The journey to self-awareness

By Robert J. Burrowes

What is Self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the capacity to pay conscious attention to all aspects of yourself: to use sensory capacities such as sight, hearing and touch to provide accurate information about the external world; to use feelings such as thirst, hunger, nausea, dizziness and physical pain to provide accurate information about the state of your body and what it needs; to use memory to store and provide access to learning from past experience; to use your 'truth register' to detect lies and other misinformation; to use intuition to 'listen' to and remain in touch with 'the big picture' of life as a whole; to use conscience to enable you to make and act on those difficult moral choices that, for example, might ultimately require you to act against social conventions or unjust laws; to use feelings such as fear, happiness, emotional pain, joy, anger, satisfaction, sadness, sexual arousal and a vast variety of others to tell you what is happening for you in any given situation and to give you the power to behave appropriately in this context when the time is right; and to use intellect to acquire, interpret, analyse and evaluate information from these and other sources, such as written material.

Self-awareness is also the capacity to synthesise all of the input from these and other sources in order to crystallise the appropriately precise behavioural option in any given circumstance. To disintegrate or rank these interrelated components of Self-awareness (for example, to regard 'thinking' as somehow separate from and superior to 'feeling') or to regard them as in conflict with one another, gets in the way of appreciating each function as a vital part of the whole even if temporary indecision precedes an integrated sense of how to proceed.

The mind is genetically programmed to be one integrated whole, not a conflicting set of components, but it is easily damaged so that one part of its capacity dominates or suppresses others. It is the ongoing destruction throughout childhood of the capacity to pay attention to all of this input, and particularly feelings, that progressively destroys the innate capacity to become Self-aware. What causes this damage? Terror. And what makes a mind react with terror thus disrupting all other functions simultaneously? Violence. And particularly the unrelenting onslaught of 'invisible' violence and 'utterly invisible' violence inflicted on children throughout their childhood. See 'Why Violence?'

If you want to know how serious this damage is, then consider some simple questions: Do you ever do what others tell you? Why? Do you know how to stand in a perfect posture (and can you do it)? Do you know what food makes you healthy (and do you eat it)? Do you deliberately frighten children to make them do what you want? Why do you believe that this is functional? And do you feel calmly and powerfully able to deal with any situation, including the looming threat of human extinction (or do you prefer to delude yourself that it isn't happening)?

Self-awareness also enables the individual to prioritise but to not 'forget'. For example, if an individual injures their leg while escaping a dangerous situation, the individual will need to prioritise escape over the injury. But, as soon as circumstances allow, the Self-aware individual will stop doing everything else to pay deliberate attention to the injury by specifically focusing on the pain and, if necessary, by applying the appropriate first aid treatment. Why?

All communications, whether in the form of feelings such as fear and anger, physical symptoms such as nausea and pain, and sensory signals such as sounds and smells, are designed to give your mind information about what is taking place but this information can only be fully utilised if you devote deliberate attention to this or these phenomena. In the case of physical pain, for example, the pain is designed to attract your attention and, if you focus your attention on the pain rather than fearfully suppressing your awareness of it (by distracting yourself or by taking painkillers, for example) as you were taught and terrorised into doing as a child, then your body will be in the optimum mode for responding to the pain, and what it signals, with the appropriate short and long term healing strategy.

Your attention is a vital ingredient of your healing: first, because it optimises your body's capacity to identify and efficiently implement the uniquely appropriate healing strategy for this circumstance, and second, because it tells you what you need to do and what you need to change (if anything), both in the short and long terms, if complete healing is to occur.

If you focus attention on the pain, it will virtually always be both manageable and short-lived. Once it has your attention for the problem, your immune system will automatically start to mute the pain. Without attention full healing will never occur. Even worse, your body will store the disease or injury of which the pain is a symptom and this will keep manifesting one way or another repeatedly throughout your life resulting in chronically declining health, as well as more intense and longer-lasting bouts of pain requiring more frequent and ever-stronger distractions and drugs to suppress it, despite the fact that the human organism is designed to be as vigorous (even if differently so) in old age as in youth.

The purpose of emotional pain is the same as physical pain: to get your attention. But if emotional pain is not felt at the time (that is, it is fearfully suppressed), it will come back later to wallop you bigger and harder. Or kill you prematurely.

In summary then, just as an individual will fearfully (and either consciously or unconsciously) suppress their awareness of physical and emotional pain, they will also fearfully (and increasingly automatically and unconsciously) suppress their awareness of all aspects of their mind as a result of the violence inflicted on them throughout their childhood.

Hence, if you wish to acquire the Self-awareness that is your birthright, you will need to pay attention to (that is, to spend time feeling) the fear that makes you unconsciously suppress it.

How do you do this? The short answer is this: If you feel scared in a particular situation, try to consciously focus on feeling your fear - whether from a dream, a memory or some current event in your life - for as long as you can before reacting to it. For more details of this process, see 'Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice' It will be unpleasant but highly instructive.

If you wish to join the worldwide movement to end all violence and facilitate our shared journey to Self-awareness, you are welcome to sign online 'The People's Charter to Create a Nonviolent World'

Self-awareness is your birthright: don't let your fear take it from you.

Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and
ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an
effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a
nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?' His email address is [email protected]
and his website is at

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov