Self-awareness is a necessary part of healing. Without awareness, we’d live a life perpetuating the patterns that can work against us in various ways emotionally, relationally, behaviorally, or otherwise. Being able to reflect on ourselves emotionally, where we come from, how we relate to others, and so on is an important skill to develop in therapy and to make use of in daily life. However, people often misunderstand that self-awareness is one significant part of the healing process. It isn’t the only or end goal.
I’ve worked with many people in my practice who, at the beginning of their therapy, have told me that they were already coming in really self-aware and weren’t sure why they weren’t feeling better emotionally or in other ways in their lives yet. People often believe that if they are self-aware (there are many degrees to self-awareness, but that’s a conversation for another time) that this is what’s supposed to automatically heal the wounds we carry. That you figure out important connections in therapy, and then you’re supposed to feel better. However, while the importance of making these connections cannot be overstated, there is generally more that happens between making the connections and arriving at the place of relief and healing.
Think for a second about cooking a delicious meal that once you eat it will be satisfying and will nourish your craving. Self-awareness is essentially the food shopping. It is a necessary and important step in order for the meal to happen, but it doesn’t mean you’re ready to eat yet. Once you have the ingredients, then you can use them to cook the meal, and then eat it and enjoy it.
Self-awareness helps us understand how we operate and how we respond internally and externally to the world around us. It lets us know who we are, what we carry with us emotionally and relationally from earlier in our lives, what we value, what we want to change and improve, what impacts us emotionally and how it impacts us, what gets in our way in life, what helps us move forward, how and what stands in our way of moving forward (including how we may contribute to this, as well), and so on.
In the process of therapy, self-awareness is both the key that opens the door and also the light shining on the path which shows us where we need to be focusing our attention in order to do the deeper emotional healing. When dots are connected and awareness of ourselves grows, this highlights where the stored and stuck emotions tend to be living (relative to anxiety, depression, panic, relationship struggles, intimacy, self-sabotage, and so on).
What often tends to happen in therapy is that people will make the mental connections, and then the emotions follow as the work continues. It is quite common for the mind and the emotions to be out of sync with each other, which can lead to struggles. So it doesn’t generally happen that both the mind and the emotions resolve at once (though sometimes making the connections in the mind can provide its own sense of relief, but not always). Making the mental connections is generally what allows the emotional work to engage with that stored emotion that leads to the emotional struggles that people experience. (And sometimes, it’s reversed where the emotions can lead the way. This is also its own conversation).
Keep in mind, however, that therapy isn’t a linear process. So don’t expect that you will start by “collecting” all of the awareness and then later take it and “cook it up” once you have gathered all of the awareness. It isn’t so cut and dry. But don’t be discouraged or disappointed if you connect a dot about something in your life and find that it doesn’t immediately resolve everything. It doesn’t mean your therapy isn’t working. In fact, making the connections means that the therapy is working. It’s a necessary part of the process. It just isn’t complete at that point.
Building awareness and using this as the entry into deeper emotional healing will happen throughout the process of therapy. A well-trained therapist will be able to go at your pace to support you while facilitating this process with you.