August 18, 2019
Self-awareness, especially of our flaws, can be a gift or curse. It’s tricky.
Self-awareness as a gift can save us from drowning in self-righteousness. It can keep us humble and approachable and able to feel compassion for the foibles of others along with our own. As Leonard Cohen offered in his poignant song, Anthem, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Our flaws keep us human. Seeing them keeps us real. Where there are no flaws, there is no light.
But self-awareness as a curse can take us down a shame spiral, depending on our understanding of what it means to be human. Shaming ourselves for being human isn’t a productive relationship with self-awareness.
Our flaws are what allow us to relate to each other. Karen Young, in her article The Beautiful Imperfection of Being Human, explores what we all have in common. She shared that “It is the imperfect things we do, and we all do them, that are such an essential part of being human.” She says we are all afraid of something. I agree. We are all at times insecure. We have all felt the pain of a broken heart. We have all experienced losses that change the course of our lives. We have all disappointed others and been disappointed by them. We all have secrets and regrets, and in our lowest, darkest moments, we have all wondered if we are unlovable.
It’s interesting that when we try to hide our insecurities and our vulnerabilities by presenting ourselves as enlightened, or perfect, or most damaging, as impenetrable and self-righteous, it’s usually then when we actually become unlovable. Like I said, it’s tricky.
It’s not easy seeing and making friends with our shadow side. It requires courage and fortitude to acknowledge our flaws and limitations, because we’ve been taught to believe that they’re bad, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Denying our flaws and limitations keeps us alone and unable to share the best of who we are. Recognizing and accepting them allows us to stop acting out of them, which will be a relief for everyone around us!
I’m sure you’ve known people who can’t see their flaws or limitations or cracks. These are folks who may go from birth to death wondering why life is so hard, and why other people aren’t nicer to them. They may repeat the same mistakes over and over, never looking in the mirror to see that they are doing it to themselves. They may never be able to see that they are keeping themselves alone.
We don’t have to end up there. We have a tool for becoming more self-aware. Every time someone triggers us, creates resistance in us, we know they’re handing us a tool by poking a wound that needs our attention. So, the next time someone makes you crazy, pick up a mirror and ask yourself what is it about myself I’m not wanting to see or experience? Notice the wall that you just put up and allow yourself to see what work you need to do with yourself in order to let it down. The trick is to use our resistance as a tool without blaming or shaming someone else. Without self-righteousness. Without pretending that we’re not doing it to ourselves. I’m not talking about when someone puts us in physical danger. I am talking about when we are poked and react with resistance, we have work to do with ourselves.
I recently had a painful interaction with a long-time friend who was offended by something I said. Without giving me the benefit of the doubt, she made it clear that I was not living up to her expectations. I felt gobsmacked, and vulnerable, and I was ever so human in my response, probably representing the emotional maturity of a five-year-old. The experience has reminded me to continue to work on myself, not attempt to enlighten her.
I think it’s important that we don’t bolt at the first sign of miscommunication or misunderstanding. Self-awareness is not about getting rid of people. It’s about knowing ourselves well enough that we stop getting in our own way. We’re all works in progress and we will of course butt heads and at times act like thoughtless boobs. Every one of my most cherished relationships has weathered miscommunication, misinterpretation, and thoughtlessness on both our parts. I am beyond grateful for their friendship and their kind understanding and acceptance of my humanness.
There are so many people around us who want to love and support us. Find and accept all of yourself, shadow included, and then find those people. Keep working on yourself, exploring all the flaws and cracks, bringing understanding and love and compassion to those fragile parts of you that have been hiding behind your defenses. Once we truly accept ourselves, we can stop acting out of the darkness that makes us pretend to have it more together than we do. And magically, when I’m working on myself, I find that I don’t have the same desire to take anyone else to task for not living up to my expectations.
Yes, it can be hard to keep the attention on ourselves. But the alternative, being asleep to the breadth of who we are, denying our shadow side, is harder. Be assured that the cracks will allow the light in, turning what you once thought was bad, into something useful, something beautiful.