How to improve your life through the act of self-awareness

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Did you know self-awareness is the key to changing your life? But many of us who grew up in abusive or neglectful homes lack this basic component of a satisfying life.

That’s because our parents never taught us how to look at ourselves. They forced us to keep our focus on them and others instead.

In order to survive, we needed to suppress our own needs and cater to others’. This led us to disconnect from what we wanted or needed.

In order to survive, we needed to suppress our own needs and cater to others'. This led us to disconnect from what we wanted or needed. Click To Tweet

And, due to a lack of guidance, we have a poor understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. We may also have no idea what we value or what’s important to us.

That’s because our parents never encouraged us to explore our desires. They may not have praised us when we did well which leaves us scratching our heads as to what we’re good at.

We may have been exposed to more negative attention. That meant we only heard from our parents when we did something wrong.

And they expected us to understand things they’d never taught us. My father constantly berated me for not knowing how to do things no one taught me how to do.

Children need praise and guidance

Children need praise, guidance, and encouragement in order to thrive. To develop a healthy sense of self-awareness, we need to know our needs are handled by the adults around us.

Children need praise, guidance, and encouragement in order to thrive. Click To Tweet

If we sense that we have to take care of those needs ourselves, we become hypervigilant. In survival mode, we are not free to explore our heart’s desires.

We desperately try to read other people in an effort to keep ourselves alive. That is what the survival brain thinks, anyway.

As children, we intuited correctly that we depended on our parents for survival. We could not put a roof over our own heads or food in the fridge.

This led us to minimize our needs and make sure to keep them happy so they wouldn’t reject us. As adults, we have been conditioned to abandon our own needs and focus on pleasing others.

This external focus means we lack the self-awareness necessary for a fulfilling life. If you lack boundaries because you fear saying no to people, you probably feel empty inside.

How self-awareness cures emptiness


The cure for such emptiness is beginning the journey back to yourself. That means taking the time to discover your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses, and your values.

1. Discover likes and dislikes

Make a list of things you like or enjoy doing. You could begin with the five senses: what smells, sights, sounds, and tastes do you like and what feels good to you?

Then look at your life and ask yourself how much of these are in it. Chances are, you may do more of what you don’t like in an effort to please others.

You will never have the life you want unless you increase your self-awareness. You need to know what you like so you can incorporate more of it in your life.

2. Discover your strengths

Then, find out what you’re good at, your strengths. You may want to ask trusted friends or associates for their input.

Is your work focused on these strengths and interests? If not, you may want to start making decisions that move you in the direction of your strengths and preferences.

3. Make a values list

Finally, what are your values? Do you know what you stand for and what’s important to you? Or do you tend to go with the flow and let other people decide for you?

A first step in getting to know your core values can come in the form of a simple assessment. Knowing your values is key to increasing self-awareness.

Take this or any other free online values assessment to help determine yours.

How to use self-advocacy to improve your life

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Out of all the self-help terms, we hear about self-advocacy less often. In the beginning of any healing journey, we’re consumed with self-care, self preservation, self-protection.

But as our sense of self improves and we learn our value, we take things a step further. We begin to advocate on our own behalf.

That means going beyond what can sometimes feel like the defensive state of setting boundaries. And really standing up for ourselves and demanding what we deserve.

Since we all have different needs, self-advocacy begins with understanding your own. You no longer apologize for having unique needs, but self-advocate by requesting that they be met.

You don’t expect other people to know your needs. Instead, you vocalize them clearly or in writing with specifics about what you require.

The role of childhood trauma

If you grew up in a home where your needs went unmet consistently, you may struggle with self-advocacy. For many of us, it’s a foreign concept which we simply never considered as a right.

If you grew up in a home where your needs went unmet consistently, you may struggle with self-advocacy. Click To Tweet

We’re so used to having our needs pushed aside, that we’ve suppressed them. We might shrug our shoulders and accept things because that’s what we’re used to.

Unmet needs can feel like home to us. Speaking up for ourselves can feel wildly self-indulgent and even verboten. We may have an image of ourselves as “good” because we don’t ask for too much.

