What Is Self Awareness, And Why Should I Care? #1
What is self awareness, anyway? Lots of people talk about it, but why should anyone give a hoot about it?
Consciousness and awareness of the wider self are fundamental to /a-midlife-transition and Jungian analysis.
Limitations of the Ego
Conscious awareness seems all inclusive, but is really fairly limited. What psychology calls the ego, the part of ourselves that is consciously aware, the “I”, has being shown by contemporary neuroscience research to be but a small part of our psychic activity.
Contemporary technologies show us that the lion’s share of activity in the brain remains below, rather than above, the threshold of consciousness. The unconscious mind takes in a great deal of reality that eludes consciousness, and processing it in ways that consciousness can barely imagine, at speeds that leave consciousness in the dust!
To be truly self aware means to come to the greatest-possible understanding of these hitherto undiscovered aspects of the self, to respect them, and take them into account as fundamental to who we are. Truly mature adulthood involves permanent and ongoing dialogue with the unconscious mind, in openness, humility and continually expanding self acceptance.
Long before the astounding discoveries of contemporary neuroscience, /a-midlife-transitions realized the great vastness and vital importance of the unconscious mind. They realized that, very often, encounter with the unconscious mind was a fundamental source of meaning and healing.
Awareness of the Unconscious
What actually is the unconscious? Simply put, it’s everything in our psychic life of which the conscious mind is unaware. Yet, that does little justice to the huge variety of different things happening in the unconscious mind.
The personal unconscious certainly contains everything that we have forgotten or repressed. But it also involves a huge range of things pertaining to bodily awareness, and things we are subliminally aware of in the external world.
Yet much of the unconscious is not strictly personal. Evolutionary psychology and neuroscience have both revealed innate patterns of response, built into the human mind that function over and above learning and human experience. We share these with all other humans. There are various names for this aspect of who we are; Jungians refer to them as the collective unconscious.
To be truly self-aware is to be actively aware of, and related to, these aspects of our unconscious mind.
The Mechanics of Awareness
So, again, why should I care about any of this? What is self awareness, and why does it matter?
Let’s look at a typical key example of our unconscious functioning.
Consider human anger. Anger is a part of the functioning of all vertibrates. And, often, one of the early things encountered in case studies is a person’s anger. Yet anger can be repressed, often so much so that a person is even completely unaware that he or she has it. Yet anger is a fundamental part of our human make up, as psychiatric researcher Erik Goodwyn tells us:
Survival tendencies… have required that humans have an innate capacity for violence and aggression in order to protect or garner resources. Neuroscience has shown that frustration of goal-directed behaviour triggers [rage].
He goes on to outline the various different ways in which men and women express rage and engage in competition for scarce resources. He points out specific innate patterns of behaviour that /a-midlife-transition might call archetypal.
It’s possible for humans to be unaware that this whole dimension of anger is in them, and that, far from being an indulgence in sinful behaviour, is unavoidable and innate. If we live with a lack of connection to this aggressive reality, and how it can plays out, we run some pretty big risks:
Often, self-awareness is a matter of very great practical importance.
Our consciousness is limited, but it is a matter of very precious importance. In my next post, we’ll look more at self-awareness, how it’s essential on our life journey, and how /a-midlife-transition can enhance it.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst