In my last article, ‘The Catch-all Cupboard’, I drew upon the analogy of junk drawers to explore the way in which we collate unmanageable ‘life stuff’, until we reach a tipping point. The article concluded by highlighting the merit in rooting through these metaphorical drawers to gain an awareness of how our habits, actions, thoughts and behaviours may be impacting us, both positively and negatively. Let us understand this further.
What do we mean when we talk about increasing self-awareness?
What does being self-aware mean?
Self-awareness is like holding up a magnifying mirror to yourself in order to see things more clearly, as well as noticing things that you were not previously aware of. It is about making the unknown known or, in psychological terms, bringing the unconscious into consciousness. When we learn about ourselves, especially parts of ourselves that we would want to keep hidden, we can often feel critical of the discoveries. For example, one may feel shame or guilt for their behaviour in a particular relationship or maybe resentful for life choices that have been made. But, being self-aware is not about creating judgements, it is about being observant without prejudice.
The importance of self-awarenessClients often ask me if there is benefit in ‘digging up’ the past or exploring events that may be historical. And I understand why this is a genuine question, because unearthing old feelings can be painful and messy. But often exploration of past events can be a window, to observe. It doesn’t allow us to rewrite history but to own the now which may influence the future.
If we can see why we behave the way we do, or understand why we feel a certain way, then we have the power to change it, or not. Not all discoveries lead to change, but they can lead to options. This is freedom – without which we will continue repeating behaviours and attitudes, playing out life scripts that have been assigned to us or that we ascribe to.
How to become more self-aware
Self-awareness is a life-long practice and engaging with the process opens the door for autonomy and power. It can facilitate a better relationship with the self and others. The journey to increasing self-awareness requires a humility and sensitivity, a willingness to be open to seeing oneself through a different lens without becoming defensive.
Here are some tips for increasing self-awareness:
- Be curious rather than judgemental. As I mentioned earlier,when we start noticing things about ourselves that we don’t necessarily like, there is often an urge to become defensive or critical. Instead, try to be compassionate and curious, working through the judgments rather than them inhibiting the process.
- Don’t shut the world out, bring it in. When in the process of self-discovery, do so in the context of your relationship with others. Ask others how they perceive you in different situations. Be open to the feedback.
- Keep a journal. And by this I am not referring to a ‘dear diary’. Make a note of when feelings are triggered by situations, conversations or experiences. Repeatedly practicing this may allow you to notice patterns of behaviour. This practice will also allow you to be mindful and present.
- Be a third person. If something triggers you take a third person perspective. Try and look at the situation as an outsider, away from the trigger and think about how you may have reacted and how you would have liked to react.
- Don’t do it alone! Seek out a therapist or a counsellor to walk alongside you in the process of self-discovery. There is an immense power in being able to vocalise your experiences and being heard.
Being able to unscramble why I am the way I am, and why I do the things I do has been truly powerful for me. It has allowed me to experience richer, more fulfilling relationships. I have been able to recognise my needs, ask for them to be met and also meet the needs of others whilst maintaining my values and beliefs. I have been able identify adopted life scripts that are not even necessarily mine and make changes that feel more authentic.
There are conversations that are outstanding, habits that need to be tweaked but I don’t feel the urgency to make changes all at once. There is time and there are options. The key is that I am aware. Awareness is everything, if you can see it, you can change it. This is true power.