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On Becoming Self Aware

Personal Stories

On Becoming Self Aware

Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living". That may be something of an overstatement but he makes a good point-self awareness is crucial to a meaningful life and interaction with others.


Impaired self awareness is a common outcome after a brain injury. While in more severe cases a person may have no idea the injury has affected them at all, I fell into the other category where I did retain the capacity for self awareness. Others who have acquired a "mild" brain injury have commented that the effects are still anything but mild. While I was able to continue studying and then working after my injury, I had trouble getting along with people as I made inappropriate jokes or comments. While I could see this hurt some and pushed others way, I conveniently blamed them instead of myself. With hindsight I now cringe at the social gaffes I made over the years, as I believed my social skills were unaffected and used any coping mechanism to support this misguided belief.


Overestimating Abilities
Apart from being unable to accurately assess one's own abilities, impaired self awareness can also lead to overestimating one's abilities. For years I believed I was very skilled and experienced in computer programming. Through my studies I felt I was a cut above the other students. This attitude continued into my jobs but lack of short term memory, inability to focus for long and poor attention to detail led to mistakes that resulted in constant calls into the supervisor's office.
Once again I used coping mechanisms to support my belief that I was actually one hot programmer. Through a string of jobs I believed the bosses were obsessive- compulsive, simply had it in for me or were playing favourites with the other staff. To avoid blaming myself I would leave the job before getting sacked due to this supposed unfair treatment.
The same was happening in my social life. I believed I was an open, caring person with a great sense of humour and personality. But in retrospect I can see a frequently guarded me, self-centred and pushing others away with strange behaviour and comments that I saw as part of a 'sparkling personality'.


Tips for Families
So what can families and partners do to help someone with impaired self awareness? In severe cases this must be difficult, as no amount of reasoning will help. I can only speak of my case, in which I had enough cognitive capacity to gradually accept the problems I had.
Knowing that you are loved and accepted provides an environment where it is easier to admit you have a problem. My family had a lot of tolerance, as they suspected my injury was causing these problems.
However they joined in my denial and never once said the problems could be from the injury. I wonder if my battle to become self aware would have started sooner by being gently confronted by family members.
It would not have been pleasant for them. I would have felt deeply hurt if they suggested my latest job fiasco may have been my fault. I would have felt implied criticism if Bridge
Magazines were suddenly left lying around the house. But having access to information and getting a dose of 'reality therapy' at some point would have been a start.
In my situation the realisation emerged as I was confronted with 15 years of leaving jobs, poor relationships, difficulty making friends and a growing sense I could not blame everyone and everything else for the problems I was facing. So perhaps families should at times let their loved one make mistakes which they may eventually learn from, albeit at a much slower rate than an uninjured person.


The Examined Life Worth Living
Once I was aware of my cognitive deficits there was the painful process of accepting this and making adjustments. With employment I accepted I would never be a 'professional' and took a less well paid job with less demands on my struggling brain.
Socially I try to think before I speak nowadays and when I can see someone reacting negatively to me I now look for how I may have caused this rather than blaming them.
The most important thing has been accepting I am not perfect, and have problems like everyone else. The crucial thing is to acknowledge this, then set about correcting them as much as possible.
I'd encourage anyone with impaired self awareness to examine their life seriously. Burying your head in the sand like an ostrich does not lead to a meaningful life. The examined life is worth living, especially if you can then hold down a job, get along with your partner and family, and stop driving people away.


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