Lesson 1 of 7 - free your true Self to guide you

Increase Your Awareness

An essential for contentment 

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/awareness.htm

 Updated  02-03-15

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Human beings have always employed an enormous amount of

 clever devices for running away from themselves...

we can keep ourselves busy, fill our lives with so many diversions,

 stuff our heads with so much knowledge,

 involve ourselves with so many people and cover so much ground

 that we never have time to probe the fearful and wonderful world within.

 By middle life, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

                                         -- John Gardner  

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams, Who looks inside, awakens

- Carl Jung

Go within or go without - Neal Walsch

      This is one of a series of articles and worksheets in Lesson 1 - free your true Self and reduce any psychological wounds. This brief YouTube video previews key points in this article. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site - I've reduced that to seven.

      This article offers perspective on personal awareness, and practical options for improving it. It provides...

  • a status check on how aware you are,

  • perspective on awareness,

  • be aware of what?

  • why are so many people unaware?

  • why improve your awareness?; and...

  • options for doing so.

      I  write this because in my experience as a veteran therapist with over 1000 adults and kids, very few average Americans are aware of (a) the amazing world within them or (b) the complex dynamics between them and other people. Paradox - effective communication and problem-solving is directly proportional to how aware people are, yet typical adults (like you?) aren't aware of their unawareness and its toxic effects, so they don't seek to improve it.

        This article assumes you're familiar with the intro to this Web site, the premises underlying it, and self-improvement Lesson 1.

Status Check - How would you explain the concept of "awareness" to an average pre-teen? Try saying your definition out loud. Then reflect and rank yourself from one (I'm never aware of myself and others) to ten (I'm always very aware):  ___. We'll check this again at the end of the article.

       To prepare for what follows, try this brief exercise now, and notice how it feels.


      "Higher" animals are unique among Earthly life forms because we have a multi-function brain, nervous and hormonal systems, and specialized organs allowing us to see, smell, feel, hear, taste, and "sense." things around us. We may start the instinctive process of converting signals from these organs into "meaning" in the womb. We automatically refine that process for decades until our senses and brains decay and die.

  What is Awareness?

       Premise - many students of human nature accept that we have at least three "minds"...

  • your conscious mind holds information you're aware of, including some memories. Consciousness is like the sphere of vision created by a light in a dark cave. With practice and a good vocabulary, we can choose word-symbols (language) to describe our conscious awarenesses.

  • your semiconscious mind holds information you may become aware of (like some other memories and perceptions, repressions, spiritual signals, hunches, and intuitions), and...

  • your unconscious mind, which holds information that you can't normally be aware of. Instincts and some reflexes may reside here. By definition, we cannot articulate unconscious data. Some mind-altering chemicals and hypnotic experiences can reveal some unconscious information to our conscious minds. Unconscious content affects our moods, bodily functions, and behaviors.

      Here, awareness refers to what you're conscious of now and over time. Your current awareness includes mental (cognition / thinking) + bodily (emotions and senses) + spiritual elements.

      Mental awareness can include current and remembered knowledge and subjective perceptions and conclusions about yourself + other people + relationships + events + environments.

      Sensory awareness may include current sights, sounds, touches, tastes, and smells. Some people propose that we have a "sixth sense" which allows conscious awareness of hunches, intuitions, premonitions, and "senses" ("I sense you're upset with me").

      Spiritual awareness is consciousness of non-observable entities / forces / energies that affect life on Earth ("I felt the presence of God as we crashed").  Some suggest that the "still small voice within us" brings spiritual guidance. Spiritual growth may be defined as "increasing your spiritual awareness and understanding of these entities as you age."

      Note the difference between "being aware" and of "making (intellectual) sense" of (decoding or interpreting) your awareness - i.e. "figuring out" what it means. These are two related but separate learned abilities.

      Premises - see how you feel about these ideas: A = "I agree,"  D = " I disagree," and ? = "I'm not sure," or "It depends on (what?)"

  • Adults, kids, and infants have three levels of awareness; conscious, semiconscious, and unconscious. All three combine to cause current-moment needs (discomforts), thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. (A  D  ?)

