Our society as of late has placed such an emphasis on self-awareness that you might say it’s a movement. And while there’s definitely a large number of benefits to being self-aware, I think we have run into a problem. Our society at large is focusing so much on being self-aware that we are neglecting the importance of being others-aware. The problem with self-awareness is that we hurt people when we are so wrapped up in our own feelings and emotions that we neglect the feelings of others.
Here’s the thing—self-awareness (as a general rule) should be a good thing. The ability to recognize our feelings, process our emotions, take responsibility for our feelings, and be confident in our beliefs is a good thing. I think many of us were not raised to know how to do that, so it requires a great deal of intentionality. Learning how to be honest with ourselves about what we are feeling is a process, and a long one for many of us. Embracing this process and living it out can be one of the most freeing things we do in our lives. When we stop stuffing our feelings and emotions and start processing them, we open up the door to intimacy in our lives. Because we can only let others go so deep with us as we are willing to go with ourselves.
So if being self-aware is so beneficial, where does the problem start? I think the problem starts when we allow ourselves to swing so far to the other side that everything becomes about us. When we live in such an inward place, we only recognize our own needs and desires. We pay so much attention to our emotions and feelings that we think we are always right, and we strive to always make sure other people know how we feel. We begin justifying our anger and offense because we feel that our deep awareness of ourselves makes us right and makes others wrong—because we are being taught what a glorious thing it is to be self-aware. And in the midst of that, we neglect to take into consideration all of the behind-the-scenes elements of someone else’s life. As we become more and more self-aware, we have the tendency to make everything about us.
And this pendulum swing isn’t healthy for any of us.
There’s a deeper layer of self-awareness that needs to be explored. It’s not simply the awareness of self—of all the things that make us tick, all the ways we process emotions, and all the reasons we react. It’s an awareness of how our “self” affects our environment and those around us.
Because at the heart of real self-awareness is the ability to be others-aware.
So the real problem with self-awareness is that we are getting stuck in an ankle deep pool of it rather than exploring the depths of true self-awareness.
The ability to truly understand ourselves, know our needs, and determine our boundaries is incredibly healthy. But only when understood in its fullness. When we only focus on one half of self-awareness, we miss the point. Simply knowing how the world affects us will only get us so far.
When we only focus on ourselves, we become victims in a very strange way. In fact, I think it may be one of the most discreet and disguised forms of a victim mentality. Our ability to process so clearly how every single thing in life makes us feel can become a curse to those around us. I mentioned before that we have been taught that self-awareness is a glorious thing. The problem with that is the half-assed development of the skill. We become so aware of ourselves in the more shallow half of self-awareness that we become prideful, boasting in our mastery of the skill. We think our self-awareness sets us apart and makes us better than others, because “we understand ourselves,” therefore we must be more mature. And if we are more mature, then we must be right in any given situation.
The harsh truth is that neglecting to be others-aware actually makes us less mature. There’s nothing mature about being so wrapped up in our understanding of ourselves that we trample on people around us. Being aware of ourselves and our own feelings will never make the feelings of others less valid.
We need to stop staying in the shallow end and venture deep into true self-awareness. It takes a great deal of courage to recognize how we affect our environment, our friends, and those we encounter in passing.
But that awareness—true self-awareness—that is what makes us mature and sets us apart.