How To Become Self-Aware
Because the path to personal growth requires you to know who you really are
It took decades, failed relationships (romantic and platonic) and a series of life-changing events for me to realize two things about myself: I am not the easiest person to be with and I am generally considerate but not nice in how the word is commonly defined.
For one, I have pretty serious control issues. Everything in the space I live in, move in, work in has to be “aligned” or at least symmetrical in my eyes. Your placemat moved while you’re eating? Sorry, I have to straighten that out. What, my pens rolled out of place? Gotta fix that and make sure there’s equal distance between them, too. Every single day, 365 days in a year, sober or inebriated, I have to arrange things in a straight line. Now imagine having to live with someone like that who once thought it was common behavior.
What Does It Mean To Be Self-Aware?
“Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your internal standards. If you’re highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you (Caroline Forsey).”
Think of self-awareness as your internal checks and balances; it allows you to consciously know how you feel, know what drives your every deed and decision. To be self-aware is to know that it’s not always the world, the system, or them. It is also you; how you react and reciprocate to criticism or circumstances.
In my case, “control” was borne out of nature and nurture, but was aggravated by the loss of my mother. I could neither express nor fathom my grief until it reared its ugly head. I was unknowingly pushing people away.
Why It Matters
“When we have a better understanding of ourselves, we are able to experience ourselves as unique and separate individuals. We are then empowered to make changes and to build on our areas of strength, as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements (Garima Srivastava).”
Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. It helps us understand who we really are, be at peace with that person and manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors proactively.
Let’s use Manila traffic as an example. “Fuck,” “bad trip!” or “hassle” are gripes I often hear while in transit. Sure no one likes to sit through a car ride that could’ve taken 20 minutes instead of 55 and the government really ought to do something about it. But what can you do at that moment? Right now? Nothing.
With some level of self-awareness, you can manage the way you react. While stuck in traffic, you can choose to be productive, listen to music or do nothing at all instead of allowing it to put you in a shitty mood.
Yes! I Want That, But How?
I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve two that work for me. One, and this is going to sound corny, journaling. Yes, I mean putting pen to paper, like we did when we were in school. Doing so, especially when it comes to feelings, allows us to get our frustrations out (and without filters and being PC and all that!) before we can direct it to anyone else. It doesn’t have to be complete sentences; it could be phrases, words, doodles, whatever. Now go over it once you’re done. It’ll give you an idea of how you would look or sound like had you reacted in the heat of the moment. Are your feelings valid? Of course. Would flipping a table because you’re angry help the situation or anyone at all? Nope.
Two, surround yourself with people who will tell you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear. The issue with friends and family sometimes is that they’re always on your side. You are always the hero, the victim, the saint. You could never do anything bad or wrong in their eyes. But caring about another person also means being able to talk about the uncomfortable truth. Yes, I want to hear it when you think I’m being selfish or when I did something wrong, which is what a dear friend did.
She said, my control issues are getting out of hand. Me reaching out from across the table to fix her placemat while we’re eating is me forgetting my boundaries. That maybe I should talk about my grief when I’m ready instead of acting like I’m fine.
Sure, I still straighten out my pens and the furniture when I come home. But I’ve learned to accept and let go when I need to. Now onto the next level of personal growth: self-accountability.
Art Alexandra Lara