I so often hear clients and people say "If only I had started thinking about this stuff earlier in my life" when they taste the tiniest bit of the sweet relief that self-reflection and introspective insight offers.
Another version is: "I wish I knew this stuff when I was younger."
I always respond the same way: "You did not know you needed it then."
You see, people seek out help - from a coach, a teacher, a therapist, whomever - when they realize that they cannot figure out the answers they seek on their own or through their basic support system. They ask such deep questions about themselves, their life, and career that they get overwhelmed in a seemingly undirected pursuit of the answers.
Human beings are so very good, though, at creating and using defense mechanisms when we are younger, and the longer we go using defense mechanisms to feel better, the longer we go until we realize we need help traveling inward.
The Peril Of Self-Worth
Kids often begin to CONSCIOUSLY compare themselves to others and create a sense of self-worth in middle school. As a result, they create defense mechanisms and coping behaviors that protect them from feelings of worthlessness. The mechanisms are called defense for a reason.
I do not bring this up to criticize defense mechanisms because they are, in fact, strategies we use to survive. Their creation is our brain's effort to make sure we avoid pain at all costs. If we do not know how to boost our self-esteems on our own, our brain looks for the next most compelling alternative strategy.
I am struck, though, by the sense of embarrassment my clients show when they realize how long they have relied on these defense mechanisms. The sudden shock of relief from a little insight immediately shifts to terror at the amount of their life they think they have "wasted".
It is like they feel a sharp remorse for something they did not know they were missing.
It is also a positive experience they swiftly turn regretful, as though they have been making a mistake their whole lives. Making a mistake implies judgment of right and wrong, though.
We all have survival strategies and defense mechanisms that we learned at different times for different reasons so no one can judge someone else for theirs. Our strategies are all different, and that is all that they are. Not better or worse.
My Reflective DNA
As the introverted youngest child of my family, I was lucky to have introspection hard wired into my genetic disposition. My childhood was spent noticing my thoughts and building curiosity while high school brought the consciousness along to my interests, capabilities, opinions, and sense of self. I was given my first journal for Christmas during freshman year of college, and opening that little notebook was the literal emblem of me opening up my mind and swan-diving into the depths.
Despite the many years and many ways I have engaged in self-reflection, I still have my own assortment of defense mechanisms that like to linger and fill in when my reflective mind wants a break. I trust, though, that that part of my mind will kick back in in a moment of need.
A Case Of Need
The overwhelming NEED is what my clients begin to realize once they have tasted the fruit of self-awareness. They are finally able to pinpoint why they needed something deeper than a primitive defense mechanism in the moment to answer the questions they cannot let go of. Whether it be pain or sadness or restlessness or stress, the opening that self-reflection creates allows them the space to realize where they were stuck and why.
The relief that comes encourages them to try a little more reflection, and in doing so provides even more space to safely learn even more about themselves.
In a poem by Charles Bukowski, the author writes "Your life...is your life. Know it...while you have it."
Why not know more about why you are here while you are here? Why not learn who you are while you are you?
We all give in to the power of reflection at some point.