Would you like to grow and transform? Self-awareness is key.
When I run workshops and retreats, this is the most popular question students ask me: “Which activity should I focus on to enhance my personal transformation?” It makes sense; we all have a natural tendency to grow, transform, and live life as fully as we can. It is an internal drive to experience deeper fulfillment. At the same time, many of us are very busy, and we wish to maximize the impact of any transformation-supporting activities. So the question is important. And my answer? Simple, it’s the good old “Get to know yourself.”
Why is Self-Knowledge So Important?
Before we go into the “How” of getting to know yourself, let’s understand the “Why.” Most of us are unaware of crucial pieces of our own personal “self”. Those are pieces we buried at the darkest corner of our consciousness (Jung called it “shadow”), and we are not consciously aware of their impact—and yet they impact us profoundly. We talk to people, make decisions, engage with life, choose work, and perform any other human interaction, under the influence of those deeply buried pieces of ourselves.
And we do it all unconsciously—so that when I contemplate a new professional path and decide not to go for it I might explain it rationally with “I don’t have the required level of experience/education” while the truth is that the unconscious piece from within me was the actual decision-maker here, by sending the internal message of “I am not good enough to do this” or “I am not worthy of this opportunity” (both of which are popular unconscious internal messages)—and if I don’t do the workaround self-awareness, I would probably insist that it is about the rational explanation, because the unconscious internal message is whispered so quietly within me, that I won’t hear it consciously. I would make choices according to it, but I won’t hear it. This “lack of self-worth” deeply buried idea about myself is just an example, there are numerous potential judgments, ideas, perceptions, assumptions, and feelings that I could be carrying in my own personal shadow.
Self-Knowledge: Moving from Shadow Into Light
Through the process of increasing self-awareness, and gaining greater self-knowledge, those pieces gradually shift from darkness into the light, from the unconscious into the conscious. They stop hiding in the shadow, and they become integrated into the “self” that you can see and recognize. Frequently, it is not a fast process (it could take a long time, depending on how deep in your shadow is the piece sitting), and it might even be a painful process.
The pain is due to the fact that there might be a reason behind the piece’s location in shadow of your psyche—it might be a threatening dimension of yourself, or a scary one, or one that is linked with some trauma or difficult past events—and you have pushed it into the unconscious so that you won’t have to “meet” it as part of conscious awareness of yourself. If there is some link to traumatic events in your life, then the transition from shadow into light has to be done gradually, with caution, and deep respect to your personal tolerance—if it feels too much to engage with, take a step back and re-connect with this piece, as much as you could comfortably can, at a later time. And yet, such engagement is crucial if you wish to gain the freedom from unconscious dimensions of yourself impacting your life choices and interactions.