Why self-knowledge is both tricky and vital…

woman in white tank top while looking herself at a mirror

If I were to ask you, “Who are you?” that would be a pretty daunting question to answer, right? It sounds so vague and vast that your mind would doubtless go blank.

So, if I were to break it down and ask, “Who are you with work?”, or “Who are you with love?” would that be a little easier to digest and therefore dissect?

It’s rather ironic that, although we spend quite lengthy times with ourselves, we are rather ignorant of who we are, what we want, how we feel about certain things, and why we react the way we do to particular events.

Furthermore, this scarcity of self-knowledge shows itself in unsatisfying jobs, miserable marriages, and foolish spending.

“Men can starve from a lack of self-realisation as much as they can from a lack of bread.”

Richard Wright, author.

There are countless reasons we mortals are so wretched at achieving satisfactory levels of self-knowledge, including the fact that much of our behaviour occurs at an unconscious level (some of which needs to enter the conscious mind).

Furthermore, many of these behaviours take effect in an automatic and distorted form, rather than by deliberate thought – all contributing to this state of ignorance.

By extension, and for safety reasons, we often relegate our unconscious concerns and desires to our subconscious – because bringing them into the conscious realm would be both confronting and uncomfortable.

However, whilst this may afford us a short-term truce, the situation is untenable and we miss out on the long-term benefits of realising our identity.

Similarly, a shortage of interactions with the world may inhibit our ability to achieve self-knowledge. For the adventure of life, surely obliges us to study our true nature through exploration of situations and interactions with others.

But why does self-knowledge matter?

When we break down areas in which to determine self-knowledge, many of us realise that we have formed specific patterns that aren’t helpful.

Indeed, unless we are conscious of these patterns through introspection, or others making us aware of them, we are doomed to continue reaping consequences without truly knowing why.

To take one area, that of love, for instance, it is common for people to target a certain ‘type’ of person. But although we may have a vague idea of what our ‘type’ is, do we recognise why they attract us? What if part of their appeal is that they bring a negative aspect to the relationship; an aspect we are especially susceptible to because of our childhood?

We escape relationships hoping to avoid a series of obstacles, only to find that, in successive relationships, they re-surface in virtually ‘freaky’ ways.

Rather than stemming from mystical forces, however, it is more probable they evolved from recurring, undesirable patterns; patterns yet to be acknowledged or remedied.

Of course, our negative patterns of thought and behaviour are clear across many sectors of our lives – including the work we choose, the friendships we have, and the objects we consume.

Their culmination results in unresourceful feelings such as a lack of fulfilment, frustration, boredom and stress.

An alternative approach, however, is to build up self-knowledge in an organised manner; a manner using pertinent questions to reveal our psychological and emotional needs.

Fitting questions include:

  • Which pieces of art mean a lot to me, and why?
  • What have I learned about relationships from my parents?
  • Which details about me would surely alarm my family if they knew?
  • What am I currently lying to myself about?
  • Which image am I seeking to depict through my clothes?
  • What are my shortcomings as a parent?
  • What did I most enjoy doing as a child?
  • What do I most regret in my life so far?

Only after asking these and similar such questions, can we discover who we really are and what we actually want – vital elements for leading a more fulfilling and meaningful existence, wouldn’t you say?

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