  • Anyone (like you) can intentionally benefit by expanding their conscious awareness (increase the "light") by meditating and journaling regularly. (A  D  ?)

  • Conscious and semiconscious awareness is limited by (a) knowledge (beliefs about life on Earth), and (b) vocabulary available to describe personal knowledge, beliefs, and perceptions. Both factors can be intentionally improved over time. (A  D  ?)

  • Human conflict occurs because of (a) differences in people's perceptions and awarenesses, and (b) their inability to communicate objectively and cooperatively about this difference. (A  D  ?)

  • Part of general awareness is communication awareness - perceiving and interpreting the dynamics inside us and between us and other living things. Once people are aware of these and some basic knowledge, they can intentionally improve their thinking and communication effectiveness. (A  D  ?)

  • Teaching kids to be aware of their awareness, and to want to intentionally expand and use it, is a priceless life-long gift. (A  D  ?) Do you do this? Did your childhood caregivers? Not doing it is usually a sign of false-self dominance + unawareness + ignorance (lack of knowledge).

      What did you just learn?

  Be Aware of What?

      All living things strive to survive and to avoid and reduce discomforts. Evolution promotes survival by providing us with organs, nerves, and a brain to decode "meaning" from our sensory signals. So we're designed to be aware of sights, sounds, touches, temperatures, tastes, hungers, thirst, weariness, aches, pains, and smells that signal danger or discomfort. Awareness of sensory inputs is largely instinctual and learned early ("Don't touch skunks or fire").

      Because we humans are social animals, our "dangers" also include a wide variety of relationship discomforts and pain that - say - buffalo, seagulls, and gerbils are probably free of. So the awareness we're concerned with here is...

  • thoughts + emotions + "senses," + sensations;

  • social dynamics, and...

  • spiritual "things"

Awareness of Thoughts and Emotions

Mental Awareness

      Do you know people who answer "What are you thinking?" with "Uh...I don't know." or "Nothing"? That may be true (they are unaware), or it may be a way to avoid revealing their thoughts and expected pain (e.g. "That's a stupid idea!"). Such people may have trouble conversing because they "don't know what to say." Several factors may explain this: the person...

  • has many personality subselves expressing themselves at once, and the person can't sort, identify or express their chaotic thoughts and feelings (is overwhelmed); and/or she...

  • is fear-based and shame-based (wounded), and feels unsafe to "have (certain) thoughts or express them; and/or she...

  • is aware of current thoughts, but lacks the vocabulary and social; skills to express them clearly and feels inept; and/or...

  • something else.

      If any of these factors hinder your ability to be aware of or express your thoughts, you may assess yourself for psychological wounds and commit to reducing any you find - i.e. commit to free your talented true Self, quieting your inner babble, and intentionally healing old fears of expressiveness. (i.e. work at Lesson 1). Another option is to intentionally expand your vocabulary over time.

Emotional Awareness

      Can  you define "an emotion" without using the word "feeling"? We grow an array of several dozen emotions early in life. They're automatic neurochemical reactions to sensations and perceptions, amplified or triggered by our amazing ability to think. Note the difference between feeling an emotion and expressing it.

      All animal behavior (like yours) is an endless quest to avoid pain and death, and to reduce discomforts (needs). Premise - every "negative" (uncomfortable) emotion like rage, fear, shame, frustration guilt, and jealousy is a useful pointer to some unfilled primary need. This suggests that all emotions are helpful if we're aware of them. Do you agree?

      Do you know adults or kids who seem overcontrolled, "flat," or unexpressive? Contrast them with others who are lively, animated, and spontaneous. Where do you fit on a line between these two traits? The former group may have learned very early that expressing and/or acting on their feelings brought pain, so they learned to either numb or control expression of their emotions. Often people like this unconsciously breathe very shallowly, because oxygen tends to amplify emotions

      Many people observe that typical females are more emotionally volatile and expressive than average males. That suggests that some males may be genetically hindered from being aware of their emotions. An interesting proposal by neurobiologist Anne Moir is that brains can be classed as male or female because they're "wired" and operate differently. Her research suggests that depending on hormonal (and genetic?) factors in the pregnant mother, male babies can develop a female brain. That helps explain why some males are very sensitive and emotional and others aren't.

