Self-awareness what is it and how do we achieve it?
As a therapist I understand how therapy can help on this path to self-awareness, what the benefits of being self-aware can bring. Learning about the self does not just mean you know what eye colour you have, or what size shoes you are, what you like to eat or what makes you scared or happy. Being self-aware gives you the opportunity to learn exactly why a person may behave in certain ways, why you have certain fears and why you may have fixed thought patterns. As a person grows, right from an early age, they have had certain influences taught to them. These influences can be from, mother's, father's, siblings, teachers, even things such as culture, faith or even how we are taught at school. It is these influences which shape our world and most importantly shape us and how we think.
I have been in therapy a few times in my life, each time I had a specific goal to explore how to overcome the challenges I was facing at that time. When I chose to train as therapist, part of that training involved quite a lot of hours of personal therapy, with the goal of understanding who I am, what influences have made me the person I am today. I must point out here that the person I was at the start of that path of discovery is nothing like the person I am today.
" We cannot change , we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come almost unnoticed." Carl Rogers ( On Becoming a Person, Constable, 1961;17
The person back then was someone who lacked confidence in their abilities, someone who had to have everything just "perfect", someone who spent a lot of their time feeling angry and frustrated. Most of all, the person I was back then spent all my time making sure everyone else's needs were being met, never spending time on my own needs. Just writing this short paragraph has left me feeling exhausted! When I think back that was how I felt, exhausted.
I remember one of the first things that came to light on this path of self-awareness was exploring my lack of confidence. My therapist asked what it was that led me to this conclusion when I had already spoken of my many achievements. I suddenly realised that whenever I was walking outside I held my gaze downwards. It felt more comfortable for me to not meet anyone's gaze. If I did meet someone's gaze, my mind would automatically run into "oh my gosh what are they thinking about me?" or "what are they looking at?" I told my therapist that I could remember many times that a friend or colleague would often comment that I must be rude as I didn't return their wave or smile to acknowledge them. I felt awful that friends would think I was being rude. So what was making me continue to behave this way and be interpreted this way?
I dug deep into my past and found my answers. It was due to the lack of confidence I had developed, because I had been raised to have such high standards, anything less than "perfect" would not surface. A controlling relationship had also helped mould this behaviour of not looking at other people.
Now that I had an answer, I had the power to change this behaviour. For the first time that I can remember, I went for a walk with my gaze held high. I could see so many faces, so many smiles, I had people that I didn't know say, "good morning, or hello". This new world was so exciting. Who would have thought such a small change could make such a difference. My confidence started to grow and the troubling thoughts about what other's were thinking of me lessened, but I have to say one of the best things for me was that I suddenly had this new information, that just because someone might not meet my gaze or say hello, it may not be anything to do with me. In fact it was almost certainly about the other person and how their influences were shaping their world.
I continued with this path of exploring my self-awareness, as I did I was able to continue to grow in confidence and most importantly learn to be me and be happy with being me. I was able to process behaviours, thought patterns and even some habits. I was able to finally feel like ME. A version of ME that I was truly comfortable with, one that understood the influences and had the power to decide if I wanted to change them.
I know this path may potentially be never ending. As I live my life, I will continue to have influences shape my world, but what I do know is that this path I am on, I have the choice to change direction if I so wish, this excites me.
" The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination." Carl Rogers ( On Becoming a Person, Constable, 1961: 186
For so long therapy has been a space for people in crisis, and yet it can be a space for such wonderful discoveries and rich learning.