But as you travel on your healing journey, that “go with the flow” amicability may not work for you anymore. You will become more active in your desire to have your needs met and more confident in expressing those needs.

That’s where self-advocacy comes in. I believe it happens when your inner child has received enough nurturing that she’s no longer running the show.

You’ve stepped in as the adult to protect that inner child. You won’t put up with your needs and desires going unrecognized anymore.

When I was younger, I found it easier to advocate for others than myself. Though it’s noble to defend the underdog, we often bypass our own needs and try to earn our “goodness” by helping others instead of ourselves.

Self-advocacy means asserting yourself and voicing your needs. It means acting as that strong protector to yourself that you’ve always been to others.

Self-advocacy means acting as that strong protector to yourself that you've always been to others. Click To Tweet

Reasons we avoid self-advocacy


There are many solid reasons to avoid self-advocacy so don’t blame yourself.

1. Fear of anger

A fear of anger may stop you from self-advocating. But anger is an amazing catalyst for change. It tells you that something is wrong and can propel you to take action.

A powerful emotion, anger can be harnessed for immense good and life improvement. When suppressed, however, internalized anger can make you ill and has been linked to many diseases.

2. Childhood trauma

If you were raised to believe your needs didn’t matter, punished for your anger, or worse, self-advocacy will not come naturally to you. It will feel dangerous and there’s good reason for that – it was.

3. Need for acceptance

All human beings want to feel accepted and loved. If you fear that advocating on your own behalf will result in rejection, you’ll think twice about it.

Again, there’s a fear of ostracization that goes back to childhood. And it can go back much farther than that to our reptilian brain.

4. Fear of consequences

Just as boundary setting elicits consequences, so can self-advocacy. It’s not as though everyone will applaud you for standing up for yourself.

Many won’t like it and will try to stop you from changing your life and getting what you want because it doesn’t benefit them. Do it anyway.

Gaslighting: what it is and how to overcome

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Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in the which the perpetrator denies or diminishes your experience. It’s a cruel emotional manipulation that makes you doubt yourself and even reality.

Gaslighting occurs in all types of relationships, including family, marriage and other romantic partnerships, friendships, and among siblings. It can also happen at work.

If you’ve had someone tell you your emotions are the problem instead of the issue at hand, that’s gaslighting. If someone denies they said something you know they did, they might be trying to rewrite history.

Gaslighting keeps you quiet by turning the blame on you instead of addressing the problem. Rather than face the issue, your abuser encourages you to blame yourself for the problem.

Gaslighting keeps you quiet by turning the blame on you instead of addressing the problem. Click To Tweet

This allows them to continue in the delusion they’ve done nothing wrong. Or it prevents a dysfunctional family system or relationship from looking at its own problems and what needs to change.

People who gaslight won’t think twice about throwing you under the bus to protect their own image of themselves. They will lie about what happened or deny having said something in a way that’s so convincing you will either doubt your memory or believe they actually forgot.

Either way, you never blame them but yourself for the problem. You go away believing they are innocent and you are guilty and may feel bad about having caused them distress. You even take on the role of patching things up between the two of you.

Fake concern

These types of abusers will pretend to be concerned about you. In reality, they are only concerned about protecting themselves from the consequences of the truth you are telling.

That could mean exposure of them as an inadequate parent or spouse. Or facing the fact that they need to make changes.

Your normal human response to a situation becomes the focus rather than whatever provoked your reaction. For example, if you express honest emotions, these will become pathologized as evidence that you are “crazy”.

This tactic further serves the abuser’s purpose of identifying you as the problem. And makes you turn against yourself and mistrust your emotions.

You are not allowed to have feelings about your abuser’s behavior. Any emotional reaction receives scorn and derision and turns the blame on you.

You are not allowed to have feelings about your abuser's behavior. Any emotional reaction turns the blame on you. Click To Tweet

As a result, you may suppress or deny your feelings because they only make you feel worse. You cut yourself off from the barometer of your feelings, and lose access to the internal guide that signals you to change or confront something.

