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What Is Self Awareness, And Why Should I Care? #1

April 20th, 2015 · 4 Comments · what is self awareness

What is self awareness, anyway?  Lots of people talk about it, but why should anyone give a hoot about it?

what is self awareness

Consciousness and awareness of the wider self are fundamental to depth psychotherapy 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.

what is self awareness

Long before the astounding discoveries of contemporary neuroscience, depth psychotherapists 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.

what is self awareness

Consider human anger.  Anger is a part of the functioning of all vertibrates.  And, often, one of the early things encountered in psychotherapy 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 depth psychotherapy 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:

what is self awareness

Often, self-awareness is a matter of very great practical importance.

Consciousness Unfolding

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 depth psychotherapy can enhance it.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

4 Comments so far ↓

  • W. Harper

    Hello, as a lay-student of Jung I am often struck by the over emphasis on dream interpretation while ignoring another “royal road” to the unconscious, to wit; projection. Projection is with us constantly, and if acknowledged and worked with can create critical elements of self-knowledge. From M. L. von Franz’s book “Projection and re-collection in Jungian Psychology; Reflections of the Soul,”
    This kind of overvaluation of . an outer object can seriously damage the development of a human life. Nothing but a step forward along the road to self-knowledge through discrimination and individual differ­entiation will lead one out of this situation. The inner men­tal image, the object-imago, must be recognized as an inner factor; this is the only way in which the value or the energy invested in the image can flow back to the individual, who has need of it for his development. This difficult moral task makes it impossible for any relatively conscious person to want to improve other people and the world.

    Jung often maintained that if one had in himself only 3 percent of all the evil one sees in the other fellow or projects onto him, and the other fellow possessed in fact the other 97 percent, it would still be wiser to look one’s own 3 percent in the eye, because, as is well known, it is only in oneself that one can change anything, almost never in others. . . . “

  • Brian C

    Thank you very much for the insightful comment. I certainly think that you are right to emphasize, that in addition to whatever can be learned abutting unconscious from dreams, there is a wealth of insight to be gained from recognizing and understanding our projections. There is an enormous part of the self, both positive and negative, that we project in one form or another on to the Other. To use Jung’s phrase, if we could take back the projections, we would gain a tremendous amount of self knowledge, and probably come into possession of a great deal of our own vitality and instinctual energy. As Jung and von Franz both note, taking back of these projections is a huge moral task, and it can be a shocking realization, to discover how much of our own darkness we actually unwittingly palm off on other people and other groups.

    Thanks once again for your comment. You point us toward a very important truth, something that is right at the heart of depth psychotherapy.

    All the very best! ~Brian

  • W. Harper

    Thank you for your comment which is spot on. To add a further consideration to the issue I send this quote from Jung himself. Dream analysis does nothing(not that it has no purpose) to remove evil or social ills from this world, but withdrawal of projections does:

    “We must be exceedingly careful not to project our own shadows too shamelessly; we are still swamped with projected illusions. If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick Shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the “House of the Gathering.” Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own Shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. These problems are mostly so difficult because they are poisoned by mutual projections. How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and the darkness he unconsciously carries with him into all dealings?”
    –CW 11: Psychology and Religion: par 140, pg 83

  • Brian C

    Thank you for your comment. I think that you’re right to emphasize the importance of withdrawal of projections, but I would not see withdrawal of projections and the analysis of dreams as mutually exclusive. In my own experience, personal and clinical, the analysis of dreams has often played an absolutely pivotal role in the withdrawal of projections. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we need the analysis of dreams to really effectively withdraw projections. I feel confident in saying that this is the way Jung saw the analysis of dreams, also; there are a myriad of examples of this scattered throughout his Collected Works.

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