Awareness

Seven Steps for Getting to Know Yourself

By Suzanne E. Harrill

Are you aware it is important to know your true self, that is, as opposed to how you have been conditioned by society, parents, the roles and mores of the time when you grew up? Have you been confused about how to actually do this? Have your good intentions not given you the answers you feel you need?

There are some general rules of thumb that have helped me know myself. Before I started this journey of self-discovery, I lived my life thinking I was doing great with no real problems. I did have an unfulfilled part of me that I did not like to pay attention to; so I stuck my head in the sand most of the time ignoring this part of myself. Basically I stayed busy in my various roles as a mother, wife, part-time student, and neighbor. I lived in suburbia then and we had several couples with young children as neighbors.

We socialized a lot, watched each otherís children, played tennis, and studied. However, the unfulfilled, insecure part of me kept roaring its head until it was so intense I had to pay attention to it. At first I was aware that I was simply unhappy and did not know why. I began admitting to myself that I did not like many things in my life. I did not know what I liked; only what I disliked. The basics in my life bothered me, from the colors I used in decorating my house to the topics discussed in conversations with friends. Our conversations were boring to me. I was hungry for something deeper. Over time I figured out that it was myself that I did not like and did not know and that my outer world was simply a reflection of this. I would like to pass along several things I have learned that might be helpful to you if you are on your inner journey.

What I will share with you is simple and it is very possible to put into practice in your life; yet you may have some resistance to what I will suggest. Why is this so? There is a protective mechanism within our body-mind system that keeps the status quo going. Any growing and changing causes upsets at first and our basic nature is to stay comfortable and to resist change. This type of comfort is in maintaining what is familiar to us.

We do not want to feel out of balance or out of control, even if the balance and control are very dysfunctional. Instead we fight for stability, security, and predictability at almost any cost; that is, until we determine that a new way of living is truly in our best interest. Because it is difficult to initiate change on our own, many of us begin this path of self-discovery after being traumatized by such things as a divorce, death of a loved one, accident, loss of a job, or a life-threatening or mental illness in self or family member. Some of us have to be pushed out of our comfort zone and given wake-up calls to change. When in crisis, we are ripe for new ideas outside of our frame-of-reference.

Take as much time as you need to prove to yourself that what I have to say is true for you. It is unwise to accept anyoneís truth too quickly. Some of you need to ponder the ideas for a while. Sometimes your inner knowing gives you the "okay" in a gut-level feeling or you feel a hunch that the information is right for you. I do share what has and continues to work for me in becoming my own best authority on myself and to be responsible for my own life and the choices I make.

Here are the seven steps. I describe this self-awareness process as if there are seven steps; however, in actuality they overlap and can be taken out of sequence.

1.  Spend quality time with yourself each day.

Step one is to spend quality time with yourself each day. Now if you happen to have young children and a full-time job you may say, "Impossible!" Then double up on your time as I have done in each of these situations in my life. Listen to a self-help tape on the way to work. In the early morning, as you stare into space drinking your coffee, consider pondering the many thoughts in this book and others and visualize them in your life. Now if you happen to live alone, you might say, "But I spend too much time with myself, I donít need more." I remind you that it is quality inner time not the number of hours you are alone. This time alone is specifically to raise your consciousness, to heal and to integrate all past experiencesóto know your true self.

If you find yourself resistant, you might try lying in bed when the alarm goes off each morning and pondering your day and your needs for a couple minutes. You might ask yourself a question; such as, "Do I need more activity and stimulation in my life or am I doing too much and need to slow down? With whom do I need to speak up and express myself? What situations am I angry about and need to let go of and forgive? What positive risks do I need to take today to have more intimacy, be more authentic, or have more integrity with myself?"

2.  Journal write for 20 minutes a day about your problems.

Step two is to buy a notebook to begin keeping a journalónot a diary, a journal. What is the difference? A diary reports events and usually makes sense if another were going to read it. A journal, on the other hand, is about your emotional reactions to people and events, insights you have in understanding yourself, lists of such things as your needs, wants, values, and goals. You write about your dreams, both daydreams and dreams during sleep, expressing your feelings and allowing your intuition free range to explore the meaning for you. A journal is a good place to record your guiding beliefs and patterns of behavior that keep you stuck and your new updated ones.

It might include letters that are not mailed to people who have hurt you, even if it happened long ago. Time stops emotionally when you have an emotional trauma and a part of you stays stuck in that time. By writing out your angry, hurt, and sad feelings it helps move those frozen emotional parts of you, bringing the light of understanding with new clarity and interpretations from your aware, adult self, and integrating these experiences. For example, if you have a fight with a family member and use your journal to sort out your feelings and to make sense out of your reactions, you may use your journal to write that person a letter. Once you begin writing and expressing yourself, you discover it reminds you of a similar pattern with one of your parents or it may repeat some of your parentsí patterns of thinking, behaving, or relating with each other. Journal writing can help make you aware of hidden beliefs and patterns affecting you at the unconscious level. Making them visible allows you to deal with them and heal them.

Journals are not for others to read and do not make sense to anyone else. In fact, they are personal and need to be kept out of reach of the curious in your household. If you feel your privacy will not be honored, then mail what you write to a friend, therapist, or understanding family member. I have worked with a few people who find writing leaves them too open and vulnerable, so they write down insights and process their experiences and then destroy what they have written to avoid any risk of being hurt by another invading their privacy. Others mail them to a friend or a therapist.

