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May 16

The Art of Becoming Self-Aware


By Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Confucious said, “I have traveled far and wide and have yet to meet a man who could bring home the judgment against himself.”

Jesus said, “Why can you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but not the beam in your own?”

Freud said, “The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.” Freud linked humankind’s destructiveness with his tendency to be unconscious of his deeper motives.

We all have things we don’t want to be aware of. One of the hardest things for us to be aware of is our own failings. Is is easy for us to judge others and to see the failings of others, but almost impossible to see our own failings. It is easy to say, “That person is prejudiced,” but very hard to see our own prejudices. It’s easy to say, “That person’s stupid, but hard to see our own stupidity.

It is fun to analyze the details of another person’s disturbed behavior, but not fun at all to analyze our own disturbances. It makes us feel superior to call out others for their kinky thoughts, but it elevates our feelings of superiority even more if we deny our own kinky thoughts.

However, the more we defend against the truth about ourselves, the more we have to be unreal with others and with ourselves. The more unreal we are, the less satisfying is our life. The less satisfying our life is, the more stress we have and the worse our health becomes.

When you are self-aware you are no longer destructive or defended. You embrace yourself just as you are, with all your failings and your fortunes, and you embrace life as it is, with all its failings and riches.

Psychoanalytic therapy is one of the ways one can become self-aware. This kind of therapy emphasizes the relationship between the client and the therapist. Clients will relate to their therapists much the same way they relate to others. By analyzing how the they relate to their therapists clients become conscious of the things they are unwittingly doing to prevent themselves from actualizing their lives.

In order to see the beam in our own eyes (as Jesus put it), we need help. On our own, we don’t want to look at our own prejudices. An angry wife will be quite unable to look at the things she is doing or saying that cause problems for her relationship. An African-American will be quite adept at seeing racism of whites toward blacks, but quite unable to see black racism towards whites or Asians.

Psychoanalysis, when it is working well, helps people to see what they don’t want to see. It helps them to become self-aware. Being self aware mitigates many of the problems that afflict their daily lives.

A client comes in and repeated says to his psychoanalyst, “I don’t trust people. I think they don’t like me and sooner or later they will hurt me.”

The psychoanalyst replies, “How do you feel about me? Do you trust me?”

“Not really,” the client replies.

“And sooner or later I’ll hurt you.”

“I haven’t thought of that, but I guess that sounds right. I do expect that sooner or later you’ll disappoint me, so I can’t let myself get too close to you. I have to keep you at a distance to protect myself.”

By analyzing the client’s relationship with the psychoanalyst the client is able to work through the knots that keep him focused primarily on the external rather than the internal. Once he begins to focus on the internal–on how his own tendencies, prejudices and blocks, are preventing him from moving on–he begins to make progress. That is the most difficult part of psychotherapy, and it is the point at which many clients quit.

The easy part of psychotherapy is talking about what other people do to you and are still doing to you. The hard part is when you finally get around to talking about what you do to bring about the problems that object your life. Self-awareness seems to be a rare commodity in our tumultuous world.

Looking at yourself objectively, becoming self-aware, is when the real therapy begins.

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