The Problem with Self-Awareness

20120417-141734.jpgKnow Thyself.

Wise words carved into the temple at Delphi. Yet, here we are centuries later still in the dark about who we are. As a society, we live in serious denial. We self-medicate with drugs and distraction, and I don’t mean just illegal drugs. Caffeine and alcohol are both highly addictive drugs used for escape or for “coping.” Television and video games and even (or especially) the internet provide endless distraction, keeping us in the dark. Or, rather, allowing us to keep our fears and issues in the dark while we focus our minds on something else.

But what happens when you do become self-aware? When you find the courage to face your own fears and demons? When you face the sometimes dark reality of your issues and begin to seriously work on them?

You feel alone because so few people actually do that.

Then, as I’ve learned through personal experience, you become an easy blame target for those so deep in denial they think they are “normal.”

Funny word, normal.

With modern psychology, just about everything has been pathologized.

If you don’t have a diagnosis of your very own, it’s likely because you’ve never been to a psychiatrist or therapist to get one or (if you have been, it’s) because you’ve buried your issues so deep they haven’t overtly affected your life. Well, of course they have affected your life, but you have been unable to admit that, always blaming the other person or the world or your job. Even worse, you haven’t noticed they’ve affected your life because all you have ever known is dysfunction.

If all you know is dysfunction, would that be considered “normal”?
If mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are diagnosed (notice I did not say present) in over 60% of the population, is that now “normal”?

New red flag for me: when someone says that they’re lucky because they’re perfectly “normal,” i.e. have escaped any emotional or mental issues.

Through my experience, these people are more dangerous and drama-producing than those who admit to being bipolar, having a panic or personality disorder, or suffering from acute anxiety or depression.


Because the more you get to know these “normal” people, the more symptoms of one or more disorders emerge. The difference: one person owns their issues and are actively working on improving them, themselves, and their relationships, and the other person hides their issues in the dark.

Picture emotional baggage. We start accumulating it around two years old. Think of a person who is open about struggling with depression and anxiety. Now picture them with several large bags at their feet. With them come these issues. They may look sad or they might be smiling. Life always contains ups and downs, so it would depend on when you catch them. The lit room behind them is empty.

Now picture the person who claims to have no baggage. Picture them standing beneath a spotlight with no baggage around them. They’re smiling and proud. You don’t see the room behind them because it’s in the dark. The light is on the face they show the world. But if one were to turn on the light to the room, one would find the entire room filled with piles of teetering boxes. Rotting corpses falling out of the over-filled closet at the back of the room. Windows blacked out so as not to let in any light, because out there is reality, and they must avoid that at all costs.

There is the difference between those who are self-aware and those who aren’t.

In my recent relationship, he said that he was lucky to have escaped any mental disorder. He also said he was “about as drama free as they come” on his OKCupid profile as well as saying how seriously he took responsibility, so he avoided it at all costs. Written in a charming way, but he is quite serious about not taking any responsibility. For anything.

Looking back, it’s rather comical to know he thinks of himself as “drama-free.”

As that wonderful picture that circulates around Facebook and the internet shows, those who claim to be drama-free or intolerant of drama are usually the ones causing most of it.


A little misunderstanding was turned into a week-long painfest because he refused to face any type of conflict.

Um. Hello. Relationship.

Conflicts happen.

But in running from it, he exacerbated the entire thing, triggered and amplified both our fears, and ultimately caused the ending of the relationship. Over a tiny mistake. Ridiculous, really. Painfully absurd.

But, imagine that, I digress.

Throughout the relationship, as previously mentioned, I took on more anxiety because he kept me believing that I was too sensitive (*cough* gaslighting *cough*) and brought “too much anxiety into the relationship,” because it certainly wasn’t him causing the fear. No sir. No way. No how. It was all me. All the time.

Why was it so easy for him to blame it all on me? Why was I so ready to accept said blame?

Because I was upfront about my struggle with anxiety from the beginning. It was out in the open. It was there to be easily pointed at, blamed. So anything that came up was due to my “illness.” Anything that was short of perfectly and genuinely happy 100% of the time was my fault. My problem. Me causing stress in his happy, carefree, irresponsible life.

But we don’t strive for self-improvement for others; we strive for self-improvement for ourselves. When we know ourselves, we can begin to better ourselves. We can cause less pain through our growing consciousness.

As Eckhart Tolle says, Only someone who’s unconscious will use and manipulate another person, but then only an unconscious person can be used and manipulated.

