Confronting Ourselves (Self Exploration) – Daniel Leeman, LCSW, STLmentalhealth.com
The practice of self examination isn’t something that is commonly talked about. If it is done effectively it can become an amazing opportunity for growth, empowerment, awareness, and insight. However left to our own devices self examination can at times become toxic. Excessive worry, doubting ourselves, and dwelling on our regret can lead us to unpleasant places. Psychotherapy is an opportunity to engage in productive self examination that can lead to positive or deep discoveries about ourselves.
Traditional American culture values independence and an I can do it myself mentality. The values of individual responsibility and independence are not wrong and it is indeed what most strive for. However the process of reaching that point to its fullest is not as simple as it first appears. Deciding to begin psychotherapy, in a sense, is admitting there are other variables at work and we aren’t quite in full control of ourselves as we’d like to think. We want desperately to believe in our own willpower and grit, only to realize that the same patterns return. It is reasonable to conclude then, in order to achieve this change, a more paced and strategic approach is required. One that requires patience, dedication, and is tailor made to meet us where we are.
Confronting ourselves and the past is an intimidating task. Anxiety and avoidance in reaction to the thought of putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability serves as an obstacle to overcome. To a degree it is far easier to continue on in our habits and resist. To push these thoughts below the surface again or even to turn up our nose to the idea of self exploration. A part of a psychotherapist’s job is to make people feel safe enough to share themselves and to discover ways to get past these very obstacles. We do this through coping skills, honest reflection, and processing to work through them, around them, and at times in defiance of them. Being faced with our own avoidance to resist self exploration is a part of the journey we are taken on and usually the form it takes offers a clue to something deeper within ourselves.
In confronting ourselves we have much to gain. We realize why we are the way we are. With this knowledge we are given an opportunity to begin resolving the things that cause us to suffer, repeat the same patterns, and hold us back. We learn our emotions, thought patterns, beliefs, instincts, and our memories. What was blurry before begins to become clear. The parts of ourselves that we lose getting older return and we find pieces that we didn’t realize were there before. Alternatively we shed certain parts of ourselves that don’t have a place as we learn and become our true selves. A person that knows themselves becomes better equipped to take on the challenges of this world as they know which part of themselves they can rely on to solve problems, or return to, to draw strength.
Despite our best efforts, parts of ourselves both known and unknown exert their influence on us. Practicing self exploration in a healthy way can help us become aware of exactly why and how we are influenced by these things. Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to confront ourselves constructively and unlock our actualized selves.