I hadn’t thought much about the role self-awareness plays in our healing until I asked a former client what treasure she had found because of her healing journey. Her answer? “Self-awareness.” But I haven’t stopped pondering that conversation since. And I’ve discovered she is absolutely correct! Learning to live in self-awareness can be labeled a treasure, but it is also a necessary tool for our healing. How is it so essential? you might ask, just as I did. But now I know the answer to that question.
Self-awareness is kind of like a thermometer for taking your emotional temperature. Self-awareness enables us to “read” how our inner, emotional self is doing, and how our body is doing. Both are important to monitor because only when we know how our emotions are doing, and our physical body is doing, can we hope to do good self-care and heal.
To be self-aware is to live consciously, rather than passively. It is to consciously direct our lives, rather than passively allowing the 1,440 minutes we are given each day to pass by, while living on auto-pilot. Self-awareness empowers us to monitor our emotions, thoughts, and words, and to recognize how our bodies are doing. Living in self-awareness gives us the power to self-correct before we’re thrown off-course.
But it’s harder than it sounds. Try as I may, I still get caught off guard at times, but I’m way better than I was. I’ve had some real train wrecks when my emotions swamped me before I could calmly self-assess, and talk myself down.
Interestingly, many of the tools we use to heal our trauma and broken hearts depend on self-awareness to work. That means that until we get self-awareness down pat, we’re going to have trouble using the tools that depend on it. I know, because I’ve messed up—more than once!
Mindfulness is currently in vogue, and we often hear that it’s the antidote to our fast-paced, stress-producing lifestyle. But it’s also a useful tool when we deal with trauma and relational stress. One Internet definition of mindfulness says it “…means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.” Just reading that definition helps me relax, because it reminds me to strive to live that way.
As partners who need to heal, our goal is to become more conscious of what’s driving our emotions and behavior. To accomplish this, we need to increase our sensitivity to our emotions—which we know are all over the place when living with trauma, fear, and anxiety. One of my most painful, damaging relational experiences took place because I wasn’t mindful—or self-aware—enough. I was being held hostage in a conversation that wasn’t healthy, and though I knew I wanted out of it, I didn’t recognize the negative energy building inside of me—until it was too late. The words that came out of my mouth that day weren’t bad or wrong, but they offended the other person, and forever changed a relationship. It’s one of the most painful lessons life has taught me, but it has heightened my desire to live fully aware of how I’m doing before I open my mouth.
Journaling, or processing verbally with a counselor or trusted friend, is another helpful tool that greatly increases our self-awareness. When we get our thoughts out so we can recognize the emotions behind them, we can do better self-care and plan for ways to take care of ourselves, whether we’re alone, or with others. Knowing what’s going on inside helps us know when we need to take a break and be alone, and when we need to get out of our heads and emotions and be with others.
This tool was a personal favorite as my own life began to crumble and fall apart. My world had shrunk on a moment’s notice, cutting me off from most of my support system, but journaling at my computer produced 162 pages that, for me, were an important tool for my self-care and the beginning of my healing
Using a feelings list is another way to learn to live in self-awareness and track what’s going on inside. Early in our healing, and during difficult periods, it can be helpful to keep a feelings list on your refrigerator door, bathroom mirror, your car’s dashboard, on your desk—any place where you will see it during the day.
I especially like the list at the link below, because it divides feelings into positive categories and negative categories, making it faster to do a feelings-check. Scanning the list helps us recognize when we’re carrying difficult emotions, giving us the power do self-care and process them.
The 90 Minute Cycle
“We’ve known for more than 50 years that we sleep in 90-minute cycles….We move from light sleep, to deep sleep (and restorative REM state) in roughly 90-minute waves. About a decade after we learned about this natural sleep cycle, researchers began to realize that we follow a similar pattern in our waking lives as well.”
I remember learning this in one of my psychology courses, and the professor told us that was why my university had three-hour classes, but built in a long break after the first 90 minutes.
In the years since then, I’ve noticed that I do better work and stay happier if I continue to live in that 90-minute cycle. Now I build short breaks in between client calls so I can self-assess how I am doing, and take time to renew my energy. And I take longer breaks and change my activity once or twice the day. Depending on how I’m doing, I may do something that produces joy; eat or drink something; go outside for a few minutes, or do something else that produces a refreshing in my being.
Over the years, I’ve learned that when I build in time for self-awareness, followed by a few minutes of self-care, I’m more productive and reach the end of the day in better emotional shape.
The timer function on my cell phone is a helpful tool to help me manage this cycle. I set it for 90 minutes, knowing I can focus on what I’m doing, and the phone will let me know when it’s time for a break.
Living in self-awareness enables us to live in tune with our “selves” so we can do good self-care, plan for triggers and boundaries, and stop and think before we open our mouths. As women, we work hard to help those we love heal and grow; by using our tools, we can do the same for ourselves.
Add self-awareness to your tool box, and maybe it will also become one of the treasures that you, like my former client, extract from this painful, yet amazing healing journey.