Self-awareness is one of those topics in which Western and Eastern teachings meet. It is a concept that has gained a lot of attention although there are still variations in the names used to refer to it, the concept of it and the applications of this term in different contexts.
Since the 1970’s there had been efforts to define self-awareness including the idea that this is about individuals’ ability to focus on the self and/or focus on others or the external world. Self-focus could involve the attention in the present moment to emotions, thoughts and thinking, behaviors and physical sensations. Others had referred to it as the “observing self”. Although there are different factors that can affect people’s ability to develop or maintain self-awareness, individuals can still learn to become more self-aware. In daily life, self-awareness could support self-regulation in the interaction with others and could contribute to self-reliance and the ability to sooth and calm oneself when triggered by events or people, the possibility to shift states. It can also help in identifying what is happening internally, recognizing and naming the emotions, accepting them, understanding how the body carries the emotion making it real. The development of self-awareness skills could be supported by mindfulness exercises including breathing, body scans, mindful walks, mindful eating and by openness and curiosity to enquire about individuals’ experiences to make sense of what is happening internally.
In therapy, the self-awareness of the client and the therapist are critical for an effective therapeutic process. In this context, being self-aware could facilitate clients in a deeper exploration of their internal experiences, gaining more insight about reactions, beliefs and patterns. Self-awareness has been also considered a key attribute of therapists. In this context, self-awareness has been referred as the knowledge and insight that therapists have of themselves, of their own issues, their strengthens and weakness as well as their biases. Self-awareness can be developed and it is a skill that can facilitate both the therapeutic alliance and therapeutic outcomes.
Although there have been efforts to define its attributes, self-awareness can be experienced differently since it is a very personal way to relate to oneself, to others and to the world. Self-awareness would be hardly a state individuals reached and preserve for long. It could be more an instant, a moment of mindful attention involving body, mind and emotions, here and now, that can be expanded with practice. The presence in the present moment gives a unique quality to the way life can be experienced. It could provide a sense of control because it is not about the past or the future; it is only about here and now. It could help individuals anchor themselves in a place in which they could challenge beliefs and re-write life narratives. It may help in breaking patterns developed in the past as a way to cope with distress, even if it is for just a moment. It is a skill or ability that could open opportunities to continue to know one self in a process of self-actualization.
Myriam Hernandez is a Registered Psychotherapist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Myriam provides services to individual adults, couples, LGBTQ2 experiencing a wide range of difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, interpersonal relationships, grieve, identity, gender, sex and sexuality, existential and meaning making issues. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from Psychodynamic, Attachment, Object Relations, Emotion-Focused, Mindfulness, Cognitive-Behavioral and Parts theories. Myriam began her meditation practice since her teen-age years. She works with her clients in developing self-awareness skills to support the therapeutic process and outcomes.