The effects of living through a traumatic and abusive childhood show up everywhere in our lives, some obvious, some not. One of the less obvious effects is ‘Toxic Self-Awareness’.
Today I’m going to share this phenomenon and how it’s seductive promise of life changing answers can prevent us from ever being fully present in our bodies, enjoying life, and really finding the deep sense of inner peace that we crave.
What Is Self-Awareness and Why Do We Need It?
The idea behind becoming self-aware is that we look inside ourselves and bring to our conscious attention the many different aspects of ourselves, including our actions, decisions, thoughts and emotions. We study ourselves, become curious about why we do what we do.
By understanding ourselves we become more aware of how we interact with others and the world around us. We look for how we can change, improve, do things differently instead of drifting through our days on automatic pilot.
We human are emotional beings, our emotions drive our behaviour, and our sub-conscious programs, that were automatically downloaded into our young developing minds, are responsible for how we respond to the myriad of emotions we experience on a daily basis.
These unconscious programs, that by adulthood are firmly installed in our minds, brain and nervous system, make 95% of our decisions for us, automatically responding in according to our individual emotional blueprint. We become creatures of habit, oblivious to whether these programs and the way we respond when they are triggered, still serve us or not.
There are many benefits to becoming self-aware, it is often only as we become more conscious of our behaviours and actions that we can decide whether they continue to serve us, and take steps to alter them if we find ourselves unhappy with the way our life is.
This all sounds really positive, however like anything, if we become obsessed, the search for self- discovery stops functioning as a healthy coping tool and creates even more stress in our lives.
Becoming Addicted to ‘Figuring It Out’
When we continually examine the past, repeatedly going over what happened to us, endlessly trying to figure out why we responded in the way we did, how to change ourselves to make things better, searching for ways to feel more certain in an attempt to fulfil the deep need we all have to feel safe, we can get completely lost.
With every book we read, every ‘guru’ we listen to, every workshop we attend, we become more convinced that there is something wrong with us. We are told that if we just try a little harder, forget everything we have been told before and adopt their method, we will finally be able to ‘fix ourselves’.
We find ourselves drowning in information, as soon as the short-lived high that follows the excitement of finding the latest miracle cure for our problem, we once more become disillusioned in our ability to repair our flaws, we become more and more self-critical.
This is toxic self-awareness.
Our addiction to figuring ourselves out drives us down deeper and deeper rabbit holes, us we get trapped in our intellect, only functioning in our heads and as a consequence our bodies, the source of so much potential physical pleasure, are forgotten.
It took me years to realise that I was constantly living in my head. Staying out of my body, filling my mind with other people’s ideas, constantly reading, listening to anything that might give me the answer to how I could improve my fundamentally flawed self, searching for someone else’s answer to my problems, worrying whether I was good enough, whether people liked me, trying to keep everyone happy. Looking back, I now see that my quest was endless, exhausting and hugely successful in distracting me from going to where the real work needed to be done.
Looking back, I can see that the distractions served a really useful purpose, whilst they introduced me to the concept of change through self-awareness, they did a magnificent job of stopping me from feeling the painful feelings and emotions that I had invested so much energy into suppressing. The absolute down side to this coping strategy was that this constant searching completely stopped me from ever being able to be fully present in the moment that was happening and being able to enjoy whatever was I was experiencing in the here and now.
I know now that constant looking outside of myself for answers, the living in my head, kept me protected by disconnecting me from the pain stored in my body. My body was where my physical, sexual, emotional and psychological trauma was stored, it is only as I have learned to put down the books, be courageous enough to look the pain directly in the eye, and work with skilled therapists that could help me to reconnect with my body, that I have been able to free myself from my self- imposed prison and begin to live fully.
This reconnection has allowed me to feel truly alive. I am now discovering the delicious sensations my body is capable of feeling, sensations that I had completely supressed through staying locked in the logic of my head. I am a different woman!
Three Simple Techniques To Help You Break Free
If you’re thinking that this all sounds very well Sarah, but how an earth do I start to connect to my body, here are some simple techniques that I have found helpful in getting me to where I am now.
Make a habit of practicing these simple practices several times a day for 2-3 minutes. Become curious about each one and how they feel as you repeat them. I find it easier and more effective when I do these exercises with my eyes closed, but if you find that uncomfortable you can focus your eyes softly on a place on the floor in front of you.
1. Focused Breathing:
The breath can be used as a powerful tool to create change in both our body and our brain, calming our anxiety, and releasing tension in our muscles as well as helping us to connect with our body.
Take a deep breath in, as you inhale feel the temperature of the air as it enters your nostrils, feel the sensations inside your body as the air travels down your throat and into your lungs. Place your hand over your tummy and feel your abdomen expand as your chest fills with air. Breathe out and feel your tummy sink as the air passes back up through your throat and out of your nostrils again. Allow your shoulders to soften as you exhale. Allow the outbreath to be longer than the inbreath with each breath you take, exhaling as fully as is comfortable.
2. This Little Piggy:
Take 2-3 focused breaths then invite your attention to shift to soles of your feet. Feel the pressure of your feet upon the surface they are placed upon. Notice where on the soles of your feet, you feel the most pressure, is it your heels, one side of your feet, the balls of your feet? Is it the same for both feet or do they differ? Give your toes a wiggle, find each one of your ten beautiful toes, feel each one, smile at them and give your feet a stamp, really feel your connection to the soles of your feet.
3. Keep on Rolling:
Take 2-3 focused breaths, feeling your belly rise and fall, and gently move your attention from your breath to the back of your neck, gently drop your chin towards your chest. Rotate it slowly first towards your left shoulder, then in the opposite direction towards your right shoulder. Be super gentle, no forced movements, flow from side to side very slowly. Notice all the sensations in your neck, shoulders and upper back as your head moves from side to side. Breathe deeply and feel.
Reconnecting with our bodies, especially after childhood sexual abuse, is a huge part of how we heal. Befriending the body that I felt ashamed of and punished for so long, has transformed my life. I am passionate about helping other women to do the same. To find out more about how our Living Limitlessly Program can help you to remember who you are, reconnect to your inner wisdom and heal from the traumatic effects of the abuse you endured as a child, please contact Sarah HERE