      My research suggests that adults who were encouraged and rewarded for expressing their emotions by their (expressive) adults are more aware of their feelings than kids from low-nurturance families. What do you think? If this is true, then if you want to be more aware of your emotions, assess whether you may be a Grown Wounded Child (GWC).


      Do you ever have hunches, intuitions, "feelings," or premonitions? Are you aware of your day and night dreams and fantasies? Do you feel they "mean something" and merit some action? People who lack awareness of these are often compulsively busy, and rarely slow down to breathe and notice these common experiences. People who value some form of meditation like Zazen and practice breathing techniques are often more aware of these "senses." Many people believe such awareness is part of "being spiritual." 

Awareness of Social Dynamics 

      Three zones that anyone can increase their awareness of are...

  • the ceaseless internal interaction among their personality subselves ("inner family"),

  • apparent interactions among other people's subselves - e.g. "Looks like Luke has an internal conflict now", and...

  • the multi-factor dynamics between you and other people (e.g. "I notice that Janna and I are arguing now, not problem-solving.")

On a scale of one (totally unaware) to ten (totally aware), how would you rank your normal awareness of each zone? Have your awarenesses of these grown or shrunk during your adult years?

Internal Awareness

      A growing number of observers believe that normal personalities are made up of semi-autonomous subselves or parts, which are probably discrete brain regions. These interact all the time, causing our thoughts, emotions, and some body sensations.

      To gain awareness of the busy social worlds within you and other people, study this, and then identify your subselves. Learning to affirm and harmonize your subselves is the focus of Lesson 1 here. If you're curious or skeptical about subselves, read this letter and try this safe, interesting exercise after you finish this article.

Interpersonal Awareness

      Two of seven powerful relationship skills anyone can learn to use are process awareness and metatalk. Professional communicators like therapists and life coaches can learn to be aware of up to 50 social dynamics! Most people need to know fewer than ten of these in normal situations. Lesson 2 in this Web site provides guidance and resources for learning these dynamics.

      Some scholars liken awareness to an onion - peeling each layer revealing a deeper layer, leading to "perfect peace," "Oneness with the universe," or "Nirvana." Seeking to attain this state is a life-long pursuit for some inspired and "enlightened" people.

Why are Many People Unaware?


  • our warp-speed, hyperactive culture doesn't value or promote personal stillness, meditation, and awareness ("mindfulness");

  • few parents and schools teach kids the value of being quiet and aware, meditating, journaling, empathy, and process-awareness;

  • the ceaseless barrage of media stimulation most of us endure;

  • some people are extraverts, who are uncomfortable focusing "inside";

  • many adults and all kids are unaware of being psychologically wounded and their subselves protectively distorting, numbing, or blocking their emotions and awarenesses. They may also suffer from "mind racing" or  "churning" when many subselves "talk" at once, drowning out local awareness.

  • some wounded people fear "looking within" will reveal or free something awful or "evil," so they avoid inner awareness; and...

      Do you agree that average people in "developed societies" are relatively unaware of their thoughts, emotions, and social dynamics? Can you think of other personal or social reasons for epidemic unawareness?

      Paradox: we won't seek the benefits of greater awareness unless we're aware of the costs of unawareness - i.e. we're unaware of our unawareness, unless we choose to reduce it on faith. Reducing psychological wounds (Lesson 1) usually increases inner awareness and empathy automatically.

      Implication - if you want to intentionally increase your awarenesses, you must admit and overcome your version of the blocks above. To do that, you'll need your true Self to steadily guide your other subselves. Do you know who's really running your life?

  Why Improve Your Awareness?

      Benefits vary by personality, age, culture, and situations. Gaining wide-angle inner and outer awareness is like changing visual blindness to clear color vision. This is immortalized in a line from the hymn Amazing Grace - "(I) Was blind, but now I see." Do you feel more aware (vs. knowledgeable) as an adult than you were as a child? If so, pause and reflect - what benefits has that brought you? 

  • The overarching benefit to increasing your awareness is longer periods of personal serenity and peace - freedom from personal and social discomfort. Do you feel that reducing chronic personal stress probably promotes a healthier lifestyle and longer life?

