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Are You Really Self Aware, Or Just Good at Self-Criticism?

"I'm already really self aware" is something I hear a lot as a counsellor. I often sit with somebody who has spent years reflecting on the problems that they face, and who feels that they know themselves very intimately thanks to that. Often, they're right. They understand why they are so anxious, they know what triggers it, and they have picked apart their own story so much that can see how it has all happened. What has led them to this point. Many of us seem to define self awareness in this way. An acknowledgement and understanding of our pain, and the resulting difficulties we face. It is also my experience, though, that these same people struggle to answer questions about themselves that lean towards positivity.

"What do you want to do with life?"

"What do you like about yourself?" "What are you good at?" "What would you like life to look like?"

The self awareness suddenly feels less steady and sure. I think the cause is a mixture of a couple of things. First, that we live in a world which encourages us to be modest to the point of being self-deprecating, especially here in the UK. Many of us did not grow up believing that we should be celebrating ourselves or putting our needs first, and that sticks. So when we get to know ourselves, it is most comfortable to get to know the parts we don't like, and examine them with quite a bit of scrutiny.

Second, the world is having a bit of a therapy boom at the minute. (Hurrah for me, I like therapy quite a lot, obviously.) And while that can be great, and lead us all to look further inward and consider our emotions, I think the majority of people see therapy as problem solving. In fact, it's quite common to hear somebody declare that they don't require therapy at all, because they are so self aware. By this, they mean that they have already gained an understanding of why they feel the way that they do, and what causes it, so what good would therapy do?

Therapist's hands turning through pages of a book on a wooden table

I find this really interesting, because it's really rare that I meet somebody who does not know why they feel what they feel*. There is important work in understanding what you do want. What you do like. What your strengths are. You are not a series of problems to be fixed, and constantly picking yourself apart is no substitute for really knowing yourself well.

If your self awareness only really exists within the context of your struggles and problems, it might be time to think about how well you really know yourself. If you struggle with questions like "What are you good at" and "What do you like about yourself" and "What do you want in life" but find it easy to answer questions like "What do you struggle to do" and "What are your biggest triggers" and "What would you change about yourself", then I think it's time to get comfier with who you are. The whole picture. Not just the bad parts.

*This absolutely does happen, and not knowing why you feel what you feel isn't abnormal, just rare in my experience, probably because of the kind of client I work with.


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