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Why Self-Awareness Won't Always "Feel Good"

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

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photo by Rilind Modigliani

The thing you have to understand about self-awareness is that self-awareness is not interested in whether you “feel good” or not. In fact, this is exactly why so many of us are not actually self-aware. If we were, we would have no need for the concept of good and bad. The thing that self-awareness cares about is that you wake up to the parts of yourself that you have rejected, suffocated, suppressed, silenced, shamed, abandoned, belittled and devalued from the moment you came into and began interacting with your physical reality, in other words, this thing we call life.

“Feeling good” is exactly what you have been trying to accomplish by coping with this physical reality. “Feeling good” is what you have built your identity upon. Let me explain this a little bit further. A child who is conditioned that their needs are wrong or bad learns to suppress that need in favor of the love they get in return for “being a good girl or boy.” That child grows up perceiving that in order to be loved, or essentially to “feel good,” they must do what they are told. They create separation within themselves. In other words, they split into two versions of themselves. The part that desperately wants to be loved and feel good, and the part that is rejected or deemed “unacceptable.” Naturally, they integrate into their sense of self, only the part of them that is rewarded with that love or “feel good” emotion. This becomes their identity.

This is evident in the many, and I mean MANY, adults today who feel stuck in careers or lives they detest and who furthermore feel completely powerless to change their situation. The stuckness is a construct of this split. The subconscious mind is having an eternal conversation with itself that goes something like, “If I stay I will be loved. It is safe and comfortable. If I go for what I want, people won’t like me. I might fail. I cannot have what I want. I will feel bad.” The mind is so tortured by this split that eventually the body also becomes poisoned by the dissonance and reacts with illness, chronic tension and pain.

Most of the time, people who have been silencing their authentic selves for so long become so disconnected from that voice that they don’t even know what they desire anymore, yet the gap between the two aspects of themselves is so big, that this torture is getting hard to ignore. They find themselves at a point in life desperately trying to close that gap by searching for their passion, true calling, or gift to the world and they cannot figure out what it is. This further perpetuates their belief that they will fail, must be wrong, are not good enough, or not special. And so continues this version of hell on earth.

What I want you to understand about self-awareness is that the only thing it cares about is reintegrating all of those aspects of yourself that you have disconnected from. The ultimate goal or purpose of self-awareness is to bring all of those separated pieces of you together again, so that you can experience the wholeness of who you are, and feel loved for the whole of you. All of us, myself included, spend our lives seeking this “wholeness” from our relationships, jobs, hobbies or any number of external sources. Our life choices, actions and pursuits are greatly influenced by our unresolved traumas.

So here’s a bomb I have to drop on you. Looking for the answer outside of yourself is futile. Now I do not mean that there is no point to relationships, careers, or the hobbies that you pursue. On the contrary, those parts of your physical reality serve an enormous purpose. They mirror back to you exactly what it is that you have separated from within yourself. Relationships, probably more than anything else on that list are an extremely good example of this. If you are in a relationship that makes you feel as though you are unseen, unheard or cannot express yourself, ask yourself the question, “What parts of myself am I rejecting, dismissing or silencing?” If I am not accepting those parts within myself, how can I expect the other to allow, accept and love those parts?

Here’s an example from my own personal relationship hell. Most people who know me would describe me as someone who is “always happy.” Some days this is true. Other days it is not true, but you would never know this because I go through great lengths to hide this from you. I learned somewhere along the way that presenting a “disagreeable” version of myself will not result in getting the love I want and crave. Internally I experience a deep rooted fear of getting rejected or abandoned if I make anyone else uncomfortable, angry, or disappointed. A classic case of “people pleaser.”

Now let me explain how this would get integrated into my sense of self and perpetuate itself. Throughout life I was rewarded for how easygoing and agreeable I am. This reward for my behaviour felt good, so it became a part of my identity. In a situation where I do not agree, in fact maybe even feel offended, angry or wronged, the learned behavior I would present in order to “feel good” would be to stuff those emotions back down wherever they came from and just keep the peace. I would again be rewarded for my easygoing behavior and therefore continue to teach others that this is what they should love me for. I am essentially perpetuating my own hell because underneath it, I, like every single human on this earth, desperately wants to be loved unconditionally. However, simply by virtue of placing conditions on myself, I am proposing those same conditions to others.

Now let me explain why self-awareness doesn’t necessarily feel good. The more awakened version of you that is aware of this disconnect between the two versions of yourself is suddenly extremely alert to what is going on. In fact it’s as if there is a third player in this game. The two versions of you battling it out, and the third, a spectator. The spectator watches as the version of you that desperately wants to feel loved shouts at the version of you that feels angry, “would you just stop undermining our need for love? You’re gonna screw it up if you express yourself.” The angry version of you shouts back, “Would you just stop excluding me and let me be here too?”

