Stepping From Under the Cloud Of Self Consciousness to the Light Of Self Awareness - A Few Thoughts.
One of the abiding memories of childhood was the day I was made to stand in front of my class at Woodhouse Middle School and talk for five minutes about a favourite hobby. Mine was building model airplanes out of balsa wood, and many a spare hour was given to building, flying - repairing and flying them again. But the thought of standing in front of the class to tell my tale of model building terrified me.
It literally left me filled with dread. In fact, it was so bad that although our turn was taken alphabetically I was the final child to take the step having tried frantically to avoid my ordeal. So when the dreaded moment was finally forced upon me I simply froze in embarrassment, blushing profusely and stuttering painfully whilst praying desperately for the ground to swallow me up. As you might imagine its an abiding memory of school - as are many other occasions when my own conscious self left me paralyzed.
Since then I've discovered that living self consciously is an onerous ordeal which impacts every aspect of our development and often crushes us with shame. Over the years I developed mechanisms and structures to disguise my own feelings of deep inferiority and fear. Some would become hidden in plain sight - like public speaking for example, which I learned, painfully at times, to master and later to hide behind. My ability to master oratory gave me a platform that I couldn't easily maintain in other areas of life. My self conscious persona coupled with a compliant nature left me, for example, pleasing people when it came to holding an opinion in one on one dialogue rather than standing my ground. People assumed that because I could hold a microphone and project my voice the public persona portrayed the private individual. It did help, of course - but it was a far cry from the havoc of being crippled by self consciousness.
For those surprised by my predicament, may it serve as a reminder of Plato's exhortation to: 'Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.' The hardest battles we fight are often the unseen ones - those which cripple us through in action and leave us captured by fear; and whilst ever we remain self conscious of our inadequacies we won't find the courage to defeat them. It's into this arena that much unlearning and relearning must take place.
Living self consciously seriously hinders the unlearning necessary to move on. We assume a nature on ourselves that is often inflicted by past trauma - events that hinder our development. What I’ve discovered - and am discovering is the shift that happens when we move from living with the feeling of being self conscious to becoming self aware. Being self conscious burdens us with sight of our inadequacies without any level of equipping in knowing how we might handle them. The step into self awareness may well raise the same issues but in a way that helps us deal with them.
In listening to the broadcaster James O'Brien tell the story of his own journey into self awareness I was fascinated how through personal challenge and then supportive therapy he was able to both identify and then act on behaviors which previously were blind spots in his life. The steps he took were not easy but were ultimately redemptive since he was able to see the shadows of his own life and then begin the often slow and challenging journey to change them. This I see as one of the key differences between the cloud of self consciousness and the light of self awareness. When I live self consciously I am enslaved by my own fears, driven by others opinions, bound by my own inadequacies, often unaware of why I feel a certain way - oblivious to any triggers and traumas that lurk beneath the surface and shackle me. The journey towards self awareness provides insight and language to begin to address those fears - to step out from the shadows and start to tackle them.
In his book, How Not To Be Wrong, O'Brien speaks of how his time at Boarding School caused him to develop a 'survival mentality' and how this mode of living had grown with him into adulthood and was now the dominant factor in causing him to act so poorly in the crisis he faced. His capacity for resilience - the stiff upper lip, and his mantra to 'toughen up and get through' caused him to survive his severe beatings at school but left him poorly equipped for walking tenderly through the pain now faced by his own family.
Whilst reflecting on his journey I see how I was positioned at the opposite end of his experience. I was compliant by nature and as such timid around authority figures and unlikely to get into serious trouble at school. James O'Brien may have been a name remembered at his Kidderminster school; but Stephen Hackney would have been long forgotten at Biddulph High School since my own journey was not so much about how to survive the harsh environment of which he speaks as it was to discover myself through the plethora of fear, timidity and doubt that left me plagued by my own self consciousness.
Age teaches we are formed by our childhoods more than we realize. With a little effort, a deep breath (!) and a good mirror we can start to trace back our current fears to earlier experiences in life that forms how we now behave. It is both a terrifying and liberating gaze with the cycle sub consciously repeating itself until we become sufficiently self aware to the pattern and step into and introduce change.
Sight is what we most need. To step from the shadows; to have our blind spots revealed - to move forward with a sense of knowing is key to personal progress. It's not that sight resolves the issues we face but to switch from being self conscious and living with the intimidation this creates, to becoming self aware is, I've discovered, at the heart of personal change. To then live courageously in light of that revelation is the next step on the journey of personal freedom and maturity.
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