Self-awareness – Part 1July 20, 2022 2022-07-20 19:15
Self-awareness – Part 1
Self-awareness and the perception of the world around us
Some time ago I wrote the blog “The four steps to successful and permanent behavioral change”. If you want to read it (which I strongly recommend), spoiler alert; the first step is “Awareness”.
Finding the root of every problem
Today I feel the need to bring awareness to the fact that, in order to be able to solve any problem, we need to be aware of its real cause. And to be able to recognize the root of any problem, we have to be self-aware.
Some of you may ask “Why do I need to be self-aware in order to be able to pinpoint the root cause of a problem especially if I am not causing the problem or if it has nothing to do with me?”.
This might seem like a valid question but, in fact, it is not. This is the reason why.
Seeing the world through our own lenses
We all perceive the world through our senses (sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing). Did you know that our personality, temperament, knowledge and past experiences, among other things, can affect our perception of reality and, as a consequence, the interpretation of what we perceive?
Let me give you an example of how subjective we are when it comes to perceiving reality.
A past experience leading to a misunderstanding – A personal example
When I moved to Gabon, a country in sub-Saharan Africa, in 2011, I didn’t speak any French nor did I speak any of the other official languages there. I also knew very little about the culture or the people’s temperament. So, for the first few months, I thought that the people in the streets were always fighting. They would speak very loudly and use a lot of gestures which I perceived as aggressive.
Mind you, I come from the south of Europe, Greece, whose culture can be considered boisterous by other quieter peoples but the majority of the Gabonese people sounded even louder to me.
The more my French came along and the more I got to interact with the Gabonese, the more I realized how wrong my initial impression was. They are a wonderful, joyful, welcoming people, full of life and vitality. They are also very expressive of their emotions which is obvious in all aspects of their lives; their music, their clothes and the way they speak and celebrate.
Introspection leading to self-awareness
Why on Earth would I see their interactions with each other as aggressive in the first place?
Well, after some introspection, I came to realize that their loud conversations unconsciously took me back to my childhood when I experienced violent fights in our household. You can read about it in my blog “What will people say?”). As a result of my childhood experience, or childhood trauma if you will, I instantly jumped to the conclusion that they were arguing and that their gestures were “aggressive”.
Due to my past, or to be more exact, due to my childhood trauma, my senses kind of “tricked” me. They had me see something that was not there.
If I didn’t keep an open mind, or to be honest, if I didn’t have to interact with them, living in their country, I would have been left with the wrong impression. I would have formed an opinion about them based on my biases and not on reality.
This is what happens when we are triggered.
What are emotional triggers?
An emotional trigger is something that can provoke an intense negative emotion which might seem disproportionate to the situation at hand. The trigger can be an object, people, a situation, a behavior, a smell etc. that brings back an unpleasant memory from the past. When that happens, we are subconsciously “transported” to the past and our body and mind react as if we were reliving the unpleasant experience (trauma).
The lesson to be learnt
So, whenever I am in a situation that makes me feel uncomfortable, I always try to look within and find out whether I am in the past or in the present. If I realize I’m in the past, I try to get back to the present by coming into my body and reassure myself that there is no danger. If the danger is real, I make sure that I do everything within my power to keep myself safe. I might speak up, remove myself from the situation etc.
To be continued…