Introspection used to be a word that only referred to people. It is now used in software development to describe a capability of some object-oriented programming languages to determine the type of an object at runtime; this ability is called ‘type introspection’. As I am writing about people I have used ‘self-introspection’ to describe our examination of our own behaviour, drivers and motivations and ‘other-introspection’ to describe the same examination of other people which is more commonly known as a form of empathy.
Self-introspection is something we should all do regularly. Unfortunately only the emotionally, intellectually and morally courageous amongst us actually do. Most of us are intellectual, emotional and moral cowards. Having said that all of us are capable of developing intellectual, emotional and moral courage; it just takes a desire to do so and a willingness to bear the discomfort of bad feelings in order to acknowledge and accept them as opposed to ignoring and suppressing them.
We all like to be thought of as well behaved people. Consequently our distress at the prospect of discovering, through self-introspection, that we are not as well behaved a person as we thought is understandable. The important thing for us to get our heads around is that we have good moods and bad moods – described by Richard Carlson in his book ‘You Can Be Happy No Matter What’ as ‘high moods’ and ‘low moods’. It is in our bad or low moods that we behave badly and self-introspection is a first step towards decreasing the frequency of bad/low moods.
A note of caution; self-introspection during bad/low moods and/or taking self-introspection too far can lead to self-absorption and the creation of delusions (commonly known as distorted realities) such as self-aggrandisement, anxiousness etc. Self-introspection during good/high moods can help us get rid of these delusions. Although the word ‘delusion’ is used here it is with the understanding that these ‘delusions’ feel very real.
An extremely common delusion is loneliness – the ‘nobody likes me, wants to spend time with me or wants to be with me’ syndrome. From time to time I used to feel that I was lonely and I believed it. I now believe that nobody is ever truly lonely and that we are at the very least connected to every single other human being through our basic humanity; we are all part of the human family. The connection (or bond) to our families, partners and close friends is particularly strong and remains so regardless of geographical distance or the passage of time.
The conclusion that I have drawn from my experience and research is that loneliness is a distorted state of mind that can only be corrected from within; the understanding, assistance and support of others is crucial in achieving this. My view has become that we will never be truly free of loneliness until we are totally comfortable with, and indeed fully enjoy, our own company. Once this happens it is much easier to form and sustain relationships with other people that are not based on sating those delusional feelings of loneliness. We may occasionally find ourselves alone but we are never lonely.
Self-introspection can also help us to identify patterns of behaviour that cause problems in our relationships with other people and contribute to our bad moods. These patterns tend to be set in childhood and while difficult to change can be changed. Shirley Smith in her book ‘Set Yourself Free’ says:
“We have to come out of denial and look clearly at the reality of our histories. We have to give up our delusion and fantasy about our family pictures and images. And finally, we have to thaw out and have our feelings about our histories. In this way, we can set ourselves free to make the decisions in our adult lives that will give us the fulfilment we desire.
In recalling and resolving our childhood histories, it is imperative that we do not go through this process blaming our parents. Rather, we need to account for who offended us, what happened, how we felt about it then and how we feel about it now. Only by doing this can we begin to change the reactive behaviour patterns that adversely affect our adult lives.
As children we are dependent on our major caregivers for our safety and survival and were unavoidably victims of their abusive behaviour. We need to face that, have our feelings about it and allow ourselves to grieve the losses of childhood. As adults, we need to relinquish the victim mentality we developed in our formative years, take responsibility for our lives now and thereby move from victim to victory.”
Everybody’s perception of reality is different even if only subtlety so. Self-introspection helps us to understand what our perception of reality is and where it comes from. Other-introspection or empathy allows us to understand what other people’s perception of reality is and where that comes from. According to Richard Carlson and Shirley Smith our perception of reality is a combination of our experiences, beliefs and values. Where our perception of reality is distorted they subscribe to differing views on techniques to correct the distortion. Richard Carlson advocates a here-and-now approach and Shirley Smith a more regressive-contemplative-reflective approach.
Richard Carlson says:
“Our most natural state is one of contentment and joy. The barriers or obstructions that keep us from experiencing these positive feelings are learned negative processes that we have innocently come to accept as “necessary” or as ‘just the way life is”. When we uncover these inherent positive feelings, and remove the obstructions keeping us from them, the result is a more meaningful and beautiful experience of life. These positive feelings are not fleeting emotions that come and go with changing circumstances, but permeate our lives and become a part of us. Finding this state of mind allows us to be more lighthearted and easygoing, whether or not our circumstances seem to warrant this positive outlook.”
Shirley Smith says:
“Denial diminishes as we process our past repressed feelings, come out of the trance of our childhood roles and start making conscious choices. The sooner you go into the pain, link it to its original source and identify the pattern, the sooner you will become free to choose from your true self. There is a wise saying, ‘this too shall pass’. After years of working with people to resolve their past distorted realities, I have invented an evolved version of this saying, ‘this too shall pass if you are willing to pass through it’. This means that you fully participate with the healing process – not just ‘grin and bare it’.”
My view is that both the here-and-now and regressive-contemplative-reflective approaches have their relative merits. I believe that the best approach is a combination of the two.
Regardless of which approach we employ to change damaging patterns of behaviour, change them we must; so it is always worth remembering this:
“Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”
Source – Attributed to Albert Einstein
Stay strong and serene.
Hi Yernasia. I really enjoyed what you said here and agree wholeheartedly with it. It is important to truly face ourselves if we want to move on and develop as people – and that takes a lot of courage. As you say, very few people are truly capable of this. I have a great friend who I admire because he openly admits that no relationship he had would ever have worked until he sorted himself out. He is married to a lovely woman who he is very happy with. They have a great relationship. I once asked him if he’d found her earlier he’d have ‘settled down’ earlier. He replied, “No. Nothing would have worked because I had to deal with my own issues.” A lot of people would never admit such a thing and blame failed relationships on the other person not ‘being right’.
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Hi Yernasia. Enjoying reading your blog and the various posts. Particularly enjoyed this one about introspection and agree wholeheartedly with its contents. For introspection to be useful it has to be courageous. Not many of us have the courage it takes to truly face ourselves. A friend of mine who did says it was only when he took a long, hard look at himself and his behaviour that he was finally able to form a good relationship with a woman. He has a lovely wife and has been with her a long time now but when I asked if he’d have settled down earlier if he had met her earlier he said, “No. Nothing would have worked for me, even with her, until I sorted out my own weaknesses and committed myself to doing something about them.”
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