The Importance of Self-Awareness
Updated: Feb 18, 2020
Your thoughts, emotions, impulses, desires, values, passions, dreams, recurring questions and bodily responses have meaning, are trying to teach you, and are all interconnected. They are telling you what your life is like. The voices that you choose to listen to are shaping what kind of person you are becoming. You can try to ignore them or avoid them, but if you do, you will be acting out of them unaware, sleepwalking to the step of your unconscious internal world. The realities that operate beneath the surface always hold the most sway. Instead, let's wake up to what is taking place inside of us, to listen to it, honor it and let it shape us into who we wish to be. -Adam S. McHugh, The Listening Life
As an Enneagram 4, I believe that being attuned to what is going on internally comes quite naturally to me, but I did not understand the importance of self-awareness fully until the last few years of my life. I have been the person that has journaled out thoughts, feelings, prayers, and other weird musings (like which boy I had a crush on, what my day was like, or drawing hearts around Zach Morris' name) since I was a young girl. I am very comfortable sitting and reflecting on how I am feeling, and I have always been on the melancholy side of life (even if that was more in my head). But when I moved to New Orleans in the summer of 2010, a wave of depression hit me that I never saw coming.
I never wanted to live in New Orleans, but I ended up there because of seminary and marriage and all the things since for a decade. I was coming off of a college utopian high, if you will. College was beautiful. Full of life-long budding friendships, great Christian community around me, tons of free-time, doing life organically with others, not having to pay bills or worry about anything that much. I felt free and full and happy, and I hadn't felt that since I was a kid.
Moving to New Orleans made all of that come to a screeching halt. All of a sudden, I had no friends around me. It took us a while to find a church and even longer to feel like we made friends. I was in a new school, all of sudden feeling very alone. When I once felt like I fit well with my people, I then felt like I had no people. When I once felt like people wanted to spend time with me, I then felt completely unseen.
The depression tsunami hit hard. It took me a while to know what was happening. I stopped wanting to engage as much with others. I cried myself to sleep almost every night missing my friends. I crawled into a shell that kept me from making new friends. I was sad all the time. It was like my head was in a fog. Constantly. It was so heavy.
Until I began my counseling degree, I had no clue I was battling depression. But depression it was.
And because I was unaware of what was happening in me, I was not able to move past it for a long time.
Self-awareness is one of the most important practices you may ever implement in your life. It is the first step in cultivating authenticity with God, with yourself, and with your people. It is the first step in becoming the real you. Without self-awareness, you will not be able to love others well, love self well, or maybe even love God well. Without awareness, you are lost.
This could mean being aware of your body. What it feels like, what is happening, where is discomfort and why?
This awareness could be of your feelings. What you feel, when you feel, why you feel. When you don't feel right.
It could be awareness of your thoughts. What do you think about? Where do your thoughts wander?
It could be awareness of where you struggle, what you need, or what you want.
This awareness could be simply noticing who you are. What are your strengths, weaknesses? What is your personality like?
Self-awareness can lead to other-awareness. We see others and what they need more clearly when we can see ourselves. But we can't see and know ourselves if we don't first pay attention and listen to our lives.
What is your life telling you?
I asked my friends to finish this sentence: If you are not aware of how you feel, then.......
Here is how they responded:
You need to figure it out! Your own self-awareness defines your actions and relationships around you, as well as your own well-being.
You are often reactive rather than proactive when making choices
You'll take it out on others
Find out why! Do you need to slow down in order to become attuned?
You are not aware of the feelings of others.
You can't respond honestly to those around you, and you have cut yourself off from those around you without knowing it.
You don't have an accurate view of reality. If you don't have an accurate view of yourself, then how can you have an accurate view of the world?
You cannot understand yourself, and you cannot be empathetic to others.
You may form unhealthy patterns that can harm you or others.
You may not even see your need for a Savior
Awareness is crucial, friend. Deep connections are not possible without authenticity. Authentic, genuine living is not possible without awareness. And awareness is not possible if you do not slow down and pay attention. You cannot listen to your life if you are not still, if you do not turn off the noise.
