Self Awareness: What it is and What it Isn’t
Many sex addicts enter recovery with little or no ability to identify what it is they are feeling. I had one client say that he never used to know what his feelings were, that he used to think hunger was a feeling!
In early recovery from sex addiction addicts learn to accept help, to follow the general rules of the treatment program, to be honest, to be accountable and to learn.
But it is self awareness that allows addicts to apply what they have learned so as to sustain a healthy sexual life and continue to grow. It is a skill on which other skills can build.
What self awareness is not
Self awareness is not the same as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a more general and basic ability to be aware of what is happening in the moment. Mindfulness is also the ability to give your full attention to something, including your own inner landscape. But self awareness implies a broader understanding how those thoughts and emotions arise and how they affect you.
Self awareness is not the same as knowing about yourself or having an intellectual understanding of yourself. Many recovering people have told their “story” over and over. They were abused as a child, they are afraid of abandonment, etc. And yet sometimes this understanding is abstract; they don’t connect to an awareness of how those processes are controlling them right now. Self awareness is not simply an ability to recite your story.
Self awareness is not egotistical. Egotism comes from a very superficial belief about what you need to do or be. When a person is grandiose or selfish or contemptuous of others they are not aware of the insecurities that are underneath this display of superiority.
What self awareness is
Self awareness is unfiltered. It is being willing to see the good and the bad equally. The more aware you become, the more you are able to acknowledge even those thoughts and feelings that are unflattering to you. Maybe you will become aware that you automatically compare yourself to other people. You may not like knowing that you do this, but you will be able to recognize it. You will be able to see how it is connected to a deeply ingrained fear or insecurity.
Self awareness is partly a passive process of reflecting on what you are doing thinking and feeling. It is taking a moment to simply observe yourself rather than reacting quickly or automatically. If you can become the “watcher” you may become aware that what you are feeling is pain or other negative emotion. But what you do about that is more under your control.
Self awareness is partly an active process of identifying the particular thing we are experiencing in the moment. It may be an old feeling or idea, or it may be something we have never noticed in ourselves before. But it is taking the information we have observed and incorporating it into a fuller picture of what makes us tick.
How self awareness supports recovery
Self awareness can:
Help the addict avoid dissociation. Many addicts engage in their addictive behavior automatically. This is the semi-trance state that Sex Addicts Anonymous refers to as being “in the bubble”. They feel stresses or other negative emotions and they reach for their “drug” before they are fully aware of what they are feeling.
Help the addict to self-activate. Only stopping to reflect and observe what you are feeling allows for the space to decide what to do or not to do. Much of recovery involves making decisions, decisions to try new behavior, to reach out to someone for help. Sometimes self-activating means deciding to do less, e.g. to go off-line for a while.
Help the addict confront false assumptions. Addicts typically have false core beliefs about themselves having to do with their own inadequacy. If you are feeling frequently angry, resentful, hurt or victimized these feelings may hang around because they are connecting to the unconscious belief that you are unworthy or that you can’t protect yourself. Self awareness allows you to begin to challenge these false beliefs.
Help the addict with intimacy issues and relationships. Most addicts don’t feel safe sharing their inner feelings with an intimate partner. And intimacy is sometimes defined as the ability to share your truth in the moment. But what is your truth? If you are not fully aware of what you want or need it will be impossible to share that with another person.
Self awareness grows gradually over time. It is the skill that is essential to a deeper and more lasting level of change. It is the guarantee of a lifelong habit of growth.