Self-Awareness and Its Shadow
High levels of awareness can catalyze growth, or contribute to mental disorders. How do you find the balance?
Self-awareness is mostly considered a positive trait. More awareness equals more emotional intelligence, more clarity on life’s goals and values, more insight into behaviors or traits that limit potential, more understanding of how words and actions affect others.
But can you have too much self-awareness? Is it ever optimal to be less self-aware?
These are questions I’ve asked myself when cultivating awareness, and noticing its shadow, and its light. For the most part, self-awareness has served me well. But there’s a detrimental aspect of high self-awareness that can exacerbate traits such as anxiety or paranoia, or fortify the ego.
Psychology has a number of definitions that categorize self-awareness and its nuances. Self-consciousness is unpleasant but tolerable, a universal sense of insecurity that surfaces in certain situations. Hyperreflexivity, defined as “ excessive self-preoccupation usually connected with more or less severe self-alienation,” is intrusive and extreme, and associated with a number of mental disorders.
In addition, interoception, the awareness of bodily processes, is undergoing significant research due to its role in well-being. Theories are developing around the relationship between bodily signals and emotions. High interoception and poor interpretation of signals are linked to anxiety. Low interception, or “feeling nothing,” is linked to depression.
This makes me think of the so-called quietest place on Earth, an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, famous for the fact that people can’t stay longer than 45 minutes. In a chamber of extreme silence, bodily processes, such as the repetitive thud of the heart, or oxygen entering the lungs, are amplified, driving people to run for the exit.
Awareness, then, is a carrier of information. What you do with that information — how you interpret it — makes all the difference.
Mindfulness and Acceptance
To be mindful is to be aware; not only of the self, but of your environment and…