We all know and have heard that self-awareness is an essential and emphasized step in the journey of self-improvement. No doubt you've heard about how great it is when you're self-aware, and this is true, but has anyone told you the possible adverse side effects it may have on you? Certain psychological tolls being too self-aware can have on someone and, ironically, we are not aware of them.
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What is it meant by being "self-aware"?
Being self-aware simply means being conscious of what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what led you to do it. This does not only include actions, but internal feelings as well.
"Self-awareness is one of the most important psychological traits you can develop within yourself for life. Its benefits extend to everything-whether it's managing your emotions in conflict or understanding your weakness at work or being realistic about what you can accomplish."
Most of our self-awareness comes from being able to gauge the mental state we're currently in. For example, if I'm having a bad day because someone was rude to me while running some errands, I will probably feel irritated the rest of the day or for the majority of it at least.
This can lead to effects such as taking everything that is said to me on a more personal level, not being excited about things I usually am, purposefully isolating myself, and more. While all these actions/ feelings carry some justification because they are an effect of a cause, they are not necessarily beneficial to me, or even worth it sometimes.
This being said, our mental state will affect our behavior and can affect our physiology. It's actually a cybernetic loop, explained Anthony Robbins in his book, "Unlimited Power". Our behavior will be influenced by our internal representation, which comprises how and what we imagine in our minds.
Things like what we say and do, how we breathe, and general physical cues like blushing. This then has an impact on our physiology, which includes our posture, any muscular tension, biochemistry, and so on.
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Going in the other direction of these three things is also effective. Our physiology can influence our behavior, which in turn influences our mental state. For example, if you're sitting in an uncomfortable position (physiology), you'll wiggle a lot in your seat (behavior), which will distract you from whatever the person in front of you is saying (mental state/ internal representation).
With this understanding of the three main features to consider when considering self-awareness, if we let every minor annoyance, such as the one listed in the first paragraph, get to us, we'd be an even angrier society than we are now. Here is where self-awareness comes into play. We are conscious that our actions may cause harm to individuals who are not deserving of it, so we let things pass in order to maintain our own and others' peace of mind.
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Everyone has some level of self-awareness; some have more than others, and vice versa. Some people have grasped and utilized this notion so well that no matter what happens to their mental state or physiology, they can keep a solid grip on their behavior. This is significant since, technically, behavior is the only thing that other people can directly notice.
The question here now is what is the perfect level of being self-aware and how does one achieve it?
How to be self-aware?
As previously said, we all have some measure of self-awareness. For example, we can determine what basic emotion we are experiencing right now.
Sadness, rage, happiness, comfort, and other emotions. However, in order to acquire a higher level of self-awareness, we must first understand why we are experiencing said emotion. This can be relatively simple most of the time, but the talent resides in more challenging situations when, for example, whatever happened to you or was said to you logically isn't actually awful. So, what made you so upset?
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Try retracing the event step by step to determine when that unpleasant pit in your stomach first arose. One must consider their emotional state, their behavior, and their physiological all at the same time. Because, as previously said, they all feed each other in a continuous cycle.
It's not something that happens between day and night. It's a long process that takes time and practice. In theory, it appears simple.
However, when put into practice, it necessitates a significant amount of mental effort. Furthermore, self-reflection may not be adequate to uncover the source of certain of your emotions. In this scenario, we can seek help from outside sources, such as family and friends.
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However, it would be preferable to speak with someone objective. Friends and relatives already have preconceived thoughts about you before speaking to them honestly, so they would not be able to express themselves more precisely. It's difficult not to allow other people's opinions to cloud your judgment.
Of course, not everyone can afford counseling, for example, so talking to friends and family is still an alternative. You'd be shocked how many individuals leap at the chance, especially after offering them the opportunity to be as brutal as possible. Another solution is to speak to someone who knows you but not on an emotional level, like an acquaintance. But I imagine that conversation might be awkward, especially if you're going to see them more than once.
Furthermore, the preconceived notions we described may contribute to the difficulty in determining the source of your sentiments because you have your own set of views and opinions about yourself. Whether they are inherited morals and beliefs or fresh perspectives on yourself developed over time, they will affect any thoughts we have.
"I don't know how to feel or think or love. I'm a character in a novel as yet unwritten, hovering in the air and undone before I've even existed, amongst the dreams of someone who never quite managed to breathe life into me. I'm always thinking, always feeling, but my thoughts lack all reason, my emotions all feeling."
Fernando Pessoa was a Portuguese poet, writer, and literary critic. He was one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century. Understanding oneself, according to Pessoa, is a free fall down a rabbit hole with a fatal landing.
And the inability to comprehend and communicate one's interior experiences when in freefall leads to a lifetime of disquiet and disorientation. For more explanation on Pessoa and the book, I very much recommend this video.
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To put it simply, one of the issues that arise with extreme self-awareness as put by Pessoa, is that everything you say, feel, or do, begins to lack all magnitude. It's like watching a movie with bad acting. You see what the actors are doing, and you logically understand what and why they're doing whatever they are, but you don't feel it. Not sympathizing, empathizing, or even relating to it on a surface level.
This can affect people in many ways. Some people just accept that they're already on this track in life and this is the way things are. They take an apathetic approach overall, which they can actually be completely content with. Other people resort to doing things that are extreme in a sense, just so they can feel something move in them.
Others may begin to become spectators of their own or other people's lives. Because of the lack of feeling, there is a slow and progressive separation from everything. Nothing seems to make sense now. The fact that it's simply a downward spiral from there makes this one of the more dangerous side effects.
One thing that makes us human with emotional intellect is the fact that we interact with other people. It can be argued that humans, by nature, are social creatures. So, when you remove any being from its natural place, it begins to deteriorate. In this case, the sense of all emotional feelings can be numbed to the point where a person is not living but just existing filing a space.
Another unintended consequence of being overly self-aware is the looming sense of failure. A person's mental self-awareness can be so acute that they scrutinize everything they do to the millimeter to verify that it conforms to their mental vision. However, there will come a time when our actions will contradict our mental picture.
For instance, someone said something which irritated you. In your mind, you know, the most logical approach is to draw a line and say "Oh don't mention this because it bothers me". Instead, you explode and become very angry. Later on, you might begin to regret your actions because you know it wasn't right and what's even more frustrating is that at the time, you knew it wasn't right and still proceeded to take that harmful action.
What's the solution?
To be entirely honest, I can't say for sure. If we look at different approaches to this paradox, we find many opinions. Some say to just accept things the way they are, like Pessoa. Another thought is that the paradox only affects such a small percentage of people in their lifetime, that it's not even considered a paradox, but rather a circle of life.
In retrospect, reaching such a stage is not likely in today's time. With the constant stimulation we get from social media and the new things that are constantly being discovered, it's hard not to find something you would be interested in if only slightly. The amount of support we can get from people in real life as well as online is immense.
While self-awareness is essential for personal growth and development, it should not be the focus of our entire lives. We are free to behave and feel outside of our little bubble of self-awareness. Giving oneself space and comfort to thoroughly feel and experience, within reason, is part of being self-aware.
But don't be too hard on yourself if you don't have everything figured out yet. It just happens and happens naturally.