As well as we thing we know ourselves, there is always another layer to examine. Although countless friends, readers, counselors, and other professionals have said how impressed they am with my level of self-awareness, honesty, and integrity. They speak to how rare and precious that is…

Yet, I allowed another abuser in very deep and didn’t even recognize the abuse as such. My “allowing” such a person in my life doesn’t make that person any less an abuser, a person who does others serious damage because of his inability and/or unwillingness to face his own fears and pain, thereby perpetuating the damage onto others. No. He is still a predator.

But by “allowing” the abuser in and by not recognizing his behavior as abuse until it was way too late, it shines a very big spotlight on my own level of self-awareness. Another layer uncovered. I learned something new about myself through the pain, which is unfortunately life’s greatest teacher at times.

My level of consciousness is wanting if I can still be used and manipulated. My filters aren’t tight enough. My armor not impenetrable enough.

So how does one not lose the capacity to love and trust? How does one keep the deep sense of compassion and empathy for other human beings? How does one continue to open one’s heart after being shattered time and again?

How does one remain open and honest? How does one keep their integrity? How does one face themselves and their growing self-awareness when it continues to reveal more pain?

How does one continue…and learn to protect themselves against those abusers flinging the proverbial arrows? Dropping the bombs? Without building impenetrable walls that keep out the pain but also keep out hope and love?

How does one build filters and not fortresses?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Please share what has worked or hasn’t worked for you. In the mean time, I will experiment with that delicate balance, but despite the level of spiritual and emotional betrayal by the auctioneer, I refuse to let it harden me to the point where I no longer love. The love comes from me, first. The joy I felt with him came from me. He didn’t put it there.

The love is within me.
The joy is within me.
The ecstasy and bliss are within me.

Although there is pain and fear and insecurities inside me, too. I face them head on. I turn into the waves. I dive into them, head on. I’m not afraid, for I know that in facing those things they pass much faster than by running from them.

I face it all. I embrace it all. For all of it. The joy and the sorrow. The bliss and the agony. It is all beautiful. It is all life and love. It is all experience that makes us human.

By burying it and running from it, you hurt yourself and everyone who comes into contact with you.

Courage. Find it.

Then, let’s talk.


~ by omgrey on April 18, 2012.

34 Responses to “The Problem with Self-Awareness”

  1. I certainly understand how you can *take on* the responsibility when you are the one doing the work. I’m constantly evaluating myself, making change, adjusting and in many relationships have had my partners exploit my admissions and put the *blame* all on me. I’ve not found a way yet to prevent that from happening but I am a lot more honest with those in my life when I find them doing it. If they can’t acknowledge their part in it, then I don’t waste my time anymore. And that’s something I can find fairly early on in any relationship. *Hugs*, self discovery and enlightenment is never easy but I think in the end it’s completely worth it.

    • Good for you for being honest with those in your life when you notice it. Yes, I will be now, too, now that I know that’s what’s happening. And, agreed, if they can’t take responsibility for their part in it, then I won’t waste a second of my time or love on them. No doubt. It is something we can see early on when we know to look for it.

      Self-discovery and enlightenment are so very worth it. I wish you both with huge helpings of peace, joy, and love on top!

  2. Focus your attention on attracting what you want and deserve and less so on what you need to protect yourself from…or go ahead and build those walls but we both know you will only be tearing them down again. Be gentle with yourself and set aside self-judgment. It doesn’t serve you.

    • Sound advice, Robin! I’m certainly working on that as well, reaffirming self-worth.

      Nope. I won’t be building any walls because you’re absolutely right, I would just tear them down again.

  3. You’ve spelled out a lot of the thoughts and issues I’ve pondered–go figure.

    The current conclusion I’ve decided on is that I don’t have a good comprehension of what boundaries are and how to set them, for people in my life and for myself. A very binary view on relationships: when I open myself to someone, I want to embrace them whole-heartedly, not with filters. Even after all the shit, I don’t have a good understanding of why filters or boundaries are needed. Idealism, to a degree; innocence to a degree; personal flaw in some way, too, I’m sure.

    What’s worked? Deciding I’m going to go ahead and not be permanently scarred. I won’t condemn future people with the scars caused by others in the past. Everyone has a clean slate, until they act or do negative things.

    Does that make sense?

    • It does make sense, and it sounds very familiar. I’m with you on the boundaries issue, and it’s something I’m actively learning about now, as well as detachment. Learning to love without attachment, because everything comes and goes. Ebbs and flows. I’m not sure about the detachment thing yet, but I do know that at 42, I’m feeling very, very tired.

      I am permanently scarred, and there is no way around that. But scar tissue can be protective. I don’t condemn future people with them, and I also give them a clean slate. Still, I am shifting from offering complete trust up front to having each new person earn that trust. Earn the benefit of the doubt before I just freely give it.

