Like with most things emotional, you can’t get better at them until you know what the fuck they are. When you lack self-awareness, trying to manage your emotions is like sitting in a tiny boat without a sail on top of the sea of your own emotions, completely at the whim of the currents of whatever is happening moment by moment. You have no idea where you’re going or how to get there. And all you can do is scream and yell for help.
Self-awareness involves understanding yourself and your behavior on three levels: 1) what you’re doing, 2) how you feel about it, and 3) the hardest part, figuring out what you don’t know about yourself.
Knowing What You’re Doing
You would think this would be pretty simple and straightforward, but the truth is that in the 21st century, most of us don’t even know what the fuck we’re doing half the time. We’re on auto-pilot—check email, text BFF, check Instagram, watch YouTube, check email, text BFF, etc., etc.
Removing distractions from your life—like, you know, turning off your damn phone every now and then and engaging with the world around you is a nice first step to self-awareness. Finding spaces of silence and solitude, while potentially scary, are necessary for our mental health.
Other forms of distraction include work, TV, drugs/alcohol, video games, cross-stitching, arguing with people on the internet, etc. Schedule time in your day to get away from them. Do your morning commute with no music or podcast. Just think about your life. Think about how you’re feeling. Set aside 10 minutes in the morning to meditate. Delete social media off your phone for a week. You’ll often be surprised by what happens to you.
We use these distractions to avoid a lot of uncomfortable emotions, and so removing distractions and focusing on how you feel without them can reveal some kind of scary shit sometimes. But removing distractions is critical because it gets us to the next level.
Knowing What You’re Feeling
At first, once you actually pay attention to how you feel, it might freak you out. You might come to realize you’re often actually pretty sad or that you’re kind of an angry asshole to a lot of people in your life. You might realize that there’s a lot of anxiety going on, and that whole “phone addiction” thing is really just a way to constantly numb and distract yourself from that anxiety. It’s important at this point to not judge the emotions that arise.
You’ll be tempted to say something like, “Ick! Anxiety! What the fuck is wrong with me!” But that just makes it worse. Whatever emotion is there has a good reason to be there, even if you don’t remember what that reason is. So don’t be too hard on yourself.
Knowing Your Own Emotional Bullshit
Once you see all the icky, uncomfortable stuff you’re feeling, you’ll begin to get a sense of where your own little crazy resides.
For instance, I get really touchy about being interrupted. I get irrationally angry when I’m trying to speak and the person I’m speaking to is distracted. I take it personally. And while sometimes it is just them being rude, sometimes shit happens and I end up looking like a total dickface because I can’t stand going two seconds without every word I speak being respected. That’s some of my emotional bullshit. And it’s only by being aware of it that I can ever react against it.
Now, just being self-aware is not sufficient in and of itself. One must be able to manage their emotions too.