By the way, the unaware version of you has internalized this dialogue so much that it’s happening mainly through physical sensation, triggered emotions and reactions. The self-aware mind, however, is sitting in the audience watching this shit-show go on inside of you. You might then, simply by observing the horror before your eyes, spiral into another layer of separation by beginning to think that if anyone knew exactly what was going on inside of your mind they would for sure lock you up in an insane-asylum. This, my friend, is exactly why self-awareness does not always feel good. At least not in the sense of how you have understood “feeling good” for your entire life.

So why then should you bother to become self-aware at all? Afterall, isn’t there some truth to “ignorance is bliss?”

Ah yes… wouldn’t it be great if it were actually possible to remain entirely ignorant exactly as you first came into this world? Entirely whole.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a student back when I was teaching tango. He was a nice dancer moving up the ladder towards an “intermediate” level of dancing, when all of a sudden his motivation to continue learning became practically non-existent. When I asked him what happened he told me that when he looks at the “better” dancers, they all seem miserable because they are not satisfied with the majority of dancers in the room and they spend the evening sitting out. He, on the other hand, is happy dancing with most people in the room and is rarely rejected when he invites others to dance. So why would he want to get any better if getting better means feeling miserable and only enjoying a handful of dancers in the room.

Now I get this. Being one of few dancers in the room who possesses enough skill to express the complexity of the dance with a partner who is an “equal match” can be a very lonely experience. If you’re not a dancer, insert any activity such as a sport in which you’ve developed a great skill and tell me it’s not a lonely place to be once you’ve reached the top. But this could be a whole other topic of discussion.

What you have to understand is that reaching a point of “dissatisfaction” is inevitable when you continue to spend your time dancing or doing whatever that activity is. Now let’s be honest. This dissatisfaction actually does serve you because it motivates you to improve by moving away from the dissatisfaction and towards a new expression of satisfaction.

The same is true for continuing to live your life and having experiences. Experiences, even the difficult and unwanted, give rise to new self-awareness and therefore to new desires. It is a natural progression of life. Even if you seem to be experiencing the same circumstance over and over again. In fact, especially if you experience the same experience over and over again. What I mean by that is that life will throw the same experience at you until you get whatever lesson it was trying to teach you.

Take someone who experiences over and over again a relationship circumstance in which they get dumped. At first, this person might just move on to the next partner, and the next one, and the next one, until eventually this person begins to ask themselves, what am I doing wrong?

This is a new awareness that did not occur before. Most likely the previous perception was that the other was doing something wrong. And yes, there are a great many circumstances in which the other has done something that we deem bad or wrong and it is a good thing that our internal compass has told the universe to get you the hell out of that relationship.

Now, this new awareness might also be painful because all of a sudden this person realizes that placing the blame on the other, or on the circumstance, hasn’t actually led that person to experiencing a different circumstance. So it forces the person to look within and wake up to the disconnect occurring inside themselves. This means going through the painful process of acknowledging that it is their own behavior or thoughts that have continued to attract the same circumstance into their experience.

Now this may seem self-deprecating and as though it would continue to reinforce the “I’m not good enough” syndrome that so many of us are plagued with. But I would argue that awakening to this is actually extremely self-empowering. Why? Because it is with this new awareness that your journey of reconciling the separated aspects of yourself begins. You begin the journey of accepting yourself as you truly are and of following what actually feels good. Perhaps for the first time in your life you recognize that you, and only you, can change these unwanted, negative circumstances.

By becoming “self-aware,” you might actually stand a chance at bridging the gap between your separated selves and move in the direction of freedom, as opposed to putting in an extreme amount of effort towards making yourself feel good by suppressing, denying, deflecting, projecting, or adopting whatever coping mechanism is your personal favorite.

A strong image that works for me in understanding the benefit of this is to picture yourself falling into the ocean with all of your clothes, shoes and a heavy backpack on. You can either struggle to swim to the top by keeping all of that on you, or you can simply take the backpack, clothes and shoes off and swim to the top effortlessly.

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this article if it really was that “simple.” It does also take work and commitment, but unlike your coping mechanisms, you might actually begin to feel lighter as you take another layer off and begin to accept and love the wholeness of who you are.

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Your example of being in the ocean with heavy wet clothes, backpack etc and having to choose between struggling with all that weight or just getting them off you and swimming free is right on the mark. There was a Vipassana teacher who used to say that suffering is like a rope burn-self inflicted pain from trying to hold on too tightly to something that can't be held back! Two of the Buddha's 4 Noble truths involve Dukka (suffering) and Anicca (Impermanence) and the fact that the attempt to cling to that which is intrinsically impermanent (all things) inherently leads to suffering. Meditation is a way to deeply experience the truth of impermanence, leading ultimately to making peace with impermanence…

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