Healthy Self-Awareness

‘ Be yourself, everyone else is taken’

– Oscar Wilde

Love that quote. Just like our fingerprints, each of us has a unique ‘self’. Accept what we have.

I have been privileged recently to become a grandparent to two gorgeous twin girls.
And already that mix of the genetically based traits and temperament is blending with their captivating social interaction. That subtle, ongoing and wonderful reciprocity.

The characters are taking shape. The quieter and less reactive of the girls could be academic, and the other, yes all that determination, physical activity, feisty maybe sporty? Just like her Dad, the other just like Mum…or granddad…or Aunty…

Blissfully the twins like other human infants have no capacity for self-awareness until eighteen to twenty four months. Then they become conscious of their thoughts, feelings and sensations.

From that time a sense of who they are takes shape, a range of belief systems that helps guide their pathway through life.

It seems that self-belief systems that are authentic or true and accepting of our ‘warts and all’ self serve us best.

When ‘true’ to ourselves we are more likely to respond to difficulties with effective coping strategies, have more satisfying relationships, and enjoy a sense of psychological wellbeing and vitality.

Yet finding the authentic self is challenging.

Apparently ‘find myself’ gets five million searches a month on Google.

One of the barriers to authentic behaviour is a rigid self-image, and a concern about the way things ‘should’ be.

Examples of restricting belief systems include being over concerned with what others think, trying to be perfect, or trying to be all things to all people.

Many of the psychological treatment approaches for anxiety and depression focus on examining these unhelpful belief systems, where they came from, and ways to identify our core’ healthy’ feelings and beliefs. Vehicles to help discover the ‘truth’.

The increasing popularity of Mindfulness approaches also essentially promotes the message, ‘be yourself you’re already there.’

Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman, are two social psychologists who have carried out research to determine how we gauge if we are being authentic.

One variable that contributes to self-authenticity is self-awareness and trust in your own motives, emotions, preferences and abilities.

What books and movies do you enjoy? What fashion trends and music do you follow? What is it like to feel sad, angry or tense? What passions move you?

This self-awareness helps to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, values and needs.

There are several approaches that can help develop a healthy self-awareness.

These include identifying the values that we rate highly, being aware of what we are passionate about, and selectively focusing on the self-positives.

Personal values can be determined by rating what is important in categories such as family, friends, intimacy, work, community, health, recreation, parenting, and spirituality.

What is valued most? Is the way we are leading our life, and balance of time consistent with these values?

Another value approach is assessing the way we behave and interact with others. If we value kindness and compassion, are we behaving in ways consistent with those values?
How can those values be fostered in parenting?

If we identify a value such as common sense, is our decision making in relation to people, finances, and health reasonable? How do we achieve that awareness and skill?

Identifying pursuits that bring pleasure and reward can also enhance self-awareness.
We are pleasure-seeking beings so there needs to be a reward. Aim to focus on activities you are passionate about.

Also cultivate positive beliefs. Commend yourself with what you contribute to the world, identify your resources. Affirmations such as ‘I give things a go and learn from it’, ‘I treat others with respect’ are examples. The self-comments are most helpful when believable, said in the present context and with feeling.

Stephen Cope, a psychotherapist, describes eloquently this positive and personal resource based focus; ‘ real fulfilment comes from grappling with the possibilities inside of us.’

So as the twins continue their life’s journey and develop their own scripts of self, I would hope they learn to acknowledge their strengths, accept their limits and are guided by choices that they feel passionate and positive about.

That whatever life throws at them they continue to access personal resources, identify opportunities, and be guided by the values they have internalised as authentic to them.

Graeme Clarke is a Clinical Psychologist who specialises in trauma, depression, anxiety, couples therapy, hypnosis, and Sport Psychology.


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