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Why Knowing Yourself Is Painful (But Essential)

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Recently a close family friend remarked that she is such an easy-going person. Except she isn’t. There is a long track record of falling out with others, she nitpicks with shop assistants, she is often moody and most of her loved ones tiptoe on fine eggshells around her. On a positive note, she does have a wicked sense of humour and knows how to let her hair down, so perhaps it’s this occasional dabbling with her mischievous and light-hearted side that encourages her to believe she is more mellow than reality reveals. Meanwhile, her darker, more scratchy edges are hidden in the shadows, their existence snubbed.

Yet, tough as it might be for her to identify with the version of herself that rubs so much and so many up the wrong way, the ultimate benefit from facing her true self could be life-changing. Because when self-awareness takes place, your behaviours and emotions are better managed, and the opportunity for change is increased.

So why is it so difficult for most of us to be truly self-aware? Organisational psychologist and author, Dr Tasha Eurich, says that while 95% of people claim they are self-aware, only 15% demonstrably are. Okay, it’s a lot easier to admit you’re someone who manages to keep the party atmosphere flowing or can be an attentive listener when others need support. But it doesn’t feel quite so comfortable facing up to the searing reality that you are controlling, pedantic, needy, selfish, or downright annoying when you constantly interrupt the conversation every time someone else goes to speak.

There! The truth is out! And it hurts. That’s why most of us want to do everything we possibly can to bury those jarring revelations deep into the recesses of our minds. But as the ubiquitous quote (first taken from the Book of John in the Bible) claims ‘The truth will make you free’, and we could all benefit from a little mirror-holding, however much it makes us squirm.

Emotional blind spots are a protection mechanism. There can be great pain attached to behavioural patterns. If someone told you when you were growing up that no one was interested in your opinion, why wouldn’t you want to be the loudest voice in the room today? Or if life spiralled into chaos back then, it makes complete sense that you work hard to dominate every facet of your existence now. When I coach a client one-on-one at Untapped.AI, I always aim to start with a level of acceptance. I truly believe that most people, however difficult they may act at times, are fundamentally decent. And even the most abhorrent behaviour usually comes from a place of grief, insecurity, or trauma. If I can encourage my clients to understand how and why their actions or thought patterns have been influenced by previous experiences, they may be more able to see how this impacts their behaviour now.

Increased self-awareness can lead to a person objectively recognising, evaluating and understanding what is going on and how others might perceive them. Plus, there is often a deep sense of relief when a person identifies the connection between previous experiences and their current world; and great comfort can be found in knowing the ‘why’ behind what influences certain actions.

But it’s important to say, reaching this point of perception is not easy. Being able to focus on yourself, be open to the gritty truth and be honest (perhaps for the first time ever) about your behaviour is hard. It takes commitment and lots of time to make lasting change happen, and it’s often all too tempting to slip back into our old ways. That’s why the saying exists: ‘a work in progress’.

Knowledge, especially self-knowledge, is powerful. It can lead you to make better decisions for yourself, build closer relationships, deeper commitments to a partner, job or family, and ultimately, help alleviate frustration while increasing happiness. But the route to getting there will be peppered with difficult insights, excruciating flashes of reality and the all-kicking-and-screaming moments when you’d do rather anything else but take full ownership of your conduct.

Like the aforementioned friend, to live such a spectacularly blinkered life means you exist in a murky world of mistruths. How can being so ensnared with delusion ever help you build worthwhile and honest relationships with others and, more importantly, nurture your own progress? To know yourself deeply and honestly is nothing less than a revelation. And while that may be a rough ride at times, it might well set you free.

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