How Do You Improve Your Self-Awareness in Addiction Recovery?
Self-awareness is the degree to which you are aware of your own tendencies, your strengths and weaknesses, your values, your interests, and how you respond to various situations. Self-awareness is the foundation of addiction recovery and good mental health in general. It is a key skill of emotional intelligence and is the basis for the other skills of self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
However, self-awareness is also deceptively difficult. We all assume we know ourselves well because we have unique access to our own thoughts, emotions, and personal history. While that is true, we are also constrained by biases, blindspots, and cognitive distortions. What’s more, it’s hard to understand ourselves when we don’t really know what it’s like to be anyone else. Despite these challenges, we can all improve our self-awareness and reap the benefits in addiction recovery and in life. Here’s how.
The most direct route to greater self-awareness is therapy, both group and individual. Both can help you become more aware of your blind spots and biases. Individual therapy can help you dive deep into your personal history and explore your cognitive distortions. For example, if you have a habit of focusing on the negative or discounting the positive things about yourself, you may have an unfairly negative view of yourself and your abilities. Or perhaps you have unfair expectations of other people or the world in general. You may never even consider these possibilities without expert guidance.
Group therapy can be especially helpful for increasing self-awareness since you can get many different perspectives on your problems. Perhaps most importantly, in group therapy, you learn to give and receive feedback and generally improve your communication skills. These can help improve your self-awareness outside of the therapeutic setting as well.
Asking for Feedback
As noted above, getting feedback from different people is a great way to improve your self-awareness. In the context of therapy, this is relatively easy since much of your therapist’s job is to help you in this regard and create a healthy environment for sharing in group therapy. However, outside of a therapeutic environment, soliciting feedback becomes more challenging.
The people who know us well and spend a lot of time around us, whether they are friends, relatives, coworkers, or romantic partners are often reluctant to be completely honest. It’s uncomfortable to hurt someone’s feelings--even with the best of intentions--and then have to live or work together.
To get around this obstacle, you have to find ways to give them permission to be honest. This might start with choosing the right medium. For example, people typically find it easier to be honest over text or email than face-to-face. Also, make it clear that you are seeking honest feedback and not just testing them. You might also give them an opportunity to say something nice about you to offset the constructive feedback, something like, “What would you say is my greatest strength?
What is my greatest weakness?” Or, in a work environment, you might ask something like, “What’s one thing I could work on to most improve my performance?” People tend to feel more comfortable answering specific questions rather than making a judgment on you as a person. Just be sure you aren’t deliberately shielding yourself from the feedback you don’t want to hear.
One way to improve your self-awareness on your own is to practice mindfulness meditation. This is a simple practice; just set aside 20 or 30 minutes a day, and during that time, try to remain present. You typically do this by paying attention to your breath, listening to ambient sounds, or feeling for sensations in your body.
Inevitably, thoughts and emotions will arise on their own and you can use these opportunities to practice observing them without judgment. So, for example, an unpleasant memory may suddenly come to mind. Instead of trying to ignore it or think of something else, you might try tracing the chain of associations that led to that memory.
Or you might pay attention to the emotions the memory evokes and ask yourself why you respond that way. The more you learn to accept your own thoughts and emotions, the more you will be aware of what's going on in your own mind.
Journaling is another great way to improve self-awareness on your own. Part of the reason is that writing about what happens and how you feel about it helps you make connections that you might not notice otherwise. Just the act of writing about your feelings can change your brain in ways that make you more aware of your emotions. However, journaling can go far beyond that.
For example, just keeping an accurate and relatively detailed record of what you do all day can yield surprising insights into your behavior. If you’re skeptical, try estimating how much time you’ve spent on your phone today and then check it against your actual screen time in your phone’s settings. Writing is a way of keeping ourselves honest about what we’ve actually done, thought, and said.
Writing about what happens and how you feel about it will reveal a lot of patterns. Even if you never go back and read what you’ve written, you’ll probably notice you spend a lot of time worrying about your work situation or complaining about your parents, or whatever else.
Self-awareness is an ongoing project. Not only is it a big challenge in itself, but we are always changing and growing. Knowing yourself better requires that you make a consistent effort, keep an open mind, and learn to accept constructive criticism with equanimity.
At The Foundry, we know that overcoming addiction isn’t just a matter of abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it’s a journey of self-discovery. We use proven methods such as dialectical behavioral therapy, group therapy, and mindfulness meditation to help our clients better understand themselves and live a fuller life. For more information, call us at (844) 955-1066.