Most people don’t remember being born. After nine months of literally being an extension of another person, self-awareness really isn’t necessary. Our obliviousness is kind of adorable as we flail about and involuntarily shit on ourselves while other people clean up the mess.
It’s a pretty sweet deal if you think about it. And I completely understand the desire to maintain this level of ignorance. However, it’s clear that this is not a strategy for success in life.
I believe that self-discovery and personal responsibility are not only the purpose of our existence but moral imperatives to stop shitting on everything and expecting others to clean it up.
How It All Begins
When we turn two, we learn the word no. This simple two-letter word is our first verbal boundary, which emerges as a precursor to self-awareness. Although we won’t say “I” for another year, no is the very first declaration that we are different than others. No paves the way for I to show up.
When we eventually discover I, we immediately notice that it sits at the center of the known universe. Like spokes to the center of a wheel, all worldly experiences meet us at the I. This is why we’re so self-centered at this stage of our development. It’s completely natural.
Have you ever seen young children playing together, ruthlessly snatching toys and hitting each other like cute, little, bite-sized sociopaths? It’s fucking disturbing. That’s a healthy adult’s cue to intervene and demonstrate empathy for the victim of playground tyranny. “Sharing is caring” and all that.
If there are no healthy adults nearby, an alleged caregiver may approach the child, snatch the toy back and yell, “Don’t snatch things! What’s wrong with you?” At this point, the child rightfully thinks, “What you just said makes no sense, but you’re kinda scary, and my survival depends on you, so I’m gonna go along with your insanity.”
Welcome to toxic shame and self-abandonment.
Also, notice that this child doesn’t learn anything about empathy, sharing, or love — just that there’s something wrong with them.
Children that are neglected or mistreated by immature adults often get emotionally stuck at whatever age the parents failed them. Humans require nurturing, mirroring, and validation from emotionally attuned caregivers to mature out of an infantile view of the world.
Why Emotional Knuckle-Draggers Are Destroying The Planet
Earth is chock-full of wounded children and emotional six-year-olds masquerading as grown folk. Their fancy cars, jobs, and outward successes flaunt functionality and prevent questioning their beliefs or revisiting early painful experiences.
If you were raised by people who thought they were doing a swell job at parenting but were actually ruining your life, there’s a good chance you’re unwittingly perpetuating that same brand of ignorant destruction on the rest of humanity.
You can get out of a shitty childhood without much effort, but getting the shitty childhood out of you takes work.
And this is particularly challenging because, as Dr. Jonice Webb writes in Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, “[People] would need to have emotional awareness to realize they don’t have emotional awareness.”
Therefore, it would seem that self-awareness is something that needs to be cultivated by everyone — especially people who think they already have it.
I truly believe that sloppy parenting, adverse childhood experiences, and the subsequent denial of their existence account for all the selfish, unsympathetic, destructive behavior we see today. Racism, greed, abuse, and dishonesty all point to unhealed wounds, unconscious living, and a gross lack of personal accountability.
Saving The World Through Self-Awareness
It takes humility to cultivate self-awareness. And humility, as it turns out, is the virtue one needs in order to acquire any other virtue. It’s hard to be humble and be an asshole at the same time. When you know your doo-doo stinks just as bad as everyone else’s, you’re less likely to drop a steamer in someone’s living room thinking you can get away with it.
So a commitment to self-discovery throws open the door to all forms of growth and improvement. It helps prevent us from unintentionally transmitting our pain to those around us. It’s the jumping-off point for healing the most neglected parts of ourselves that have been screaming for attention through compulsively destructive habits. Self-awareness is the place from which we can operate without stepping on people’s toes, manufacturing misery, and blaming everyone else for our problems (see Healthy Starts With “Heal”).
Sounds like a good idea to me.
How To Get Woke
There’s an unlimited amount of healing resources at your fingertips these days. There are tons of coaches, therapists, support groups, workshops, books, podcasts, social media accounts, and websites wholly devoted to self-knowledge, healing, and growth.
Start anywhere. It doesn’t even matter where. Just do it. Today.
Gandhi said we must be the change we wish to see in the world. I think what he meant was you can’t clean up the world’s shit until you wipe your own ass.
If you wanna be an activist, a leader, an influencer, a parent, or just someone who makes a difference, please, for the love of God and small children, do some work on yourself.
It’s terrifying, but it’s the most important work you’ll ever do.
7 thoughts on “The Journey of Self-Awareness”
I really enjoyed “The Journey of Self-Awareness.” For the longest of time I was not self aware, I was in constant movement of making other people’s life more fruitful than mines, because for I thought that they were more important than myself. I didn’t like or love myself so there definitely wasn’t any self awareness other than I didn’t matter (that is what I knew for sure). I lived outwardly for a long time, meaning I thought prize material possessions made me who I was, but I was still in pain and I always thought something was wrong with me. It wasn’t until I decided to put my fear to the side and seek help (professionally) and stop using people and things to give me a temporary fix. I was neglected as a child but my Moms story is different and that’s ok because my growth today is no longer about my parent(s). I’m doing for myself what my Mom and Dad could not do for themselves. I Love them but I no longer hold them or myself hostage. I know today that fixing others does not repair the brokenness in my life.
Thanks for sharing, Pamie! The stigma around getting help keeps so many people sick for no good reason. I love “doing for myself what my Mom and Dad could not do for themselves.” Reparenting is the most important thing for all of us. Thank you for being brave and doing this work. It’s the only way to break the generational cycle of dysfunction. And thanks for reading!
Thank You Adam. I’m really serious about doing this work.
As I was reading I could see little snapshots of my life, healthy and unhealthy moments of childhood. I could see my experience as a child and then as a mother, and how I perpetuated unhealthy and healthy. It’s all a blur until I slow the film down to snapshots. These tiny moments, which can go either way, define our parenting style. I had good moments, and bad.
This is my self awareness at work. Just reading your work slows me down to see moments, not just the narrative I need to cling to in order to live with my guilt of my failings. Humility is the comforter of self awareness.
Yes! Self-awareness 🙌🏼 Good job, Sash. I love what you said about slowing down the narrative to see the moments. That’s powerful. Thanks for sharing ❤️
I love ‘slowing down the narrative to see the moments,’ too. I distinctly remember moving in slow motion the first time I cracked my kid on the ass, seeing myself as I moved in slo-mo, and thinking ‘there’s no way this can be right.’ Spanking or hitting isn’t the answer. Besides, what do you do when your kid hits someone they shouldn’t? Hit them while sternly saying, ‘no hitting!’? What’s wrong with this picture? Doing something to grow and change is the most important job you’ll ever have, and not only won’t you do it perfectly, you’ll stop making some of those old mistakes and start making entirely new ones. It takes a while to get ok with just evolving and being part of the process. But slowing down the narrative to see the moments was absolutely the beginning for me. Thank you, Adam, for knowing the human condition. You grant me Grace I didn’t know I deserved. I love you.