Self-Awareness: Understanding Where it Comes From

To achieve self-awareness, here’s the best advice I can give to you. Always stay true to yourself. There’s so much crap filtering into our brains on a daily basis, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish our real thoughts from the thoughts we’re hearing and believing from others.

Self-awareness. Self-help. Personal transformation. #motivationmonday #transformationtuesday #wellnesswednesday #thoughfulthursday #fitnessfriday.

We’ve become so ingrained to listen to what is trending, and what we should be promoting about ourselves through social media at large that we’re all hopping on the “self-help” bandwagon and showcasing of our best traits to the world.

With this boom in the promotion of self-awareness and personal transformation, I wonder if we aren’t – in the process, actually giving up MORE of our identity to societal expectations.

Let me explain. I’ve been on my “self-awareness” journey for about 8 years now. It includes therapy, getting in touch with my emotions, setting personal boundaries and realizing exactly what, in my life, I give a crap about and what can disappear without me caring in the least. Then, of course, there’s always those things in the middle that are neither overwhelming nor underwhelming – they’re just there.

Through this journey though, I’ve done a really decent job of understanding who I am, the type of person I want to be for others and the aspects of my life that brought me to this point, here and now.

Understanding self-awareness

I’ve recently become a soccer mom. Not the stereotypical, khaki pants, polo shirt and mini-van driving mom that people joke about when they emphasize the “soccer moms” in relation to a group of people. I’m a full-time working mom, entrepreneur, wife and soccer mom. I wear Nike running pants and an old t-shirt of my choosing or even sometimes, when I’m feeling fancy, I’ll proudly wear my track jacket with the logo from my daughter’s soccer team on it.

I’ve become acutely aware that understanding the level of my own self-awareness or lack thereof is a crucial important element in social and group settings.

One of the benefits of being a soccer mom is, the other soccer moms. You become a pretty tight knit group as we are always at practice and games together. Several of us have formed a pretty special friendship, which even allows us to enjoy meeting out for a glass of wine to talk about something other than soccer.

But as I make new friends, my acute sense of self-awareness starts to rear its head. I don’t really know these women very well. I know we can laugh and joke, I know that I can rely on them to shuttle my daughter back and forth if I need it, but we haven’t spent enough time for me to know what offends them, or how they react in certain situations or to certain personalities. This unknown has several times given me pause to think or have an “oh shit” moment if I say something that could be construed as slightly inappropriate.

I have a strong personality and it doesn’t match the majority of bubblegum and roses posts that litter social media. I worry that as my new friends and I grow in our friendship, they won’t like that. They already tease me about my competitive nature, and most of the time I laugh it off, until that little voice in the back of my heads tells me maybe I should turn it down a little notch – just to make sure they keep liking me.

Understanding our own self-awareness is an exponentially important aspect of our social success and overall happiness. We need to be aware of the type of personality we’re bringing to the table and where it will benefit us most to turn it on or dial it back.

Get to know yourself

Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, identifies two sides of yourself. One side, she calls your essential self. The other side, she calls your social self.

Here is how Beck defines the essential self and the social self.

“Your essential self formed before you were born…. It’s the personality you got from your genes: your characteristics, desires, preferences, emotional reactions, and involuntary physiological responses bound together by an overall sense of identity….”

“The social self, on the other hand, is the part of you that developed in response to pressures from people around you, including everyone from your family to your first love to the pope. As the most socially dependent of mammals, human babies are born knowing that their very survival depends on the goodwill of the grown-ups around them. Because of this, we’re all literally designed to please others.”

Did you get that? We’re all literally designed to please others. Let that sink in for a moment.

This means that typically our responses to social interactions are based, largely, on social constructs and not our innate personal traits.

As you begin or continue to venture down the self-awareness path, you begin to recognize when the essential self is being suffocated for the good of the social self.

So, as I interact with my new friends or you interact with your co-workers or even family, there’s a good probability that we are adjusting our responses and behavior to match that of the people around us.

What’s the benefit of self-awareness?

There are a lot of benefits to self-awareness. Self-awareness is what keeps us from succumbing to peer pressure. Self-awareness allows us to stand up for ourselves or even our friends and family in a situation that is less than excusable. Self-awareness gets us out of harmful situations and toxic relationships.

Self-awareness positions itself as that “gut feeling”. That one that sits in your stomach at a particular moment in time that is telling you something different than the actions you are taking

But self-awareness also allows us to take the relationships we have in our life, these new friendships, existing relationships, and your relationship with yourself to the next level.

The pressure of the social self can be so suffocating. If you think back on the first time you were told “no” in your life, that’s when the social self-began to develop and emerge.

  • Can I touch a hot stove? NO.

  • Can I bite the kid who took my toy? NO.

  • Can I talk back to my parents? NO.

The social self is an important construct of our being – it teaches us that robbing banks is wrong. It teaches us the fundamentals of humanity and what are the widely accepted social constraints to be a fitting, productive member of society.

Now, begin to piece the puzzle together. This social self is also responsible for your beliefs and the actions that support your beliefs.

Can I say no when I don’t want to do something? Dad says NO. We have to do what he says. Don’t talk back.

Can I wear a bikini after I have a baby? Other moms say NO. It’s inappropriate to wear a bikini after you have kids, besides, your body will never be the same again anyway.

Can I eat what I want? Absolutely not. All foods that taste good make you fat. And by the way, fat means you’re bigger than a size 4. (Mom says so).

  • Are people with dreadlocks dirty?

  • Should everyone on food stamps just go get a job?

  • Are all elderly people excused from censorship because of their age?

  • Are people that believe in God being preachy?

  • Are girls who get pregnant in high school delinquents?

Did you, while you were reading those questions above, make a quick judgement? It’s ok if you did and it’s questions like this and so many more that are developed and relied on by what the social self means to each one of us, individually.

Judgement based on self-awareness

What’s the first assumption you make when you meet someone? Is there judgment passed about that person because of that?

Self-awareness allows us to begin to sit back and observe these thoughts without judgment or opinion. It allows us to wonder why the thought came to our heads in the first place. Maybe there’s still judgment attached to it. We’re human remember, but that judgment of others should also come with a deeper dive into where it came from and if / how it can be corrected in the future.

The more often you’re listening and observing your judgments of others, the more likely it is that eventually, you’ll begin to hear those judgments less and begin to look at people for who they are, never assuming a story about their past and personality – just as you would never want anyone to assume a story about you.

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are, and you know what you want.
— Lao Tzu

Rely on your instincts. They’ll direct you – and if you stop to listen long enough, you’ll realize you’re far more aware of yourself than you can even imagine.