How to learn to understand yourself (exercise)

How to learn to understand yourself (exercise)

I will start with the fact that not all people have the need to learn to understand themselves: this skill develops at a fairly early age in the process of communicating with parents.

Unfortunately, there are, of course, people who do not have it formed at all. Typically, this can happen in a family with hyper-baked and/or hyper-controlled parents, who from the very beginning and up to the “pretty age” the child knows better than he wants and feels (if at all ready to assume that he can feel something). It turns out to be like a well-known anecdote:

Mom: Son, it’s time to go home!

Son: Mom, am I cold or do I have to pee?

How to learn to understand yourself

Or vice versa, when a child’s vocabulary (respectively, the vocabulary of adults around him) does not include words indicating feelings and desires at all. In these cases, one can learn to understand oneself only in long-term communication with a psychotherapist or a person who, having a reliable contact with oneself, with one’s true needs, feelings and reality, is ready to assume the functions of a parent.

However, often under the influence of the same parents or other important adults, the experience (skill) of understanding oneself is simply depressed. This can happen when there is a prohibition on any feelings in the family in general or only towards the child and/or some special (often negative) attitude towards the child’s natural desire to satisfy some (or all) of his/her “wants. When, instead of teaching the child to be aware of and socially adequately meet his or her needs, the child is generally prohibited from wanting and focused on “curing his or her selfishness”.

In these cases, I usually offer one simple, simple exercise. Having mastered it, a person can learn not only to recognize his or her feelings (by the way, at first it would be good to remember what they are like at all, and to add these words to his or her vocabulary :)), but also to learn to determine the true motives of his or her actions, the reasons for the appearance and peculiarities of the manifestation of his or her emotions and to determine the needs behind it.

The exercise should be performed five or six times a day, until, over time, it will not turn into a persistent skill. It consists of five points and is a kind of experience of “scanning” yourself at the moment. Perhaps at the beginning, its performance will require you to have a certain concentration and time specifically allocated to it, gradually you will learn to do it instantly without taking away from any current activity.


“Scanning” your feelings: You must (must first speak) call with words the feelings that you have at the current moment.

“Scanning” thoughts. There are three areas in which your thoughts can be located:

  • The sphere of reality, when you are thinking directly about the current activity or remembering something (just remembering without thinking through the details and evaluation), or planning something in the near future (the near future is limited to a few nearest hours, all that further – another sphere).
  • The sphere of illusion, it includes everything “if” about the past or the present moment, everything “maybe” and “maybe”, like: “maybe he thinks that I…” and other dreams, plans and fantasies;
  • the sphere of abstractions – all theoretical statements based on theoretical knowledge, all evaluations of anything: the activity of somebody and yours, the characteristics of something, somebody or you; generalizations, like: “all people usually…” or “all sellers always…” in general, any reflections including the words “all”, “always”, “usually”; as well as thoughts about things that are not directly related to you right now, such as: thoughts about politics, sports, etc.. —

it is enough to determine which sphere and which part of it your thoughts were in when the exercise began.

  1. “Scanning” their bodily sensations, including states of breathing, stomach and intestines, heart activity and those that may be caused by experiencing certain feelings: “cat scratching”, “heart constriction”.
  2. “Scanning” perception of reality: what I can see, hear, smell and taste now.
  3. 5. Determining which of the above four points was the starting point for the other three.

For starters, I suggest we focus on the first four points. This alone often leads people to become more conscious and more in contact with themselves.

Often, in order to make this exercise more visible, I tell you a couple of cases from my practice.

One day, a woman came to my consultation and from the threshold said something like this: “I’m actually doing well, and in general, I’m white and fluffy: and I get along with people and contact is easy to find…. …found… …usually… with everyone… But I’ve been promoted. And I’m supposed to be a secretary… But somehow all my colleagues have secretaries, and I don’t understand what, as “by advertisement”! I’m firing my third! I’m just annoying in a way that I can’t work at all!” After that, we talked for a while and I offered her this exercise. A week later, we met again: “I get it!!! I got the previous secretary back and she didn’t annoy me! My silent question was immediately followed by the answer: “You see, I’m a coffee man! I don’t leave the house in the morning without an impressive cup of coffee… and then two hours in traffic… …you know? And the coffee is diuretic! And the order of “meeting the boss-my” I made up my secretaries myself! And by this “order”, she (the secretary) should come into my office with me, put me on the table already prepared a cup of coffee and at the same time tell me who called today, what asked, etc… As you understand, after a large cup of coffee and two hours spent in traffic, the only wish of a person who overshadows all other wishes and negates all mental activity in general is to run to the toilet. And when there is a barrier in the form of a secretary on the way to the realization of this vital need – the only thing this barrier can count on is that she will not be killed… at once.

How to learn to understand yourself

My other client found a reason for her resentfulness. At some point, she suddenly realized that most of the time her thoughts were in fantasies about how she was praised, set an example for others to admire. Any encounter with a reality that did not correspond to her fantasies led to self-abasement, feelings of guilt, and then to resentment, which for her was the only way to avoid a hard experience of guilt and “her own worthlessness”. Later, gradually she was able to strengthen in herself the so-called self – that part of the personality, on the basis of which she was able to “regain the right to self-esteem”, and learned to pay attention to her need for love and acceptance and to take responsibility for its own satisfaction.

The only “danger” that can await a person on the path of such an independent return to himself, able to direct him on the wrong path and permanently deprive him of the possibility of seeing reality – rationalisation – is the protection against the fear of looking at oneself in the present, not the one you are used to for everyone, protecting against the fear of encountering your own Shadow (remember Schwartz’s fairy tale “The Shadow”?) Dictionaries describe this protection as a mechanism in which “only that part of the perceived information is used in thinking, and only those conclusions are made. In other words, the selection (search) of a rational explanation for behaviour or decisions with other, unconscious reasons.

So periodically it would be good to “test”: to get feedback from people who, in your opinion, are in good contact with their feelings and desires, have sufficient experience of communicating with themselves in the present, are open and sensitive to themselves and others.