The Art of Self Awareness

Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s character, feelings, motives, and desires. Although the definition is simple, the act of becoming self-aware is not. To be aware of yourself requires a great deal of honesty and humility with both yourself and others. It requires us to be present in the moment instead of being distracted or focused on someone or something else. And we must build the resilience to receive feedback and criticism from others. Becoming self-aware can be an excruciating process as weaknesses and flaws are exposed. Sometimes it can almost be physically painful as we reconnect with our bodies.

Teaching our residents how to be self-aware is a vital part of our program at TVF, but teaching our team to be self-aware is just as important. Everyone has their trauma, baggage, fears, and insecurities. There are many life events that we cannot control. However, we can control how we respond and how we manage ourselves. Therefore, for our team to serve our residents well, they must learn to tune in to themselves.

We work with residents who have complex trauma. They have many unmet needs, and it is our team’s job to meet their needs and teach them how to use the tools that we provide in our program. Because the job can be so intense, our team must be very self-aware of their triggers and insecurities. For example, raised voices can often trigger some people and either cause a shut-down and flight response or fight response. For others, a defiant response from a resident could create feelings of anger or helplessness. If our team is unaware of their triggers and why they respond the way they do, there is a good chance they will not successfully support our residents when needed. 

Handle With Care is a behavioral training tool, and our team must complete the training. A large portion of this training teaches our team how to become self-aware and become more aware of our residents and their behaviors. In addition, Handle With Care teaches our team to be a “solid object.” Meaning that you are stable, consistent, and supportive. If someone trips and falls, what happens with their arms and hands? They wave around, looking for something solid to fall on. That is how our residents need to have in our team. When they are “falling” (AKA. out of control), they need to know that our team is solid enough to “fall on .” 

To be a solid object requires self-awareness. When a team member is dysregulated and does not know it or does not know how to ground themselves, the residents notice that. Thus, the resident will likely become frustrated, angry, or more insecure, ultimately escalating the situation. If a team member can notice their body becoming hot or their heart racing in a tense situation with a resident, they can connect the dots that something is wrong. That team member can then take a few seconds to breathe deeply. Or even take a few minutes to excuse themselves and then rejoin the tense conversation.  

Body Signals to Build Self Awareness:

  • Heart racing
  • Hands shaking
  • Chest, neck, or face feeling hot and flushed
  • Fidgeting with hands
  • Inability to sit still
  • Body tensing up and feeling stiff
  • Sweaty palms or armpits
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Foot or leg tapping 
  • Clenching fists
  • Pacing
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea 

Mental & Emotional Signals to Build Self Awareness: 

  • Small things suddenly are a big deal
  • Inability to focus 
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Too much or too little sleep 
  • Mind racing 
  • Feeling “foggy” or “sluggish”
  • Frequent daydreaming (inability to stay present)
  • Fearful and worried thoughts
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Easily overstimulated
  • Anxious thoughts
  • Nightmares or flashbacks

These are a few signs to look for when becoming more self-aware. The question is, how do YOU respond when you notice these things? Have I felt this way before? If so, is there a traumatic experience or negative belief connected to it?

Ask, “why do I feel this way?” 

Think about the situation, conversation, recent events and work to connect the dots. 

Ask, “what do I need right now?” OR “What can I do right now?”

If palms are sweaty and the heart is racing, it may be nervousness. The need to fix that may be to fidget with something in a pocket to calm the nerves. 

Helpful Grounding Tools:

  • Have something to fidget with 
  • Go for a walk
  • Exercise
  • Take a few deep breathes
  • Pray/meditate 
  • Excuse self for a few minutes
  • Positive self talk
  • Use the five senses (find something to smell, see, hear, taste, or touch)

I have noticed that my chest turns red when I am triggered. My heart pounds and my entire body will shake, beginning with my hands. I have learned to take note of what is happening situationally to cause my body to respond like this. When my body has these responses, I am usually in a high-stress or crisis situation. During a crisis, it is not likely that I can simply excuse myself to calm down. However, I have experimented with different grounding tools to see what works best for me at the moment. I have learned that keeping my voice level soft and low helps me calm down. Talking slowly and taking pauses to speak helps decrease mind racing. And when I can, delegating so I can take 2-3 minutes to step out and collect myself is helpful. 

These are just a shortlist of grounding techniques that help bring awareness to ourselves. Everyone is different in what works for them. The goal is to stay calm and present in challenging situations and support loved ones. Try different tools and see what works best for you.

Author: Liza Lovett, Treasured Vessels Foundation, Residential Care Coordinator