Write in your journal a minimum of 20 or 30 minutes a day. This may sound like a big commitment to those of you who have never experienced the healing effects of journal writing. Try it for a month or two before you judge this process. Forget any memories of school and needing to write in complete sentences, neatly, or with correct spelling. Just express yourself. Over time you will get the feel of it. If you walk or exercise your physical body daily it becomes a habit. So does expressing yourself in your journal. It is especially helpful to write during times of rapid growth and healing, high stress, holidays, anniversaries of painful events, or when irritated with someone at work or a family member. One tip that helps motivate me is to write with different colored ink pens to match my mood. It is amazing how easy it is to write some of my issues in purple, while others respond to green or orange. Try it.

Journal writing is a process. One day of writing usually does not tell you as much as does the richness of a series of writings over time. This helps you see bigger patterns, deeper themes, and many more details.

3. Find helpers, teachers, counselors, mentors, to show you the way.

Step three is to find a group, sponsor, teacher, or counselor to help you. Many of us were conditioned to keep a stiff upper lip, to be self-sufficient, and to not look outside ourselves when we have a problem. Additionally, if our nature is to be a perfectionist who is hard on her/himself and to feel ashamed to admit to another there are problems, then we are hindering our healing. It speeds up the process of healing and living from greater awareness when you decide to find helpers. It was a relief to me when I could allow myself to receive emotional support, which required letting go of control and admitting I needed help. Aware mentors, teachers, and therapists help support you as you go through the unstable times of shifting levels of awareness. Besides professionals, there are helpful people who have worked on themselves in a specific area like low self-esteem, codependence, or alcoholism within groups such as a 12-step recovery group. People who have similar issues, many times, are the best teachers and mentors. It can be confusing and difficult to improve your life, even when you choose it, so guidance and support are important. When you begin changing, often you do not have the encouragement and support of family members, so outside support is very important.

It is like living in no (wo)manís land when you expand your world to include new ideas and concepts and become aware. One foot is in the new and one in the old; it feels unstable and difficult to maintain our new awareness at times. Until we stabilize again, we need others to help us, to show us the way, to comfort us, and give us hope when we stumble and fall. You can find a self-help group through the local mental health association in your community, drug and alcohol abuse centers, and in most churches and temples. Use your yellow pages if you do not have a friend to make a referral to a counselor or therapist. It is becoming common for communities to have leisure learning classes on self-help topics, such as self-esteem and communication. This is a good way to find teachers.

4. Find a friend on the self-discovery path.

Step four is to find a friend. This may be a new friend or an old friend who has already begun the journey of self-awareness and inner healing. We need support, lots of support, when we are looking at our past experiences and begin changing patterns, beliefs, and behaviors. Peers at about the same stage of self-discovery can help each other by sharing their experiences. Remember to give equal listening time to each other. Sometimes in the earlier stages of our healing we have a strong need to process our feelings, thoughts, and experiences with a kind ear, especially if self-expression is new. You may need several friends. Potential new friends can be found by joining a self-help, 12-step, therapy group, or by taking self-awareness classes through avenues in your community's mental health associations, hospitals, lectures at libraries and bookstores, or leisure learning classes.

5. Step five is to read and listen to tapes.

To learn more about your issues, relationships, spiritual growth, and healing it is helpful to listen to tapes and read books from wise teachers. We live in a fantastic period of time because we can listen to self-help classes, workshops, and lectures that we would not or cannot attend in person. We can find teachers and helpers who have dealt with almost any problem or life issue who have written books for us. We are no longer isolated from information to improve our lives, even if we live in a rural place or distant country. One of the best investments is to buy a set of headphones for listening to self-help tapes while you are exercising, walking, driving, or cleaning house. Those of you proficient on the internet have unlimited information available to help you grow.

6. Step six is to take positive risks.

Once you have a better understanding of yourself through all your diligent work reading and gathering information, talking about your problems with others, expressing yourself in your journal, writing about your insights, goals, dreams, values, etc., it is time to act on your new awareness. You cannot stay in the safe cocoon of information-gathering forever; you need to put into practice the ideas you have been learning to make them work for you. As you make new choices you will learn what works for you and what does not. It is now necessary to take risks to move forward.

How do you know if you are ready to take risks? One sign is that you are buying books faster than you can read them. Another is noticing that the same thing is being said in every book you are reading. Other signs are that you have been in therapy or in a recovery or support group for a good while and itís getting a little boring, or you are jealous of your friends who seem to be getting what you want faster than you are. You can probably add a few to this list yourself. These are indictors that it is time to actualize your new level of awareness.

7. Step seven is to enjoy.

There is a tendency to feel a little guilty when your life starts improving. You actually are creating your life consciously and getting results that you like. Others may say things like, "Boy, are you ever lucky, why doesnít that ever happen to me?" What you have been doing is a secret to most people, so you really canít explain that it was not luck or chance that makes your life different. People that want what you have without doing the work do not need to stop you from enjoying what you have achieved. Remember to spend time with those who love and support your new growth.

 

Know that it is up to you to take charge of your life in order to discover your true self and actualize your potential. Exercise your free-will choice by practicing these seven steps to get to know yourself. Remember the future is not written yet, and that you are the one creating your own life.

 

(From unpublished manuscript, Becoming the Person
You Always Wanted to Marry
by Suzanne E. Harrill)

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