  • Intentionally improving your awareness of what other people are feeling, thinking, needing, and doing promotes more empathic, effective communication and more satisfying relationships.

  • Becoming more aware of the dynamics between you and other people also promotes more effective communication and more social harmony and satisfactions among all participants.

  • Increased awareness + knowledge of the grieving process (Lesson 3) can sharply lower your odds of getting stuck in mourning significant losses (broken bonds).

  • Seeking more spiritual awareness can improve your communication and relationship with your Higher Power - specially in troubled times.

  • Add any benefits that are unique to your personal and family situation.

      Have you ever seen these awareness-benefits in one place before? All these benefits together can significantly improve your marital and family satisfaction and parenting effectiveness over time. This is specially true if you encourage the young people in your life to be more aware in all three zones (in me, in you, and between us), and model it for them. are your family adults doing that yet?

      So - are you motivated to increase your personal and social awarenesses now? If so, consider these...

 Options for Improving Your Awareness

      A major block to personal awareness is being often dominated by distrustful subselves - a false self. So a first step is to assess yourself honestly for psychological wounds, and decide if you need to commit to wound-reduction - i.e. to freeing your true Self to guide your personality. If you ignore this, lower your expectations of the other options below. See self-improvement Lesson 1.

      Decide something like "My life will be longer and more enjoyable if I patiently grow my awareness." Then repeat that and practice this simple exercise at random times during the day and night. Option - be open to learn some patterns of your awarenesses over time - e.g. "I'm most aware in the morning," or "in Nature."

      There are many age-old practices for increasing inner and outer awareness. Most suggest (a) setting aside undistracted periods of the day and night to be physically and mentally quiet, and (b) learning how to breathe naturally from your belly. To do the first, you may need to meet with your dedicated Achiever and Critic subselves, who insist that you constantly be doing something "productive." Recovery expert John Bradshaw observed "We are human doings, not human beings."

      Tell your Pusher/Drier/Achiever subself that doing nothing is productive, and to trust you (your Self) to benefit from quiet periods. Don't try to convince this energetic subself that "more awareness" is beneficial - s/he won't understand or agree. You may also have to explain this idea to some other people who chide you for "being lazy" or "wasting time."

      Many people find that doing some form of regular journaling helps grow awareness of their inner and outer worlds. A useful reference is the series of books based on "The Artists Way," by Julia Cameron. Reluctance to do this often stems from the Scared Child ("But what if someone reads it?"), Cynic/ Doubter ("This is a stupid waste of time!"), and/or Pessimist ("This won't do any good.") subselves.

      A traditional way to improve awareness is any of the many forms of meditation. Search the Web with this term and see what you get. This can include aroma and/or massage therapy.

      Become curious about how other people manifest and practice awareness, and be open to new ideas.

      If you accept that some people are more adept at awareness than others, seek people in your community who are respected veteran coaches or guides at expanding your consciousness. This includes pastoral counselors and spiritual guides - e.g. Zen Buddhist masters and Native American shamans.

      Try experiencing several retreats in Natural settings to get away from your daily distractions. Some geographic locations like Sedona Arizona are renowned for enhancing personal and spiritual awareness.

      To enhance your social (interpersonal) awareness, study these communication basics, and this article for perspective and options. 

      These are a few of the many options available to you toward enjoying a greater personal, social, and spiritual awareness. They all require you to (a) free your Self to lead your personality, and (b) decide to improve your awareness without knowing what the specific benefits will be - a leap of faith.

Status Check - Now how would you explain the concept of "awareness" to an average pre-teen? Try saying your definition out loud. Then reflect and rank yourself from one (I'm never aware of myself and others) to ten (I'm always very aware):  ___. How does this compare with your rank at the top of the article?. What have you learned?


      This article defines "awareness," focuses on why and how to intentionally improve your personal and social awareness. The article exists because of the premise that most American adults (like you?) and all kids are unaware of their unawareness. This significantly hinders their serenity, health, relationships, and accomplishments.

       The article  proposes that you can achieve significant personal and social benefits from patiently raising your awareness (a) within you, (b) of other people (empathy), (c) between you and other people, and (d) of spiritual things.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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