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2020 Dec

The Greatest Gift

Cultivating self-awareness is key to managing life.

Self-awareness is the greatest gift you can bring to your life with other people. Self-aware people experience their inner world as very real, and this awareness usually gives them an empathic ability to imagine other people’s inner experiences. Being able to imagine the emotional impact of your behavior on others tends to make you more careful about how you act and speak. Thanks to your own self-awareness, you can never forget the hurt that is caused by careless responses between people.

The fact that you are aware and monitoring your feelings and experiences means that you are not passing through life in a blind, reactive mode. You process thing longer, with the result that you can see more deeply into problems, as well as other people’s motivations. This ability means that you have more successful, reality-based coping skills than people who react first, think later, and then have a lot of apologizing to do.

People who are not self-aware tend not to be very reality-aware either, habitually trying to deny, distort, or dismiss parts of life they don’t like. But because reality always catches up to us in the end, it’s much better to deal with reality up front. Self-awareness helps us do just that because it helps us sense the underlying truth of a situation through our feeling reactions.

The more you consciously process situations, the better you’re able to imagine what the future will be like depending on how you react right now. This is the gift of anticipation, which is the closest thing to a crystal ball humans have.

It is the ability to imagine how the future would feel depending on your choices right now. With anticipation, you can contemplate different outcomes up front without having to suffer any consequences as a result.

Less self-aware people are limited to trial and error, seemingly always surprised by the future, reacting to bad outcomes with the disbelief of someone betrayed. The self-aware person more often can anticipate what’s coming and avoid the consequences.

Self-awareness also makes life more manageable by allowing you to shut down distressing lines of thought if they aren’t doing you any good. This is the coping skill of suppression, in which some self-aware part of you pushes away fears, impossible longings, regrets, anger, revenge fantasies, and other destructive preoccupations that could prevent you from solving problems and living a more rewarding life.

But you won’t learn suppression if you’re not aware what a certain line of thought is costing you. If you aren’t self-aware enough to regret how much time is taken up by such thoughts, you won’t know to push them aside in order to work on what you can change.

Altruism is another important outcome of self-awareness. As you process your internal experience in a conscious way, you feel more alive inside. You are also keenly aware of other people’s real, inner aliveness. So when you see another person in trouble, you know what they’re going through. Their suffering reaches you because it’s real to you too. Once that happens, helping the other person feels necessary, and you don’t think twice about taking action.

Self-awareness also develops your capacity for sublimation, another way of handling painful or frustrating emotions when there’s no relief in sight. Instead of being overwhelmed by negative feelings, some self-aware people transform their pain into creative inspirations. They might write a song, paint a picture, or get it down in their journal. They elevate unsolved problems in a creative way, bringing something meaningful and new into being.

Their self-aware suffering somehow prompts a creative idea, such as the person who has lost a loved one and starts a charity in their name. Without self-awareness of the wish to bring something good out of their pain, they would be stuck in their unhappiness and regret.

There’s nothing selfish or impractical about developing your self-awareness. As you cultivate it, you will cope better and bring benefits both to yourself and others. We’ve just seen a few of the ways that self-awareness contributes to a mature and rewarding handling of life’s troubles.

But self-awareness is a pleasure too. With more self-awareness, everyday life becomes more meaningful and enjoyable. When you are aware of your happiness, gratitude, or any other positive feeling, you get a double benefit by savoring your happiness as it occurs. The more you are in touch with your inner experience, the more informed your choices will be for planning your future. Know yourself and it will be easier to find the life you want.

Lindsay Gibson

Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in practice in Virginia Beach. She is the author of Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents and Who You Were Meant To Be. Visit www.drlindsaygibson.com for more information.

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