This client inferred that he needed to feel shameful otherwise he didn’t know how to feel; he had always felt that way. The insight became his new platform for further exploration aimed at removing his underlying need for shame.
When we seek, utilizing whatever tools and platforms available, we will ultimately find. The information we uncover can help us understand ourselves.
Obstacles to Knowledge of Self
Denial, fear and avoidance can represent powerful obstacles to Self-Awareness. There is sometimes an unconscious fear that if we acknowledge some part of ourselves that we find undesirable (or which doesn’t measure up in society), the acknowledgement of this part of us will somehow result in a “final verdict” of sorts; the gavel will come down and we will be deemed “all bad.” This fear blinds us to the information that Self-Awareness can bring which may help us process what we have discovered.
Sometimes we avoid questioning aspects of our lives, such as a career or relationship choice, because we feel that it may not stand up to the questioning. We fear the void in our lives if the ‘questionable” parts fell away, so we don’t go there. We comply with social convention. We don’t challenge the path we are on in the ways we may need to in order to live our Truth. We make a choice on some level to not live our Truth because it scares us. This is a fear of the unknown that acts as a powerful deterrent to Self-Awareness. We may ask ourselves: What is the part of my life that does not feel True? Where is there denial within me about that part?
You may be familiar with the phrase “The Elephant in the Room.” The metaphoric elephant is a current issue or historic event in one’s life that is just not to be talked about. The elephant is an appropriate symbol that represents the powerful dynamics (internal, within families, within society) that act against Truth and the quest for Self-Awareness. It is often through long-term conditioning and fear of rejection that we learn not to discuss a particular issue; this behavior can turn into a habit whereby all sensitive issues are not discussed aloud within the group or at all. In general, however, we can do well to explore what the ‘elephants’ in our lives may be.
Shame can also represent a particularly powerful obstacle to Self-Awareness. Shame is a powerful emotion that can be released and let go of upon acknowledgement of its existence and origin. Sometimes it is so powerful, however, that it can represent the threat of emotional overwhelm if exposed. Exposing ourselves to shame can mean exposing ourselves to overwhelming wounds of inherent inadequacy. In response, we will tend to avoid the topic altogether, to just “not go there.” We tend to hold on to shame versus releasing and processing it. Identifying profound wounds is key to processing and releasing shame so that it doesn’t covertly run our lives. Professional help may best help us to confront and process our deepest wounds of shame.
It is also possible that an intention of Self-Awareness can morph into self-involvement and self-absorption. True Self-Awareness monitors for this tendency, making sure that we are present in the moment— and present for others, as well.
“He who knows men is clever. He who knows himself has insight. He who conquers men has force. He who conquers himself is truly strong.” -Lao Tzu
Is There An End Goal?
With Self-Awareness, we simply set an intention of being open to gaining greater self-knowledge and Truth. Without tying ourselves to any certain outcome, we may undergo profound transformation along the way and we may experience Healing too. Self-Awareness often leads to Healing. The knowledge gained from Self-Awareness provides us with a platform for Healing work while Self-Awareness itself can be Healing as well. We gain proximity to our True self and our Truth path through Self-Awareness. And as get closer to our own Truth, we are closer to experiencing our own Divinity. The “worst case scenario” is that this element keeps us in a mode of constant learning about ourselves, which is not a bad place to be after all.
“Let me know thyself and I shall know thee.” -St. Augustine
Wonder, Non-Judgment, Intuition and Wisdom guide Self-Awareness. Wonder drives us with an amazed, child-like curiosity to learn and gain greater self-knowledge in a Non-Judgmental way. Non-Judgment, of course, assists with that. Intuition helps us discern where to look on our journey of self-discovery and who might help us. It also leads us into experiences that will contribute to greater self-knowledge. I like to say that Wisdom is the patron saint of Self-Awareness; Wisdom can only function with Self-Awareness.
Courage, Acceptance, Self-Respect, Nurturance and Perseverance help us to keep going on the path of self-discovery, which can be scary and draining at times.
Acceptance might first mean acknowledging what exists in the current reality for future improvement. It may also mean acknowledging something about ourselves that we will not change or is simply a true expression of who we are, i.e., being an introvert. Lastly, Acceptance means loving ourselves as we are as the starting point for our exploration.
Non-Attachment helps us to let go of any old stories that may have defined us and which have given us a false impression of who we really are.
Our Body gives us clues of where we may seek new information. We may feel stress in a particular place in our Body when we are not living our Truth in some manner. We may feel stress in our Body when we trigger a wound.
Optimism keeps us going in that there is an underlying feeling that the work we are doing in achieving any degree of Self-Awareness will have a beneficial outcome.
Mindfulness is a chief tool for ongoing, constant Self-Awareness.
Empathy and Nurturance for oneself helps with what can be a tough and draining process.
Stillness slows us down so that we might be able to notice more of what is occurring.
Solitude lets us be alone with ourselves so we can see if we like the company we keep and what we might do about it if we don’t.
- Be open to reviewing and receiving information about oneself in a Non-Judgmental manner. We must foster a kind, compassionate curiosity of self. Review your ability to handle feedback and accept criticism, realizing that any information we receive does not represent a final judgment upon us.
- Journal. Write down what you experience in the world and what you are learning about yourself.
- Become a self-help information junkie. Nothing you read or interact with has to be the be-all, end-all for you. It’s all just information. Look into whether you might consider yourself an introvert or extrovert, for example, and then see what the “experts” have to say about it. Look into your astrology. Is it accurate or completely off-base to you? Plunge into anything that might guide you towards self-inquiry.
- Draw out a Lifeline, as described above. Know the story of your life, and what events may have impacted you on any level. Ask a trusted loved one who has shared most of your milestones with you (like a parent, sibling or long-time intimate partner or friend) to do one for you as well. Then compare notes.
- Ask for feedback for the purpose of learning about yourself. Your ability to handle feedback must be honed on the Self-Awareness journey. We must develop careful language that effectively elicits valuable information: “How did I come across yesterday at that meeting?” Be open and listen to the feedback. Take it in as information to reflect upon.
- Explore any addictive tendencies.
- Be cognizant of how you may act differently in different social venues.
- Be cognizant of how people react to you.
- Be cognizant about what traits in others irritates you. How do you exhibit those same traits?
- Be cognizant of how you react to conflict. Are you aggressive? Do you avoid it? Do you need time to process a volatile situation before you react?
- Be aware of your mood in general on a daily basis. Using a scale can help. For example, rate your mood on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a “great mood.” If your mood level is low, how can you manage or regulate it. Consider getting help from others (like a counselor) if you have consistently “low” moods.
- Seek guidance to gain greater Self-Awareness from professional Healers, in whatever modality to which you may be guided.
- What is the elephant in your room? What are the issues that are not to be talked about in your family or other group settings? What discussions do you avoid? Seek professional help as necessary to process these issues.
I Am Open To Greater Self-Knowledge; I Look Forward To Greater Knowledge of Self.
I Know Who I Am; I Am Open to the Guidance and Healing Powers of the Universe.
Let Me Hear My Truth; Let Me Know Who I Am. Let Me Be Me.
I Know Who I Am; I Know My True Essence (Divine).