      When I open myself up to relationships, I want to embrace them fully as well. But I find that I’m opening up, at least in some ways, much more slowly and cautiously. It’s a fine line.

      • If you find the magic bullet, let me know! I often wonder if my brain is wired completely wrong regarding boundaries and detachment. I understand them on an objective level but I don’t know how to apply them. Like, I know the definition of the word but I couldn’t describe it in my own words to another person. Detachment is a big one; it goes against the fiber of my… being, for lack of a better word.

        Oh, I’m definitely scarred too. After three years, I still haven’t come to grips with the shit that happened. Slow progress, which I tell myself is better than *no* progress. In 2012, it’s dawned on me that the scars are deeper than I allow myself to realize. No new relationships; hell, almost no new friendships since my “event.” Keeping people at arm’s length, it seems.

        I’m 42 as well and totally understand that worn out, tired feeling. Wishing for that chance to metaphorically catch your breath and shore up the foundations of your person, but it never seems to happen…

      • I’m with you there. Against the fiber of my being. But I think it might be the way I’m defining it. Something has to change if I’m ever going to write again, ever going to get my life back on track. That’s what I do know. Something has to change.

        It’s recently dawned on me that the damage is deeper than I realized, too. I can’t get a clear picture of the future anymore. I feel like I’m just in survival mode.

  4. I really relate to what you’re saying. I have dysthemia (chronic low-level depression), and it can really affect my thought patterns. I have to watch out for that on a daily basis.

  5. Something that has helped me the two times I’ve tried it (I really need to do this more) is to take time to focus on myself and why I’m feeling bad. When I’ve found the answer, I forget all about other people’s feelings and think about what I would say. Then I talk without holding back though I do make sure that I come across as informing and not blaming.

    The first time I did this, I had to confront feelings I had buried and displace and the whole thing caused me to question my relationship. However, we came out stronger, and by ignoring the “advice” I was getting from others, I stopped feeling like I was insane and overly possessive (new gaslighting phrase: “All men are like that”).

    The second time I chose to focus on me was through a note about misogyny and abuse I have dealt with. I had hesitated to write things because I didn’t want to upset certain people. Then I realized that I was mentioning them not to blame them, but so that I could move on from the blame I placed on myself and for others to hopefully become more aware of their actions. In the end, no one got mad at me, and if they are giving me the cold shoulder, it’s their loss.

    Speaking up about things that bother me, no matter how trivial or far into the past they may be, has helped not only me become self-aware but others too.

    • That’s great! I’ve been doing that more, too. And yes, it is beneficial to speak up about things that bother us in a nonjudgmental way, using “I” statements and coming from a place of integrity and honesty.

  6. […] The Problem with Self-Awareness ( […]

  7. you put yourself out there for everyone to see and its painful. You start to wish you could hide in the shadows. If people could see all my baggage I think they would run and hide.

  8. I adore your soul.

  9. […] The Problem with Self-Awareness ( […]

  10. […] The Problem with Self-Awareness […]

  11. […] to live by.” The quote was a section of what I’ve pasted below from my post “The Problem with Self-Awareness”: The love is within me. The joy is within me. The ecstasy and bliss are within […]

  12. This is great! I think one of the biggest problems is people do not know how to achieve a full self-awareness!

  13. I’ve learnt that when you stop regarding experiences as good or bad, and just see them as what they are – experiences that will build on your self-awareness, you get through every day without losing faith that you’re going to find that pot of gold at the end of this journey. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of classifying every emotion, experience and person as desirable or not, but the polarity of such associations is what makes up emotional baggage. The expectation of “good”, and the avoidance of “bad”. When you let go of it, you cherish every moment, every experience, every person cos you realise everything in life is relative. Delight cannot exist without disappointment, nor happiness without sadness.

    It’s not about getting to the goal – the destination will be there at the end of the road. It’s the journey, being open and savouring every step of it. Yes, even with people who are less self-aware or completely oblivious. I’ve learnt that when you open your heart, most times, even the blithely clueless are receptive to the kindness and acceptance you exude, and they respond in kind.

    Thanks for this amazing post. I’ve been stumbling these last few weeks over the demise of an almost-relationship with someone that had me questioning my personal journey. I thought if I could abandon this journey, be completely self-absorbed and pursue a morally questionable relationship (he was already seeing someone else when we met), I could be happy. But the thought of gaining happiness at the expense of someone else’s blissful ignorance kept me awake night after night. This post was a timely reminder of how one needs to let go with a smile when it involves a painful internal struggle where every fibre of your being is just screaming “Nooooooo!”

