top of page

The Problem With Being Too Self-Aware

“I think, therefore I am”, damn you Descartes. Sorry. I have been thinking a lot lately, just random stuff you know life and love and blah blah, and once upon a time, something that someone I once knew told me, comes back to me, “My therapist told me I'm too self-aware.” I never did bother to understand what this meant, even whilst I was studying psychology, but sometimes, you've got to walk the walk and then talk the talk. So, here's my talk, to try and explain Self-awareness, the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between.


Self-awareness, the ability to direct attention inward and engage in self-evaluation, has garnered significant attention in social-clinical psychology. However, its association with negative emotions, depression, suicidal tendencies, and maladaptive behavior has led to its somewhat unfavorable reputation. This article delves into the nuanced effects of self-awareness within the realm of social-clinical psychology.

Who Are You if Not Your Thoughts?

Self-awareness, in a nutshell, can be defined as the capacity to self-reflect. How you see yourself, and your identity et al, all are part of this. So, how it works is we have this part of our brain called the default mode network. This is part of the brain that gives us the capacity for self-awareness. We may see ourselves in the years to come, predict repercussions, plan ahead, better ourselves, and engage in a variety of other human-specific behaviours but, a cow doesn't live that way. Their days are autonomic; they don't question their routines, or why they grazed in a specific location, and therefore they don't grow frustrated or dissatisfied with themselves.


Now, let's test it on ourselves. How many times have you questioned anything in the past 2 minutes that pertains to the self? (You) It could be anything from how many minutes you spend on social media, to something existential like what is my purpose. This is all thanks to the default mode network. Our ability to self-reflect, have a conscious and be aware of our surroundings and mostly ourselves is something unique to humans.



Monkey Get Banana; Monkey Happy

Of course, this meta-level thinking that we have inherited from our predecessors is a double-edged sword. The funny thing is our ability for self-awareness due to the default mode network, evolutionary speaking, gives us a chance of being depressed. (Chou et al., 2023)


Research dictates that those with depression have a highly active default mode network and therefore they question themselves more or rather judge themselves more. This is the problem with being too self-aware.


Take this into a real-world scenario, I write an article and it doesn't get many reads or doesn't blow up, so the default mode network activates, as I start questioning myself, my self-worth, and what others think of me, a cat would just lay in the sun and not think about this but I am alas a human. This might lead to a negative spiral where my mind tries to justify itself as to why this is happening; something like a “Yo, I don't think they like what you wrote. Maybe your writing sucks” and blah blah however this is where it deviates from the original goal of problem-solving. Instead of thinking “Can we fix anything for the better?”, An overactive default mode network in those that show signs of depression, questions the self on a meta-level creating narratives for a small situation that may/may not be related to self-worth at all!


When the default mode network is hyperactive, even small things that ought not to be our fault become our fault because this circuit in our brain that's like being self-reflective remains on, so you get these thoughts that slowly and gradually become darker and darker until they eat you up.


Self-awareness takes on various conceptual forms, such as insight, reflection, rumination, and notably, mindfulness. Among these, mindfulness has gained substantial traction in contemporary research. Explore the multifaceted dimensions of self-awareness in this article.

This pattern of thinking about yourself-thinking about yourself-thinking about yourself, this cycle in which your mind is caught on continually gazing at yourself instead of taking a step back, is also neuroscientifically linked to depression. (Sutton, 2016) (Mista therapist was right.)


I'd also want to highlight that studies and experiments show that substances like Ketamine, mushrooms (Psilocybin), MDMA, and others may be used to treat depression in a licenced and prescribed way. Dissociating chemicals, such as Ketamine, lead one to become disconnected from oneself. The neuroscience of it all is that it basically turns off the default mode network, so instead of getting stuck in that thought pattern, which is like your high self-awareness being focused on you all the time, your mind is now, suddenly, able to pull back from that by using these substances.(Mandal et al., 2019) (in a prescribed and legal manner)



Row, Row, Row Your Boat Gently Down The Stream...

It aint all bad though, A self-aware individual is a mindful and mature individual, the end goal of self-awareness is self-acceptance, with all your goods and bads and most importantly the uglys.


When you’re actively trying to notice the patterns that dictate your life and don't let them control you but instead put a lease on them, that’s mindfulness. When you understand what you’re feeling and feel it freely without judgment, that's mindfulness.


The moral of the story is being wrapped up in your head-bad, being curious and not judging yourself, your emotions, your thoughts-good. Mindfulness is a long journey that beings with awareness and ends with self-acceptance. Yeah, it’s easier said than done but we got our whole lives to be better than we were yesterday. Why mind the mind, just keep walking and don't look behind.


Delve into the pivotal role of self-relevant thought, a significant catalyst behind both personal struggles and societal issues, impacting human experiences on both individual and species-wide levels.

References

Chou, T., Deckersbach, T., Dougherty, D. D., & Hooley, J. M. (2023). The default mode network and rumination in individuals at risk for depression. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsad032

Mandal, S., Sinha, V., & Goyal, N. (2019). Efficacy of ketamine therapy in the treatment of depression. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 61(5), 480. https://doi.org/10.4103/psychiatry.indianjpsychiatry_484_18

Sutton, A. (2016). Measuring the effects of self-awareness: Construction of the self-awareness outcomes questionnaire. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 12(4), 645–658. https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v12i4.1178


Comments


Commenting has been turned off.