Socrates stated that the “unexamined life was not worth living.” To examine one’s life is to look at, observe and scrutinize what goes on both outwardly and inwardly – what today we often call self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to look at and discern inner thoughts, feelings and beliefs. You could also say that self-awareness is being psychologically minded – being able to go beyond the surface of mere external happenings. Self-awareness involves the person entering the depths of the unconscious to look at underlying beliefs and motives that determine their outer behaviour. One consciously and purposely asks, “What is really going on here?”
You can begin to increase self-awareness in a number of ways. Begin by taking responsibility for the situation and your feelings. There is no external blaming or finger-pointing. Unless you are truly in a survival situation, no one has ‘made’ you feel or do anything. Did you really ‘have to’ do what you did or were you reacting like you always have? Is that the way you really wanted to behave in that situation?
Start to look for patterns of feelings and behaviours. Do you tend to get emotionally triggered by certain people or in certain situations? On closer insight, you may find that you slip into expected or established roles such as the Good Daughter, the Super Organizer or the Poor-Me Child. You may find yourself acting in ways you would rather not. “Ah, there I go again! Why does this always happen (with my mother, co-worker or partner)?” What is really going on?
Situations which evoke strong or out-of-proportion reactions often indicate layers of both past and present feelings. By taking responsibility for the feeling we ask, “What am I so angry or frustrated about?” and “How am I angry at my self?” If as a grown woman you still feel at times like the Little Girl when talking with a parent, ask, “How am I causing myself to feel like the dependent child?”
Self-awareness takes time, effort and the ability to take an honest and humbling look at your self. Jung stated that the opus – the work we do on our self – consists of three parts: insight, endurance and action. Insight is the awareness we bring to happenings in our life. Endurance is being able to stay with the discomfort and pain of your suffering as you insightfully look at your shadow material. Finally, there is action – integrating and applying your learning into daily life and relationships.
Although becoming more self-aware is often seen as self-absorption, the resulting personal growth benefits more than the individual. As the 14th Dalia Lama stated, “I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.”
When we consciously reflect upon and take ownership of our feelings and behaviour it takes us to a deeper, more meaningful level of relating with our self and with others. As James Hollis suggested, “During our time on earth, we all suffer. The choice is to suffer consciously or unconsciously.” How will you start to examine your life?