BY: T. Franklin Murphy | April 2016
Creating Change through Self-Knowledge
Compassionate gazes into our soul, and although we see imperfections, we don't harshly judge. With knowledge of strengths and weaknesses, we kindly begin to change
Evaluating ourselves should be a simple, right? After all, we’re with ourselves all the time. “Who would know us better than ourselves?” But judging the self is complex. Subjectivity interferes with fair evaluations of feelings, motivations and behaviors. We still must evaluate, navigating the obstacles and determining the appropriate action for change.
Change requires identifying behaviors that limit futures and halt progression. The simple self-judgments of good or bad often fail; rather than identify problems to work on, the labeling creates emotional haywire, disrupting the self and discouraging efforts to change. We drown in the bitter thought of “I’m not good enough.” The harsh self-judgment invites self-hatred, protective defenses, and depression.
Complexity! No wonder we default to automation. Act now; justify later. The internal drives mindlessly motivate action without mindful interference. Our emotions go unexamined as a possible cause to our disrupted life, while we critically examine others; they must have done something wrong or we would be happy. But emotions go off course—programmed from the past. The past as informative as it is doesn’t always provide an accurate pattern for the future. Emotions gained from experience may be wrong.
Accurate self-assessments require skill, patience, and knowledge—both intellectual and experiential. Understanding biological foundations and learned behaviors assists in widening our perspective but without felt life experiences the theories are empty. As D.T. Suzuki explains, “Fire; mere talking of it will not make the mouth burn.”
Experiences appear unified, but the unified perception is representation of several independent functions. The organism soaks in environmental information and then reacts—hopefully in a beneficial manner. Information flows into the mind (brain) from the senses, combining the new information generating with explicit and implicit memories. This hodgepodge of information merges with preexisting knowledge where it is organized and bursts into consciousness with a coherent meaning.
We store these representations of reality in memory to recall during future constructions. A faulty representation contaminates future perceptions, further distorting reality. Impoverished and abusive childhoods evoke creative interpretations of the dangerous environments, giving order to the disorder, but interfering with healthy adaptation to adult life.
Eliminating all thought distortions is impossible. Even the wisest distort and misinterpret the external world to fit their customized internal world. It is how the brain orders experience, creating the map for continued interaction with the world. Healthy adaptations propel successful interaction with life. Unhealthy adaptations provide measured relief while extracting a heavy cost on the future.
Unfiltered reality can overwhelm the senses, disrupting security—especially for those with disrupted childhoods. Taming reality through thought is adaptive; but constantly escaping reality is dangerous. If protections stray too far from reality, we must contend with a constant flow of contradicting evidence. Reality becomes less and less palatable. Anger, sadness, and depression flow from doses of reality that expose our protective deceptions.
A faulty representation contaminates future perceptions, further distorting reality.
Those struggling to survive are most susceptible to deviations. They relieve the anxiety of powerlessness through funky interpretations, adjusting and manipulating facts to regain a simple grasp of control. The loss of the protective power of fantasy proceeds a nasty crash into hopelessness. Reality can be a bear when we’ve ignored its existence. The mind artfully obscured reality to protect. But missed realities accumulate; instead of courageously making practical changes, the avoiders cower in the shadows of make believe to escape their crumbling and scary life.
Our perception molds the world into a personalized version. Understanding that our perceptions are not reality allows for a deeper examination—of our self and of others. Other’s feelings don’t resonate with the poignancy of our own experiences but with intimacy, we gain glimpses into their hearts. Their childhoods, hurts, and joys are too complex for us to fully understand. We must acceptance the limitations of knowledge and grant greater patience to others, giving them the freedom to feel life.
When rigid beliefs interfere with reality, Mindfulness helps us catch our rigidity and skeptically exam for correctness. Understanding that constructions of reality are not facts allows for a gently probing of personal beliefs, finding internal reasons for dissatisfactions, without self-condemnation. When a career stagnates, a relationship struggles, or finances crumble, we can explore principle beliefs supporting unhealthy behaviors, instead of blindly pointing to outside causes and bitterly blame the world.
When evaluations improve accuracy, we gain a clearer vision of areas in need of adjustment. We can effectively see the behaviors leading away from our intentions. The personal imperfection acknowledged become stepping stones towards improvement.
Even the briefest glance, the momentary enlightenment, that exposes errant thought becomes a beginning to beautiful change. We slowly shed avoidances, false assumptions, rationalizations and projections. Our self-knowledge builds trust. We learn by repeated conquering of the moment that we can survive in reality. The growth sustained through accurate self-appraisals shifts the use of faulty constructs for security to the building of skills and the subsequent trust in those abilities. We know ourselves; we know our capabilities, and we flourish.