Many make the mistake of glossing over the term self-awareness as one of those jargon words like facilitate, monetize, or self-actualization. Christians, in particular, are often suspicious of any word that begins with self, perhaps forgetting that the injunction to love others as we love ourselves presupposes a necessary self-love. But self-awareness is the polar opposite of narcissism. Narcissism projects onto the world an image, while the true self, like the portrait hidden in Dorian Grey’s attic, grows less recognizable with time. The cry of the narcissist is “I have been cheated!” Narcissists seek to escape themselves, while those with even a modicum of self-awareness look carefully to see what is true about themselves and the world around them.
The first characteristic of self-awareness is the ability to perceive accurately the effect that one has on others.
We all know someone who is too loud or rude, interrupting conversations or throwing temper tantrums inappropriately. We judge them silently precisely because of their lack of self-awareness. But do you truly know the affect you have on those around you? I remember an interview I helped conduct years ago. When we asked one candidate what her colleagues said about her, she floundered a bit then she said that her coworkers would say that she loved cute baby animals.
I hope that I have more of an impact on my fellows than that. Do the people in your sphere of influence know more than shallow surface things about you? More importantly, do you know what people see when they look at you? Secondly, do you like what you think they see? The mantra of I don’t care what people think sounds great, but Paul admonished Christians to be all things to all men. The Bible talks about the importance of a good reputation quite clearly. We live in community, whether at work, at home, or with friends. People-pleasers lose themselves for acceptance, but hostile ones, more often than not, fear rejection just as much. They just preemptively strike.
Living in community successfully means that we need to be trustworthy, genuine, and considerate. Like the abuser who says, “You made me angry!” we push off the responsibility we have to ourselves and others onto our circumstances or on those around us. But this is denial.
To live in denial is to lack self-awareness at all.
To blame others for your life is to reduce your life to being a mere object, on which the whims of a cruel world are enacted. But you are a person capable of agency, not an object. Where you are in life is in part a result of your decisions.
The second characteristic of self-awareness is the possession of core values. Core values and the experiences that helped form those are what make up a personal identity. When people say they are looking for themselves, they are in one of two positions. Either they have not had enough experiences yet to know what they believe, or they are shirking the commitment that comes with belief. The first is to be expected, especially of the young. The second is generally made up of those who do not want to be tied down to a particular identity. That way leads to the burying of the true self.
You cannot be authentic when you are busy denying who you are.
The last characteristic I want to mention is that of personal destiny. A person with a highly developed sense of self-awareness, who understands their gifting, their effect on others, who knows who they are and what they believe, develops a conviction that their life has a larger purpose than the mere living out of one’s days. A person with a sense of destiny develops a passion for a cause or a vocation. They want their lives to continue to impact others long after they are gone.
The highest level of self-awareness is atonement. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a sense of destiny that carried him to a place where he took on the burdens of his people, for that is what atonement means. Atonement is to shoulder on oneself the burdens of a group of people. Jesus is the very essence of atonement. Being God Himself, He took on the burdens of all.
And lest we lose the focus of self-awareness here, God’s first words about Himself were “I Am that I Am.”
This is a sense of personal identity indeed.
Lastly, self-awareness is fluid and pertains to many different areas in our lives. While one may have a high level of self-awareness financially, being careful to save and to give, one may lack in self-awareness in health matters. Eating unhealthily effects more than just oneself, after all, as does being limited in the ability to give and receive love, or being unable to hold down a job due to a lack of self-discipline.
The good and bad news is that self-awareness is a life time project.
Until Jesus returns to make all things truly new, including our very selves, self-awareness, like salvation, is often a matter of fear and trembling.
Want to develop more self-awareness? Reach out, question, even risk. Catalogue yourself, admit to your emotions, learn to face your fears. Learn to be vulnerable to others. To grow is to face the prospect of pain, but to stagnate is to stop living while you wait to die.
Want a quick test to see if you are on the right track? If you read the whole article, you have already begun to evaluate the major areas of your life, spiritual, physical, relational, educational, etc… for self-awareness. Good job. You are already on your way.