The images of the children of Gaza have been haunting many of us for days. A Facebook connection posted a picture of the Gaza skyline after the military airstrikes happened, his headline read “What an awesome shot of Gaza today” he received many responses on the semantics of the word “awesome.” (The word awesome actually means “something you are in awe of” not necessarily something that’s cool, which is how it is often times used) but not many people addressed the actual photo. Another friend has been posting images of the conflict in an effort to raise consciousness about the issue, she feels as though we must see the graphic images to fully comprehend what is happening. When it comes to conflict, it’s always easier to look away. Many times people don’t want to see things that are happening around them, or even within themselves. We don’t like confrontation. We don’t want to see devastation; we don’t want to confront the mess. We want to avoid it and brush it aside. This is particularly true when it comes to mess lurking inside ourselves. Self-awareness is a tool that most of us don’t naturally possess. But it’s definitely on that is important we nurture.
This is why creative types are so often a hot mess. Because creative outputs require you to tap into whatever baggage you are carrying. I took a writing course and was writing about tons of topics but my instructor told me my writing seemed guarded at times and that as writers we need to write about the topic that scares us the most. I proceeded to write about my battle with depression and it became my most read article. It seems many creative works through their issues with their art. In fact, many creative people produce their best work while the in the midst of personal crisis, think Sylvia Plath and the Bell Jar. A recent article published on, The Atlantic talks about the link between the creative mind and mental illness. A scientist studied creative literary geniuses and their families and found that creativity might be genetic as it often found in various members of the same family. However these families are shared a prevalence of mental illness. The article also lists creative all share certain traits such as the ability to see things others don’t, a certain sensitivity and intensity they apply to their craft. Perhaps the same thing that makes these writers great, an ability to see themselves and others in more profound way, might be what makes them depressed, anxious etc.? While I am no literary genius, I can attest to the fact that writing requires a great deal of introspection and reflection and I have myself has issues with anxiety and depression (Boo!).
While some do it through writing, art, and other forms of self-expression. Self-reflection is an activity we should all try to pursue. Without confronting ourselves we will never grow, we will never become the best version of ourselves. The folks over at “The Good Men Project” tell us that self-awareness is a very important factor in relationship success. After all seeing your flaws makes you a better partner because only then can you admit when you hurt others and modify your behavior when necessary. I think this is why one of the most important tools for recovery is, “admitting you have a problem.” Without self- awareness we are hindering our own development because we will never take ownership over our existence and progress.
Lack of self-awareness forces us to deny ourselves what we really want to not express our true needs, and stops from becoming the people we really want to be. It is why would-be artists work in the safety of cubicles, why free-spirited wanderers can become bitter in their middle-age because they forced themselves into roles that didn’t suit them. What if this fear of confronting ourselves transfers to other parts of our lives? We start avoiding the issues that makes us uncomfortable. We stay quiet when we want to cry, we swallow our feelings and slowly we start to erode.
I think of the times when I hid from myself and it resulted in only further self-doubt. In my defense, I don’t think I was every given the tools to confront things head on. Case and point, my parents never talked to me when they decided to get separated. It just kind of happened and I went on about my pre-teen life, not once did anyone ask me about my feelings on the matter. Now that I am an adult and a parent, I wonder why they handled this in such a way. But I now know that emotional intelligence is hard to teach, if you don’t possess it. It’s no wonder then that I have gone about avoiding feelings for large portions of my life.
In the past I could go years without confronting feelings that bothered me and I would even deny them to myself. This even transferred over to my career. I remember an instance when a colleague who had the same job title I had was suddenly given her very own office, while I remained in the comfortable cocoon of my cubicle. I didn’t want to ask why or how that decision was made because it felt like a petty thing to discuss even though I knew that this was going to affect the way our roles were perceived. But the reality is that I was simply afraid to know the truth. She’s now a Director at that organization and I learned that avoidance is not the way.
My life changed once I started putting my feelings on a screen/paper or rather I elicited changes once I dealt with what was flowing out of my mind. Even if its things that don’t ever see the light of day, putting feelings out there forces me to confront them.
When it comes to relationships (the romantic or otherwise) it is no surprise that we feel close to others only when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, when we share what hurts us, what makes us tick. This is why it’s hard to truly fall in love without exposing oneself to the other person. Relationships often require conversations where you must look into the scary parts of yourself and let the other person poke at those parts. Those scary parts of us have a way of finding their way into our romantic relationships and only when we deal with them can true intimacy can develop.
It is because of this I for one am choosing to live in the discomfort. I am choosing to confront the difficult conversations with more frequency. I am trying to take further ownership of my feelings, my wants this is why I write this blog even though it may never lead to anything. If we look away when we see images of tragedy we fail to acknowledge what we can do to prevent conflict from happening around the world. When it comes to looking for the truth hidden inside ourselves, if you are looking away, ask yourself what you are afraid of. If you answer that question truthfully you may find yourself on the road to transformation.
I don’t want to look away and neither should you.
P.S -If you need some inspiration this week, I have been obsessing over this essay by Debbie Millman, Fail Safe in it she discusses how she faced her fears when she found herself at the crossroads of a life changing decision. She talks about settling, the need for security and how it impacts our decision making. ( It was featured in her fantastic book of illustrated essays) It’s a must read!