    Every journey is different, good luck with yours.

    • I’m so pleased to hear that your decision kept you on a path of integrity. The other direction would’ve ended in so much pain for all concerned, except maybe the cheater.

      I love this:
      “Delight cannot exist without disappointment, nor happiness without sadness.”


      Thank you for your comment, and I agree with you almost completely. I’m afraid my experiences of late must make this caveat clear in all circumstances now. What you say is completely true with *conscious bound* individuals, that is, human beings, whether self-aware or not.

      Chronic abusers are the exception, especially narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths.

  14. When I was little my family placed such an emphasis on honesty that I never thought twice about sharing my struggles with the rest of the world. The philosophy of “you asked, so you must want to know” got a righteous slap in the face when I found it opened doors for people to scold, preach, admonish, “help” and otherwise berrate me for living in a place of guts-level honesty.

    My life isn’t a mad scramble for basic necessities, but it’s by no means simple or tidy. I have conflicting emotions, years of baggage from well-meaning parents. I have a long family history of depression and suicide that I have to process on my own time.

    That’s the thing about the South. People ask you questions without really caring about the answers. They don’t want the truth, they just don’t wanna feel like a jerk for not asking. Since I grew up with a “you speak what you mean” mentality I always answered honestly. Q: “How are you doing?” A: “Not well. Life’s really tough.” It was hard to process how shocked people could get by such simple honesty. How could I be so ungrateful for God’s blessings? Maybe I should pray harder/tithe more/love Jesus harder/ect all. I finally asked someone why people got up in arms, and their response shocked me even more.

    “You make them ashamed and afraid.”

    My willingness to look my baggage in the eye frightened everyone around me. I made them feel weak and fake and shallow and like a pack of liars (In all honesty that’s exactly what they were). So, to save themselves from the pain of having to deal with their issues, it was easier to brow beat the brave girl into submission. “You will be as shallow as us, or you’ll get another lashing!”

    The thing is though, self-awareness is a journey that is like a double edged sword. You can drive yourself literally crazy trying to unravel why you do the things you do. Why you feel the way you feel. Where the real you begins and the influence of others ends. I know, I’ve gone to the edge of that abys. Self-awareness and self-analysis can be a helpful tool in processing your life, but it can also be a trap that cages you from actually living. If you spend all your time analyzing, there’s no time for any living.

    I’ve also found that any true level of self-discovery can lead to massive frustration later. When I was living with my fiance, I kept trying to get us to connect. I wanted to understand him, his upbringing, his perspective, and how these things would inform his future outlook & our lives together. Trying to do that however was like trying to wring blood from a rock! One day he finally snapped. “I don’t know ok! I didn’t pay attention to my life like you did. Stop asking!!”

    I pitied him that day. It seems like such a waste of a life. How could you not possibly have been paying attention to your life. It’s YOUR life! Even me, olympic champion day-dreamer that I am, I manage to pay attention to what happened/happens/may happen to me. The notion that people could be so willfully disengaged from themselves baffles me. That is until my jerkbrain takes over and cages me back up in that trap of self-analysis and I beg for the escape of being someone else, so I can be free from the noise of my own mind. Like a vampire with rice, I’m relentless in trying to back-hack the trail of a behavior to it’s unfindable source. Likely as not, I’ll be on my death bed trying to suss out why I screamed at so-n-so on the playground that one time I was five.

    Then again, the people with the most cracks are often the most interesting. True they usually are tragic and only appreciated after their dead, but you look at those people and think “Damn, I wish I’d been their friend. I bet he/she was awesome!”

    • Wow. This rings true on so many levels. Thank you for writing this.

      “You make them feel ashamed and afraid.”

      I get that, and I think that’s pretty accurate. I asked someone recently something similar about my level of openness & honesty, and he said I made everyone feel like cowards & liars.


      So, kinda damned if you do…etc.

      I’ll continue being open and honest. I’ll continue being genuine. I’ll continue being brave and speaking when others can’t or won’t, and speaking out against abuse & wrongdoings.

      That means I’ll have few close to me, but I’d rather be real & lonely than fake & surrounded by false friends.

      The Internet is brilliant because it can bring like minds together & help us feel less alone even when we’re worlds apart.

      Thank you for this.

      And remember what someone once said about the in examined life. It’s so true.


  15. I had a CEO once tell me when people are more trouble than they’re worth, it’s time to move them on. I think that’s true in our personal lives as well. When someone’s overall contribution isn’t positive to your life or well being, it’s time to move them on. The ‘trick’ is understanding where those boundaries are in your life. What constitutes a positive experience or contribution. Define your expectations and know what they are. Most importantly, define what you expect your life to deliver for you and then expect to get it.

