conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings.“the process can be painful but it leads to greater self-awareness”
I have been inspired to write a blog about self-awareness due to the fact that I’ve suddenly become aware that during my time in therapy, I have started to experience feelings that I had never fully felt or experienced before.
I imagine that might sound a bit odd to some of you reading this, right? You may be thinking that everyone has feelings. Well, that would be true, however when I went into therapy, I would have described myself as an emotional person and I was to find out that actually, I was very emotionally repressed.
To date I’ve been in therapy for about 2 and a half years and have only recently been able to cry in therapy. Ironically, the first time I cried was due to my sheer frustration of not being able to cry in therapy! Go figure.
For those of you who are familiar with my blog, I have also only just felt the pain of my therapist taking a break and boy it hurt. It hurt me on a deep level and I felt like a 5-year-old child who had lost her mother.
Despite the pain, it has opened my eyes to lots of things and one of those things which I was thinking about today was that I am really beginning to become emotionally aware. Self-aware.
I am gradually identifying my feelings – be that sadness, joy, fear, embarrassment or anger. I am gradually becoming able to accept that I have these feelings and not shame myself, fear them and push them away.
When I started to get in touch with my feelings, they hit me like a tidal wave. I was convinced I would drown in them. They felt extremely dangerous to me. Dangerous and unnatural. Weirdly I didn’t understand at the time that what I was scared of was just being able to “feel”. I thought I was severely depressed. My feelings came (still come to a degree) in waves. Intense waves where I can be okay one day and completely floored the next. That was alarming to say the least. I wasn’t sure I could survive some of these waves.
When this started to happen, (roughly October 2016), T used to tell me that I needed to try to find a way to “tolerate the feelings”. A phrase I repeat back to myself now when I am feeling overwhelmed. Tolerating my feelings was a huge challenge for me. Being able to stay with the feelings – feel them – was not an easy task.
In retrospect, it makes sense and before I started on my journey to heal myself, it was actually an effective defense mechanism. Feeling those painful, scary feelings really could have caused me some serious problems back then when I was a child and had nobody to help me work through them, understand them or comfort me in my pain. I did the safest thing by repressing them in order to cope with my unfortunate reality. However as an adult, being emotionally repressed doesn’t serve you well at all. I no longer need this defense, I need to break that old, now maladaptive behaviour and like any change, it is painful!
T helped me to identify how I was feeling by noticing my body’s physical cues. I often get headaches and heartburn. I also suffered with what I thought was IBS for years. T recommended a book to me called “Your Body Speaks The Mind” by Deb Shapiro. That book has sat on my bedside cabinet for the last year or so and has been a great way to help me listen to my body and figure out how I am feeling. The book helps you to connect your physical pains with your emotional state. I really recommend it to anyone who struggles to identify their feelings.
Another way that I started to get in touch with my feelings was to listen to my inner dialogue. We all have one. I had never been aware of mine before, but if you listen, you have constant internal chat inside your head. It might be as simple as turning your nose up at a programme when flicking through the Sky planner or thinking how you like someone’s outfit as they walk past you on the street. Our internal dialogue cane really help us to understand what goes on inside.
For me, my inner dialogue wasn’t my friend. I refer to this as my inner critic (work by Pete Walker again!) because it was indeed a critic. I used to berate myself for any negative feelings. I used to call myself all sorts of horrible names. On reflection, a lot of these names were internalised from my mother, but I didn’t understand that overnight. I have worked a lot using terms such as “inner child” and “inner critic” and found them very useful. Thinking of my sad or fearful feelings in terms of being my “inner child” makes it possible for me to be kind to myself. It helps me to be sympathetic towards myself for the reasons that I feel this way. I basically try to give my “inner child” what any child might need if they were feeling that way. I try and be who I needed when I was young. I know this sounds a bit weird if you’re not familiar with these terms (or if they are not your “thing”) but it really has worked for me! Each to your own, eh?
Sometimes I can identify how I might be feeling by certain habits. For example, often if I am struggling with sadness I will want to sleep a lot. If I am angry, I might become snappy and impatient with my boyfriend or with his children for silly things that wouldn’t normally be a problem. Another habit that I’ve recently become aware of is that I seem to shop/spend money or eat a lot. This is all very much a work in progress but at least I am becoming aware of the habits I guess.
I won’t go on much longer but I just wanted to write and say that becoming aware of all these feelings that have been repressed for my entire life is journey like no other. I don’t think I can find the words to explain that fully. It is a deeply painful yet deeply moving and insightful journey of self-discovery. It is a journey that I am amazed I even needed to take. I guess when you are that good at repression, it takes a while to realise that you are even repressed.. does that even make sense?
Emotional self-awareness is good for you. It is good for your psychological health, your physical health, for your relationships, your decisions, everything. It helps us to be empathetic and compassionate to others and to ourselves. If you can learn to be self-aware, you can begin to develop a strong sense of self which is something that I cannot wait to have.
I hope this has given you some food for thought about your own emotional self-awareness. Do you allow yourself to fully feel your feelings, good and bad? Do you have an inner critic? Do you listen to your inner chatter and do you have any habits when you are angry, sad or fearful?