Gaslighting is difficult to discern because it often comes from those who profess to love and care for us. In order to avoid facing their shortcomings, a “loving” parent or spouse will deny your experience instead.

This leads to the devastating confusion of feeling unheard, unseen, and misunderstood by those who claim to be your support system. Those closest to us have the greatest ability to hurt us. That’s why gaslighting works most effectively in these intimate relationships.

Gaslighting and self-abandonment


It works to silence you because you’ve learned it’s easier to keep quiet and go along with the status quo rather than share your feelings. Your membership in the relationship becomes contingent on you keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself.

This leads to a psychic and spiritual death where you abandon yourself and your needs. Any desire to be seen, heard, and understood as a separate and unique human being gets quashed in favor of the dysfunction that allows the abuser to stay in the dark.

You feel like you can never be yourself and this is the price you pay to stay in the relationship. In addition, you feel alone, as though everyone around you thinks you’re crazy or a troublemaker.

You desperately want to feel understood, but no matter what you say or do you cannot make the abuser see your point of view. This is done intentionally to discredit you, and will likely never change.

You might feel like you have to prove yourself to the person. This could mean you deny your emotions to appear more calm so they will accept you. Or you go above and beyond to serve or please them hoping to win their favor.

How to overcome gaslighting

1. Name it.

Understand when you’ve been subjected to gaslighting and that nothing you say or do will make the person understand your point of view. The whole point is to undermine you and your position, so trying harder to make them hear you will only increase your frustration.

With gaslighting, nothing you say or do will make the perpetrator understand your point of view. Click To Tweet

2. Keep receipts.

Even a paper trail won’t make a gaslighting narcissist admit wrongdoing. But it will give you consolation and reminders that you’re not making things up. Those email, voice, and text messages will help when you feel tempted to second guess yourself.

3. Self-advocate.

Refuse to allow someone to dictate your behavior. Speak up about your thoughts and emotions. Let them know you’re no longer available to have your experiences minimized, trivialized, or erased from memory.

4. Educate yourself.

Whether it’s from books or by talking to a trauma-informed counsellor, learn more about gaslighting so you understand the signs. Arm yourself with knowledge about this abuse so you’re less surprised when it happens and know how to deal with it.

5. Leave the relationship.

I’ve had to walk away from relationships due to gaslighting. It’s a last resort and sometimes the only way to end the abuse and step into the life you deserve and desire. It’s a courageous act, and my only regret has been not ending these relationships sooner.

How to be confident in spite of your circumstances

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The other day a Facebook friend asked her audience, “Do you consider yourself a confident person?” I answered: “it depends on the day,” to which she replied, “too true” with a lmao emoji.

If you’re like me, confidence is not some static quality that, once achieved, stays at the same level. No, it ebbs and flows, even for women with the highest levels of self-worth.

There are ways to build and maintain confidence that make it seem less elusive and more constant. But, why do we need this quality in the first place?

In my opinion and experience, confidence not only feels great, it makes you more magnetic. People are drawn to confident people and feel more comfortable around them.

So, if you’ve refused to build your self-worth muscle out of fear it will make people dislike you, know that the opposite is true. It may repel people who are bad for you, but that’s a positive outcome, similar to when we set boundaries.

Being confident comes from within

People stand on shaky ground when their self-worth depends on how much money they make or how many followers they amass. That’s because true confidence thrives independent of our circumstances.

People stand on shaky ground when their self-worth depends on how much money they make or how many followers they amass. Click To Tweet

That’s why people who are truly confident can lose a fortune and build it back up again quickly. They don’t make their so-called failures mean anything about them.

In fact, they’ve learned their failures provide proof that they tried. They allow those setbacks to increase rather than diminish their level of self-worth.

I have a friend who accrued $40,000 in credit card debt while building her business. She never let it mean anything about herself. She acted as if she were already where she wanted to be, and the next year she was.

Let go of perfectionism


I’ve been listening to a public speaking coach who teaches that confident speakers improvise rather than sticking to a script.