Awareness is seen throughout scripture. Sometimes we see it written in third person, describing what someone was feeling or thinking. Often we see the ackowledgment of thoughts and feelings as well, but there are places where we get to be a part of the self-discovery in first person. One such place is seen in Psalm 69. This is a long Psalm, so we won't read the whole passage here (though I think it would be wise to go read it becasue I will come back to it in this blog series). I will point out several verses that show King David's awareness of how he is feeling.
Verses 1-3: "Save me, O God, for the water has risen to my neck...I am weary from my crying; my throat is parched." Here David is aware that his situation is dire. He notices that he is exhausted and that his throat is dry from crying. He pays attention to his situation, his body, and his feelings.
Verses 8-11: "For I have endured insults because of you, and shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my brothers and a foreigner to my mother's sons because zeal for your house has consumed me..." Here David is aware of the shame he feels due to the insults he has faced. He is aware of the consuming zeal he has felt for the house of God and how that has isolated him. He pays attention again to the situation, how he feels, and even the result of the situation.
Taking off our masks and living truthfully opens the door for God to pour truth back in, the truth that can heal, that can set free, that can bring hope. If I had not become aware of the depression taking over my life, I would not have been able to honestly tell God or my people what was going on. They would have not had the chance to pour healing truth back into my heart because my heart would have been closed to them. And it all would have consumed me. And I would not have made it.
If David had not been aware of his shame and exhaustion and heartbreak, he would not have told God the truth, and he would not have been able to say, "But as for me- poor and in pain- let your salvation protect me, God. I will praise God's name with song and exalt Him with thanksgiving...For the Lord listens to the needy and does not despise those who are prisoners." Psalm 69: 29-30, 33
So how do we become more aware of what is going on within us?
How do we listen in, pay attention, take note of what is internal?
Below is a resource that you can use to begin practicing awareness of your body, a body scan. Follow the simple instructions to get the body scan right to your inbox. I promise I won't send you spam, but it will add you to my email list. You can choose to unsubscribe at any time!
Also, if you are intereseted in receiving the Monday Minute, a weekly email providing mental health tips that go beyond what I teach here, scroll down past this post and sign up.
In the meantime, you can steal this prayer and use these journaling prompts.
I am weary of living life so quickly,
That I am unable to hear what my life is trying to tell me,
What you are trying to tell me.
I ask that you help me slow down,
Quiet the noise,
And tune in.
Expose me to myself
So that I may live truthfully
with You, with myself, and with others.
In Jesus' Name,
Creative Journaling Prompts
Awareness of Feelings:
I have shared this before, but this practice is very helpful. Find a feelings wheel. I like this one: www.feelingswheel.com.
Keep it on hand. In order to do this effectively, choose a time of quiet in which you can reflect. Name the feeling you are currently feeling or a feeling you have experienced recently with the most accurate label possible. Consider what happened right before you started feeling that way. Is there a theme of triggers, the things that set a feeling in motion? Where do you feel the feeling in your body? How intensely do you feel the feeling on a scale on 1-100? When have you felt this feeling at other times in your life? When do you feel the feeling the most?
You can be very creative with a feelings wheel. You can do a feelings heart: a large blank heart that you fill in with the colors of the feelings you have felt lately based on the proportion of how often/how intensely you feel each one. Write out the answers to the above questions. You could also do feelings art, using a color to guide your art. For example, if you have been feeling sad, your painting could be centered around the color blue.
Awareness of Thoughts
This could be a continuation of the previous activity. As you felt that feeling, or right before you felt that feeling, what thoughts were going through your mind. Write every thought. Do not evaluate or pass judgment on your thoughts. Just notice what they are. You can be as creative as you wish with this activity.
Awareness of Strengths and Weaknesses
Draw a line down the middle of a page. Write strengths on one side, weaknesses on the other. Do an inventory. You may need to ask close friends or family for help with this one. Consider your gifts, strengths. Write as many as you can. Then consider where you struggle, temptations that you have, areas where you need to grow. Write as many as you can. Again. No judgement on yourself in this activity. You are simply being an observer of your life, noticing.