Self awareness

A vital key to growth and change

John Gloster-Smith describes the core developmental skill of self awareness

“Know thyself” was the famous injunction over the entrance to the temple of the Oracle in ancient Delphi in Greece. I wonder how many of those who went there to learn of their fate were really aware of the potentiality of that statement. Becoming self-aware is the key first step for anybody wishing to achieve personal inner healing, or a change in themselves, in how they are with others or in what they wish to accomplish.

In Gestalt therapy, it is said that one needs good sensing and then awareness, in order to form clear figures of interest around which one will mobilise and take action. One of the founders of Gestalt, Fritz Perls said that “awareness in and of itself is curative”.

At one level, “getting it” enables one to do something different next time, and the next, and perform better at what one needs to do or get more of what one wants. Very many would be very happy with that. It’s a great tool and there’s lots of self-help material or coaching available that can help too. At another level however, being self-aware is a vital tool in self-help and personal growth, can utterly change your life for the better and enable you to enter wholly new realms for experiencing a vastly more contented and effective quality of life. At another level still you can if you chose enable yourself to enter the powerhouse of the temple of your own Being, as meditators and others have known for thousands of years.

Lacking self awareness

A common comment given in feedback to people being considered for promotion at work is: “he or she is excellent technically but lacks self awareness”. About troubled relationships, it is often remarked that a couple seem unable to identify the part each plays in the upsets they experience due to the lack of awareness each has of her or his contribution to what occurs. When we experience difficulty in dealing with others, if we lack self awareness we might not see how our own behaviour has played a part in what takes place. If we experience some troubling emotion in our lives, if we lack self awareness we won’t notice what happens that triggers the uncomfortable feeling, and therefore will lack access to vital data, recollections, past experiences and so on that may have a bearing on how and why the phenomenon is experienced.

Benefits of having self awareness

When we have self awareness, we can access a vital mechanism for noticing what is going on within us. When we become aware, we can take responsibility, we can start to have choice and we can do something about it. We can manage our internal state for the better. Not for nothing has Daniel Goldman in his book “Emotional Intelligence” identified self awareness and self management as two of the key areas for one’s greater emotional intelligence.

When I first decided to do some real work on myself, my world was one of conflict with others. Feedback given to me was that I was aggressive at work and intolerant and impatient of others. In myself I felt full of stress…oh yes, and my marriage had broken up, my mother had died, I was a single parent and having difficulty finding someone else. I was probably very difficult to live with. Maybe the problem lay with me. When I embarked on the first in a series of personal growth programmes, a major liberation for me was when I learned about self awareness. Suddenly I had a way to notice what was going on in me, how I felt inside and what feelings and thoughts kept cropping up that didn’t serve me. Then I could really start to change things.

The beauty and the puzzle about self awareness is that it is so very simple and obvious. However, while we use it to manage our day-by-day survival, taking care of ourselves, we don’t use it for inner work. The young ego’s urge to survive and cope in a seemingly dangerous world means that we cut off our sensitivity to ourselves and our feelings, we close down on the very mechanism that can help us make things better. So, to truly use self awareness, for example professionally, we must accept that we are maybe going to get in touch with and release those uncomfortable feelings within, and those thoughts that we don’t like to face, which is why really developing self awareness is usually best done with a skilled professional, one who has him or herself trained in this skill, in programmes, with a coach or mentor – or even a counsellor or therapist if it’s deep. This is the advisory note here. It is important to take care of yourself and get advice if need be. Then you can use the tool well. It’s about facing the truth about ourselves.

Building self awareness

To be self aware, you will need to train yourself, to become skilled in observing and monitoring your internal state. You can start by developing your sensitivity to yourself. Learn to scan through your body mentally, scanning each limb and muscle, feeling into your body, and asking your body how you feel and what’s that feeling about. You will probably benefit from learning to identify and release feelings that you find uncomfortable. They are after all only feelings and we can learn to let them go. That in itself is also a skill. And you can start to notice what thoughts come up, those thoughts that are often repeated and that you can learn don’t serve you. You can write them down, talk about them, reflect on them, meditate on them, pray about them, confront them, challenge them, and let them go too. They are a product of the ego, the limited self, who we are not.

By doing this, you get to notice your patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving that are no longer useful and then you can choose to give them up. That‘s the inner work I’m speaking of.

In the process of real inner work, we can if we choose, get closer to our own inner demons, not who we are but relevant to our self-esteem. We can get closer to those feelings about believing we are “unworthy”, “a bad person”, “not good enough”, “at fault”, “ashamed”, “rotten to the core”, “a failure”, “guilty as sin”. They are myths which we utterly believe in, adopted when we were small and unable to rationalise but pushed out of awareness, and yet we allow them to govern our lives. Whole belief systems, ways of being and ways of dealing with the world and other people are founded on this stuff. Flushing out these limiting awarenesses enables us to feel and think differently about ourselves and thus how we deal with others.

The beauty of the self is none of the above. Our essential selves are full of peace, fun, laughter, joy, love and inner contentment. Deep meditators discovered that thousands of years ago. By cutting ourselves off from our awareness of who we really are through the vicissitudes of life, we lack access to our essential ability to enjoy and live life to the full and achieve our real potential. How often have you found that a negative inner feeling and conversation have resulted in you not believing in yourself and therefore not achieving some cherished goal? Real self awareness work enables you to see the ego for what it is, a product of a limited vision of the self and of what you can achieve. Real self awareness work brings you into contact with a sensing, awareness and appreciation and a far greater, wholesome and fulfilling way of living. And the person who can find it is you, if you chose to have a look.