Can Too Much Self-Awareness Be a Bad Thing? Practicing self-awareness has become a staple part of professional and personal development. But can too much self-awareness be harmful?
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Practicing self-awareness has become a staple part of professional and personal development. In general, it's considered to be a positive. When we turn our attention inward to reflect on our thoughts and actions, it helps us grow. It can change how we present ourselves to others and make observations that clue us into making more meaningful connections.
However, can there be too much of a good thing? What happens when we become self-aware to the point of obsession? Do we cross the line into self-centeredness and, possibly, narcissism?
As entrepreneurs, it's easy to fall into a "me" mentality. After all, by definition, entrepreneurism is a solo endeavor. However, focusing too much on the self, especially compared with others, can be harmful and mentally exhausting.
When there's a hyper-focus on creating a brand, there's always the drive to create the perfect image. Though it may start as a means to inspire others and to share personal journeys, calling attention to ourselves 24/7 (and seemingly without fault) can become overwhelming. Therefore, finding the balance between self-aware and self-obsessed can be trickier than one might think.
For women, the fine line is even narrower, as we constantly battle between taking up space... but not too much. Being bold and commanding a room but ensuring we provide a welcoming space. Also, our appearance comes under fire far more than our male counterparts. Society heavily weighs in on what we wear and how we look — and these physical characteristics factor into whether or not others deem us credible.
In a professional sense, there is an expectation of what we wear. And most would feel more confident in a polished outfit rather than the clothes they wear to the gym or to run errands with their kids. However, there's a time and place for self-awareness without shaming ourselves for how we should show up.
So, how do we know if we're heading toward an unhealthy viewpoint of ourselves?
Related: Why Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness Are Vital Skills for Any Entrepreneur
Self-awareness vs. Self-obsession
Self-awareness refers to self-acceptance, which is valuable. However, it can quickly lean toward narcissism which includes selective blindness. To explore further, self-awareness is understanding that everyone has flaws and having the insight to know which can be improved upon or which is part of what makes a person unique. At the same time, narcissism is an idealized, unrealistic self-image that can be damaging. It's ignoring any shortcomings or weaknesses and presenting ourselves falsely to those around us. It's a mindset that's not sustainable.
The goal of self-awareness is not to maintain perfection but rather to accept who we are and the fact that, as humans, we make mistakes. But also taking the time to correct behaviors in the future. However, when we start to home in on the negatives rather than appreciate the positives, it can lead to high levels of anxiety and depression.
There are multiple layers of self-awareness. The first layer acknowledges you're aware of what you're doing right now, such as reading this article, anticipating your upcoming meeting, etc. You are present but could also be distracted.
As you go into the deeper layers, it touches on feelings like worry, doubt and self-judgment. These creep in and prevent you from achieving the things you want. It gets to a point where you are focused on how others will perceive you rather than whether what you're doing is right for you.
Self-awareness helps us with acceptance, self-esteem, decision-making, and, ultimately, self-control. Alternatively, those who are self-absorbed or display narcissistic behavior are defined as those who feel entitled, lack empathy and are preoccupied with power, success or beauty. Going too deep and putting too much pressure on superficial areas can create a sense of tunnel vision and lead us down a road we'd rather not be.
Related: Why a Self-Aware Leader Is a Good Leader
Practicing self-awareness rather than striving for perfection
We can practice self-awareness through several avenues. Mindfulness brings us to the present state of awareness to become in tune with what's happening in our surrounding environment and how our thoughts are making us feel. That way, when ideas that aren't part of our greater good enter our minds, we can identify them and decide whether they can pass through or need to act upon them.
It's also helpful to seek trusted sources for feedback. Receiving public comments from strangers on social media or snarky suggestions from co-workers or family members can give us a distorted view of what we actually need to improve versus what they're passing judgment on. Conversely, looking to mentors and other reliable guidance can help us focus and develop in the areas needing it most.
Escaping self-obsession and being mindful of how we show up is helpful in our work life and personal connections with others. It requires taking a hard look in the mirror and recognizing unhealthy patterns. Angry outbursts, deflection, and lack of accountability can all show that we are leaning toward narcissistic behavior rather than healthy self-awareness.
Remember, self-awareness isn't saying who you are is good or bad. It's acknowledging feelings practically and then deciding if your actions are productive to you and others or if they can be altered. After all, everyone's barometer is different, and not every situation is the same. Like anything, the more you practice, the easier it will be.