Inside/Out Self-awareness

If self-awareness is a journey, insights are the “aha” moments along the way. They’re the fuel powering the souped-up sports car on the highway of self-awareness: with them, we can step on the gas pedal; without them, we’re stranded on the side of the road.

Eurich, Tasha. Insight . Crown. Kindle Edition.

According to Tasha Eurich, we learn from “alarm clock” events, situations that challenge us with new roles, rules, losses, trauma, as well as small mundane insights. These, “aha” moments or “alarm clock” events are life opportunities to learn balancing inside and outside self-awareness.

Doesn’t sound pleasant at all! Who likes alarm clocks??

Covid-19 is certainly an alarm clock event, a window of time that confuses our perspective on ourselves. We infect each other, not only with viruses but with joy and sadness too.

What does this alarm clock wake me up to? That I am connected to my neighbors more intimately than I ever imagined, I am vulnerable yet capable, isolated yet not alone, that I decide who I am every moment, with every decision to go for a walk, wear a mask or not, cook at home, order out, buy meat, read a book or binge watch cooking shows. This is partly why I am exhausted. Self-awareness, constant balanced decision making is tiresome. Awareness of the framed window of existence that I am is exhausting. This alarm clock event interrupts false comforts of regularity and certainty. I don’t know the “new” pattern. None of us know.

Because I don’t know, I have to look outside myself. Reach out to you, for example, reading this right now, passing by my virtual window, even though you don’t know. Solidarity in loss.

If we were are all windows. How easy it would be to just close the shutters! How horrible it would be to miss out on the view, sunshine, moonlight, noise, breeze, reflection, and connection?

I know this self-awareness/social-awareness is a luxury.

I don’t know what I’m learning right now, sitting here social distancing on a beautiful sunny Sunday, but somehow I feel that I’m learning something important. I imagine you are too.

May learn we about ourselves together as the alarm clock buzzes,


Guiding self-awareness

Can self-awareness be taught? Yes and no. I prefer the idea that self-awareness can be guided, safe guarded. As someone guiding efforts of increased self-awareness and self-actualization, I see my role as holding space and sometimes modeling, similar to teaching a yoga class. The sequence I call out is not the experience. Parallel to every call to move into a pose is a reminder to stay within one’s own body and breath. Therapy and counseling is no different. Leading someone to an emotional or physical point that hurts, stretches, aches requires careful awareness in order to avoid additional pain and injury. There is a balance between guiding one to their edge and protecting their choice to grow, move, change, ache, beyond hurt.

Therapists are always weighing the balance between forming a trusting alliance and getting to the real work so the patient doesn’t have to continue suffering. From the outset, we move both slowly and quickly, slowing the content down, speeding up the relationship, planting seeds strategically along the way. As in nature, if you plant the seeds too early, they won’t sprout. If you plant too late, they might make progress, but you’ve missed the most fertile ground. If you plant at just the right time, though, they’ll soak up the nutrients and grow. Our work is an intricate dance between support and confrontation.

Gottlieb, Lori. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed . HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

This dance requires emotional muscle memory and compassion that comes from having attempted personal variations on the same dance of confronting life’s challenges. There is personal investment for both therapist/social worker and client. It is a much deeper conversation beyond assessment and diagnosis that demands full participation by both. The creation of meaning demands this attention and presence. I cannot be present in your life, if I am not present in my own. Therapist and patient, Lori Gottlieb describes this struggle to move beyond the easy and removed task of giving advice towards self-actualization as a person and as a therapist.

… in the sense that therapy is a profession you learn by doing—not just the work of being a therapist, but also the work of being a patient. It’s a dual apprenticeship, which is why there’s a saying that therapists can take their patients only as far as they’ve gone in their own inner lives. (There’s much debate about this idea—like my colleagues, I’ve seen patients reach heights I can only aspire to. But still, it’s no surprise that as I heal inside, I’m also becoming more adept at healing others.)

Gottlieb, Lori. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed . HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

Healing must be collective. Learning how to balance self-aware ease in myself as a precondition to guide others is a formidable task. Deep breaths and try again.

May we heal from life together,


Catch a glimpse of yourself in the space around you
Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Production