Self-Awareness: A Definition

Defining Self Awareness


When listening to one of Brene Brown’s talks, she explains that we must be able to define these huge meaningful concepts that sculpt our life. We say that we trust, have self-love, compassion or self-awareness, but can we define what each means? Sure, there’s a boiled down dictionary version that lets you know what it is, but what does it mean to you? How do you apply it to yourself, in action, in your life? THAT’S actually defining something, but we rarely define these terms that we deem so meaningful to us. 

In class the other day, I felt like defining what Self-Awareness has come to mean to me.  After having Complex PTSD, being highly dissociative most of my life and finally coming back to having self-awareness, particularly as a yogi, I feel I do have the ability to define this complex term.

Before we begin, as I did in my class, I’ll pose these three questions to you:

-Do you consider yourself to be self-aware?

-Is being self-aware important to you?

-How do you define self-awareness?


My guess is that most yogis in the room answered something like this:





So, here’s my suggested definition, take it or leave it, by all means…

First of all, self-awareness has depth. There’s a superficial awareness, a subtle awareness and then an all-encompassing awareness. 

The first is the most superficial. I use that word anatomically, not as far as import, because the first layer of self-awareness is proprioception. This won’t be an explication on physiology, but self-awareness doesn’t exist without connection to your body. We live our modern lives constantly wrapped up in our heads, intellects, the internet! These otherwise constructed spaces that are not REAL; not your life right here, right now. Self-awareness is being connected to your gross, physical body; your muscles, bones, joints. Proprioceptive awareness is knowing how you’re moving on the earth, the ability to pull yourself back down to the physical when things get a bit too mental, it’s your ability to be present in the moment.

In Tantra, the oldest form of yoga, they have a Sensual Meditation that takes you through how to feel with your senses. It’s a very high-level form of meditation because it connects you to the doorway to life: your body. Having had dissociative complex PTSD I became numb to my body. I lived inside my emotional/mental cloud and started shutting down all other sensation as a coping mechanism to live. I share that here because it’s one extreme of the spectrum, another point along this disconnected spectrum is having no body awareness. As a teacher, I’m sometimes astounded witnessing students practice when they are so caught up in their heads that they can’t hear or follow cues. Or they do, but they aren’t the right cues or in cohesive timing. This is disconnection. Mild disassociation.

Proprioception is the lesson on aliveness. Self-awareness is to be here now, in your body, living life presently, with all of its very rich and full stimuli. When we can be fully present we can sense that richness, we can feel that we are fully alive. 

The second layer of awareness takes us deeper. When we’re so caught up in our heads, our egos, agendas, other people’s lives and concerns, we lose touch with our gross body, but equally detrimental is our disconnection with our body’s subtle cues or what some have come to call our gut instinct. The second layer of awareness is interoception.

Viscerally speaking, interoception is our ability to feel digestion, sense our heartbeat, feel the breath expand our lungs, but it’s also the subtle sensations from the inside out that inform us of the “good” and “bad”. The latter are terms I don’t often like to use, put another way, interoception lets us know what we resonate and don’t resonate with. It’s the feeling inside that tells us when we’re in really good company. It’s the sense that danger is somewhere behind us. Interoception is knowing in the form of sensation.

Here’s another example. You’ve been in a job or relationship for quite some time and have established a sense of comfort and even safety, but for some reason there’s this nagging feeling that you should leave. You don’t know why, you don’t know where this is coming from, but it’s visceral and leaves you feeling torn. What some call a battle between the head and the heart. This is your gut instinct telling you it’s time for change.

The thing is, we get these cues all the time. We meet someone and we know instantly if we resonate with them or not by the feel good or feel bad feeling we get, walking down the street at night and either feel totally safe or a sense that something’s not right, we think about our current path in life and our gut sends us signals that this is just right or not at all. These messages are there, but many either can’t feel them or ignore them as unimportant or contrary to what their ego has planned. 

Interoception is the lesson on trusting your intuition—learning to listen to visceral, subtle cues that are often inexplicable. It’s a lesson on trusting your gut, but more importantly, to trust yourself and the impulses you feel. This step in self-awareness is really refined, though, and requires that we have some proprioceptive awareness or gross awareness in order to sense the subtle information we’re receiving from the inside. 

The final, all-encompassing self-awareness is what I call egoception: our ability to witness our ego. Most people think of their ego as the pompous, confident part of themselves. This isn’t true. Your ego is the entirety of your identity that has been constructed by social cues. Phew! That’s a massive definition, isn’t it? It is. And your ego is massive too! It spans from the pompous, to the weak, fearful, jealous, presumptuous, sometimes poor-pitiful-me victim, to I’m the greatest thing that ever lived! Your ego is a collage of all the people who have interacted with you over the course of your life. It’s a mosaic of your fourth grade teacher, your best friend in high school, the person you dated in college, not to mention every single one of your family members. We collect these pieces, try them on for size and often keep them forever, never realizing that what we’ve made our identity was never ours to begin with. 

The power in the ability to witness the ego is to recognize when certain parts are no longer serving you. Let’s say you’re in a conflict with your significant other because you feel they just don’t love you enough. You’re moping, complaining and criticizing them for not affirming you. But with egoception, one could step back internally and observe that, regardless of this partner, you’re afraid of being abandoned and fear you’re unlovable because your parent’s divorce in childhood made you think that or the asshole you dated in your twenties led you to believe that too. Egoception is the ability to step outside of our conditioning and see life a bit more objectively. Egoception is the lesson of the witness—being able to be the seer and not just the seen. 

Egoception is the final level of self-awareness and the most difficult to attain. We may be in a heated interaction, feeling our body sweat, fists clench, our heart pump and pulse race. All the first two levels of self-awareness, but also a tremendous amount of stimuli that can send our mind into autopilot. Your autopilot might look like reactivity, anger, shutting down, running away, etc. But Egoception is your ability to feel all this stimulus as information that you care a great deal about this moment and you mentally pause to ask yourself why? Why do I want to scream at her right now? Why am I so angered by this? And then allowing the wisdom of the Seer, your true self, to see the baggage from the past or the belief system in place that has you ready to react rather than consciously respond. Self-awareness is being able to be aware of all parts of yourself, including your ego.

Complete self awareness isn’t possible without first being fully in your body. We must be here now, living life attentively. Self-awareness isn’t possible without interoception. We must be able to hear our gut response to life because these messages aren’t conditioned, they are the actual form of your truth. Complete self-awareness is only possible when we can actually be the seer and not the seen; when we have the ability to step out of our conditioned egos and make conscious choices that are based on the here and now and not some old pattern. 

And so now, I ask you:

-Do you consider yourself to be self-aware?

-Is being self-aware important to you?

-How do you define self-awareness?



Kiara McBain