This morning, Joe and I were reading a book together and somehow the topic of self-awareness came up. I suddenly had the realization that whenever I think about self-awareness, I think about it as it pertains to other people and what they think of me. I love when these bolts of lightning strike my mind and cause me to say, “I can’t believe I’ve been seeing X in this way for so long!”
Whenever someone talks about a person being self-aware, I immediately think it only means that they are very conscious of how their actions affect other people. For example, if you had little self-awareness, you wouldn’t have a problem talking loudly and obnoxiously on the subway (in my eyes). Let’s call this type of self-awareness “outward” self-awareness. When I truly think about it, I know that self-awareness has another side which involves looking more inwardly, but my automatic perception of the term goes to outward self-awareness.
Realizing this was another level of “oh, this is why I’m a person that cares so much what other’s think of me.” Not only do I simply care what other’s think of me, but I think it is super impolite to not care. When I try to look at why this is my go to understanding and meaning I’ve attached to self-awareness, I think of Michael Scott talking to the cameras about Andy when he’s hidden behind his office door:
“I don’t understand how someone can have so little self-awareness.”
To me, the opposite of this is obliviousness. If you’re oblivious to how weird/annoying/loud/hurtful you’re being, you’re not self-aware; and obliviousness has always annoyed the hell out of me. I think it stems from my dad. Growing up I witnessed him doing things that other people would get upset about, but he would never notice he was upsetting them. One time as a teenager, I witnessed a man who was sat in front of him on a plane repeatedly ask him to stop kneeing the back of his chair, and then after throwing my dad a dirty look, he left to find a new seat... When I got up to go to the bathroom, I saw the man sitting in the back, able to work on his laptop in peace. I was mortified. My dad never noticed nor apologized, and I guess you could say that scarred me in a way. I decided to try very hard to be conscious of other people. This was self-awareness to me, and it set the definition in my head: don’t be oblivious. I then took it to a new extreme where I could not relax lest I inadvertently bother another person.
Being self-aware enough to be conscious of other people isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a positive Thing, but only to a certain extent. I started to regard my version of self-awareness as one of the highest personality traits you could have, and I judged other people based on that.
Sitting on the couch this morning, I slowly realized it had gotten completely out of hand for me and caused me to go above and beyond self-awareness and into extreme self-consciousness - and into extreme self-consciousness on behalf of the people around me. I laughed this morning as I told Joe that’s probably why I get so mad at him for taking up too much sidewalk on our walks (the sidewalks here are very narrow). I realized (and isn’t it funny how you “realize” things that you already know in some sense, but don’t really know know?)…I realized that there is another very important part of being self-aware and half of my attention should be shifted from the outward kind to the inward kind.
I felt like this shift in my personal definition of self-awareness gave me some freedom from my own brain, and opened up a door to be “lighter” about small situations where I was beating myself up with self-consciousness.
I looked up a couple of definitions of self-awareness and felt like they couldn’t encompass what it truly is, but I’ll tell you the basic google definition: conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires.
First of all isn’t it crazy that we as humans have the ability to look inward, know we are alive, know we are thinking and then examine our thoughts, judge them, and feel bad or good about ourselves based on internal motives or desires?! When was the last time you realized how weird it is that we ponder our own existence?
Recently my husband and I have been into learning about the brain, mindset, and automatic thought patterns and how they affect your experience of life. When I was looking up a definition about self-awareness, I stumbled upon an article with a few interesting points that tied back to this stuff. This quote really struck me, “The non-judgmental quality is an essential component to self-awareness. As we notice what’s happening inside us, we acknowledge and accept them as the inevitable part of being human, rather than giving ourselves a hard time about it.”
The “non-judgmental quality” is something I was missing and something I never knew existed when I encountered my own inward self-awareness. I was all too aware and yet all too judgy.
Lately I’ve been discovering so many things about life that leave me feeling, “I had no idea you could live life like this or think in this way!” It is so insane that you can have thought after thought, subconsciously popping in and out of your head, and then judge yourself for thinking that or for doing that. When I feel sad or depressed, I judge myself as weak or pathetic, when I feel angry or annoyed, I get more angry and annoyed at myself for feeling that way. When I feel tired and want to rest, I call myself lazy. When I want to say no, I call myself selfish.
“Hey can I get some air traffic control over here?!”
Joe and I have both been struggling with this in part due to our very religious upbringing and deeply ingrained shame and guilt. My takeaway from this and my journey through mindfulness, is to accept myself more and not add emotion to emotion or judgement to feelings. Being self-aware is a gift if used carefully.
Somewhere in the middle of our discussion about this, I said to Joe, “I wish I was simple minded and didn’t think about how I’m thinking,” but then I quickly realized that is not true.