Self-Aware Care

Self-awareness is a concept we develop over time as our minds and bodies grow. Self-awareness is a complex concept that varies from person to person, which poses a unique challenge to psychologists and psychiatrists attempting to define it. One of the main points of agreement in categorizing, defining, and measuring self-awareness is its division into two basic kinds: public and private. Public self-awareness allows you to place yourself in relation to others, and understand how they see you. Private self-awareness allows you to understand who you are on an internal level—recognizing ones internal reactions to the world around them. Too much private self-awareness can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. Too much public self-awareness can lead to hyper-focusing on societal norms and fitting in. Being able to balance the two is better for your physical and mental health.

In addition to this simple dichotomy, psychologists sometimes measure self-awareness by age, and determine development by measuring awareness against a five point scale. Level 0 is confusion characterized by not knowing ones self from ones surroundings. Level 1 is differentiation and involves recognizing your reflection is you and other reflections are not. Level 2 is situational, knowing how to control ones body based on that reflection, and recognizing the difference between reflection and self. Level 3 is identification. Level 4 is permanence, which means recognizing ones self in recordings or static representations—not just in a mirror. Lastly, level 5 is self-conscious or meta self-awareness, which means knowing the third-person perspective of self, that others recognize they exist as well. For more on this see the paper “Five Levels of Self-Awareness as they Unfold Early in Life” from Emory University.

Another way of defining self-awareness is by first, third and second person. In first person you recognize yourself with context, similar to the early stages mentioned above of knowing oneself from ones surroundings, recognizing your reflection, and knowing how to control ones body based on that reflection. In second person, you recognize yourself in the abstract, similar to the late stages mentioned above of identifying oneself, and recognizing oneself in photographs and recordings. Finally, in third person you are able to recognize yourself in relation to others around you, or your surroundings.

Indexical is a type of self-awareness where one indexes all they know to be true of themselves. This relates to both physical and mental self-awareness. This can be explained more simply as knowing THAT you feel, knowing that you have a body and it is your own, and HOW you feel, knowing that you are sad, in pain, aggravated, etc. Understanding yourself is a good way to know when something goes wrong. You can recognize changes in your mood, behavior, motivations, desires, etc. and try to figure out if these changes warrant your attention.

Detached self-awareness is knowing about yourself without needing context—i.e. recognizing your depression or knowing you are over-reacting to something without being told or examining the reactions of those around you. It has a lot to do with recognizing one’s self from a third-person perspective. Again, this is very helpful for self-motivated therapy. It will help you know if or when you need professional help with your mental or physical well-being—otherwise you will have to rely on others to recognize symptoms that might not be readily obvious. Sometimes this is unrealistic or impossible, especially for those suffering from mental or emotional issues, or those who are in abusive relationships.

The final kind of self-awareness is social self-awareness, a more specific version of public self-awareness. Social self-awareness allows you to place yourself in the context of others, instead of static surroundings. This allows you to make decisions about how to react to others, and to move through social circles, make friends, alter your behavior based on your social setting etc. It’s the difference between casual and business casual. Social self-awareness breaks down into basic and developed. For more information on the difference between the two, see Ingar Brinck’s paper “An Outline of a Theory of Person-Consciousness”. Social self-awareness can help you make everyday decisions, like jokes you tell at work versus jokes you tell to friends, but it can also help you recognize when you have uncontrollable social anxiety, or might not be able to navigate social situations at all without therapy.

As you can tell, this article only skims the surface of what self-awareness really represents. In fact, self-awareness is a fundamental concept in psychology and psychiatry, so if you would like to learn more there are plenty of reliable resources online and at your local library, as well as the ones listed below.

Brinck, Ingar. “An Outline of a Theory of Person-consciousness: Three Kinds of Self-awareness.” Lund University Philosophy Department. Lund University, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

Cherry, Kendra. “What Is Self-Awareness? How Does It Develop?” Psychology at, 10 Oct. 2004. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

Rochat, Philippe. “Five Levels of Self-awareness as They Unfold Early in Life.” Science Direct (n.d.): n. pag. Emory University. Emory University, 27 Feb. 2003. Web. 23 Sept. 2015. <Five levels of self-awareness as they unfold early in life>.

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