If you spend hours preparing and memorizing a speech, you’re giving yourself unneeded stress and diminishing your confidence level. You’re relying on things being a certain way and that’s not sustainable.

What if someone asks a question you haven’t prepared an answer to? Or something unexpected happens (as it always does)?

People respond more to how you present yourself than the words you say. If you feel relaxed and confident, you will give a more effective talk, even if you don’t say all the words perfectly.

Learn to love yourself

For those of us who grew up with unmet childhood needs, self-love is no easy task. We have to unlearn decades of putting other people first and ourselves last.

For those of us who grew up with unmet childhood needs, self-love is no easy task. Click To Tweet

We have to stand up to our inner critic with a hearty dose of self-compassion. And nurture our inner child to meet our own needs as adults, in ways they were never met in childhood.

This feels selfish at first because we’ve been raised to believe our worth comes in our accomplishments or what we do for others. We have never felt what it’s like to be loved simply for who we are.

Now we have to give ourselves that unconditional love. We realize our frightened inner child has been running the show. She’s using coping mechanisms that kept her safe in childhood but no longer serve her.

We can learn to speak up for ourselves where before we were silent. We can give ourselves the care and attention we so freely give others. And we can think about what we really want and do that instead of what someone else wants.

All these take tremendous courage when you’ve been in survival mode for so long. But, the more you do them, the more you exercise your self-worth muscle.

And that’s how you build confidence that doesn’t depend on your circumstances or what other people think of you.

How to change your life with reparenting

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One of the key tools when reparenting yourself involves developing strong boundaries. When you’ve been raised to cater to everyone else’s needs, setting boundaries is far more difficult than it sounds.

Having poor boundaries has been our brain’s way of keeping us safe by people-pleasing. That’s because as children If we could keep our parents happy we escaped punishment, and received their “love”.

So we carry that equation of people pleasing = safety into our adulthood and end up abandoning ourselves completely.

One thing that may surprise you about setting boundaries is the consequences. And these consequences will feed into all the fears you have around people not liking you and how scary that is. 

Reparenting the inner critic

Another key component of reparenting is taming the inner critic. Most of us who grew up with unmet childhood needs have a harsh inner critic that we inherited from our parents.

If our parents never taught us that we’re loved for who we are and not what we do, we believe our value lies in our accomplishments or what we do for others. 

So any time we’re not perfect we berate ourselves. We protect ourselves by refusing to follow through on our goals and dreams.

This is the self-sabotage of procrastination and shiny object syndrome. Our subconscious mind tells us that if we don’t follow through on a project or goal, no one can say we failed. 

That’s why the common self-help advice that more willpower will solve self-sabotage, misses the mark for people who’ve been through childhood trauma. 

In fact, you have more willpower and strength than the average person but you’ve put it into survival instead of moving yourself forward. This keeps you stuck, and traps you in a frustrating cycle of letting yourself down and holding yourself back.

Imagine how far you could go if you replaced that inner critic with an inner self-advocate. Someone who’s on your side instead of against you.

Rather than reacting to threats and perceived danger, you’ll start designing and creating your desired life. You’ll become aligned with your values, goals, and dreams and move toward fulfilling your highest potential.

Change is possible


Maybe you’ve had therapy and self-help that hasn’t worked because it wasn’t trauma-informed. And that intensifies the inner critic because you feel you’ve tried everything and beat yourself up because you feel unfixable.

But change is possible. Years ago, I was self-loathing, people pleasing, emotionally dysregulated, and had a relentless inner critic. My self care regime consisted of drinking to numb my feelings because everything felt so bad. 

Today, I’m living a life that’s completely authentic and aligned with my values. I love and care for myself and put my needs first in ways that would have felt impossible a few years ago.

I want  to offer you what I’ve learned over these past several years about reparenting and how I’ve used it to transform my life. So, I’ve opened enrollment for my course The Self-Parenting Solution.

If you want to finally change your life and feel like other self-help strategies haven’t worked for you, I encourage you to sign up. It’s only $37 until Friday and you’ll get a bonus lesson on how to break free from toxic people.