    I’ve been a country music fan because my boyfriend was. I’ve had the relationships that swallowed all my free time. I’ve had the ‘friends’ that constantly tried to guide me on the ‘right’ path. I’ve watched movies when the significant other was gone because he made fun of the movies I liked. I have family who think I should be available when they need something, but are aIways too busy when I have needs. I have a sister that doesn’t have two words to say to me unless I’m buying her something or she needs help moving. I made the decision that I was done with all that. My life is for me, not for others to move into and do what they please with.

    I have since left a stable management field to pursue artistic endeavors that have been on the back burner for years. I’ve been told I’m gutsy and I’ve been told I’m crazy. That’s all fine, people are entitled to their opinions, they can disagree with me, but they are no longer allowed run me down or derail my dreams and efforts. When that happens, it’s time for them to move on. A couple of them have been removed from my life…and when you don’t miss them, you know you’re on the right path.

    • Good for you for following your heart! Your life is yours to live. It’s something I’m deeply embracing in my middle age. I’ve had similar experiences with family and accountability.

      After the betrayal and assault this year, I rather think I’m done letting people close, so sending them on their way will be easier to do.

      Thank you for your reply.

  16. Sorry I missed this when you first posted. I’ve been saying for a few years that ‘normal’ people scare me. The more someone says how normal they are, the more I get scared.

    As far as filtering out the abusers, fuck heads and drama queens, the best method I’ve found has been getting help. I’m poly, and when I meet someone I’m interested in, they get introduced to my partner. My partner, whose filters are also imperfect, but have different holes than mine, will later tell me if he sees anything worrying that I might be missing. I’ll talk about our first few dates with a couple of friends that I can trust to tell me the straight truth as they see it. If they see warning signs for a type of creep they’ve met but I haven’t, they tell me.

    There will always be a type of abuser who gets through your filters just because you’ve met anyone who uses those lines or who is abusive in that way before. It’s just life. So the second step, after making your filters the best possible, is just to ask yourself sometimes “is this relationship making me happy” and “am I better off in this relationship than I would be out of it?” Because whether or not the person is an abuser, and no matter who is responsible for the problems, if the answer to both those questions is no, it’s time to think about getting out.

    • Great advice! And, true, having them meet partners and discussing things with friends won’t weed out the most convincing, dangerous abusers, but it will weed out several others.

      Thank you for your comment!

  17. When a partner in poly relationships is not self-aware and responsible for their own stuff then you also get the wonderful experience of that person clearly knowing all the problems are a result of another partner in the relationship who is aware of and openly acknowledging their stuff.

    One of my partners use to suffer from tremendous jealousy of every partner other than my wife. Her jealousy was extreme! She openly and honestly dealt with it though. Her doing so made her the target of a partner who was not self-aware, who would not acknowledge her own stuff, and who always made my jealous partner the reason why this woman and I had problems.

    I ended my relationship with both saying they both had to deal with their stuff and not drag me into their drama circle any more. I told them I hope the break up would be short lived as I wanted to be together but would no longer be involved in the drama. For the partner who was jealous I went through the drama for over 3 years before making that move. For the other partner I went through it with her for 7 months before making that move.

    I made the move with both of them at the same time. My jealous partner did the work to overcome her jealousy (not to say she will never again get jealous but she knows how to handle it now). The other partner remains to this day in the dark. My jealous partner and I were only apart for a short time. Sadly, I doubt I can ever be with my other partner again. My wife, my jealous partner, and our therapist all agree that the relationship could had been salvaged if only she would take responsibility for her stuff and work on it. Sad because she would have completed the family we all want to have.

    • I’m so pleased to read that you and Your Jealous Partner were able to reconcile. It is so nice when all parties are responsible, self-aware, compassionate, invested, and committed.

      As much as you miss your other partner, and as much as I lament my loss with Jekyll/Hyde, even with the sexual assaults, we are so much better off without them. If someone can’t take responsibility for their own shit, invest in the relationship, and commit themselves to the effort in both self-awareness and communication with all, then it can only result in pain and tragedy for the one who is invested.

      Thank you for your comment.


  18. Wonderful post Olivia. It makes me think about the continously evolving nature of self-awareness. It doesn’t just happen all at once, it requires ongoing and deliberate action. Perhaps self-awareness is the ability to embark upon and enjoy the journey of self-discovery and growth.

  19. […] Others don’t know how to receive love in any other way than through abuse. This is where self-awareness comes into play. No matter how much you were hurt and what horrible things have been done to you, […]

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