Welcome to the blog! For my first post it feels fitting to write about how self-reflection can impact your emotional wellbeing. So why reflect? Therapeutically speaking reflection is the driving force to change. Jung’s quote sums this up brilliantly.
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.- Carl Jung
Often when we feel challenged in life, there is only so much we can do to make changes externally. This can leave us feeling powerless and stuck. Looking within ourselves can empower us with the opportunity to change our perspective and reframe our experience of what is happening around us. As well as allowing one to make peace with the past and present, self-reflection can help one to identify what they need and want to change about themselves in the future.
Reflection is not an easy process, it can be painful and make us feel quite vulnerable. It is also inevitable that we would have our blind spots in our reflections. This means it may take effort to bring some thoughts and feelings into our awareness. Therapists are trained in providing a safe and contained space for reflection and draw on different strategies and techniques to help clients to become aware of various patterns of behaviour and/or reframe life experiences. Journaling and therapeutic writing is also a useful way to self-reflect. In order to gain access to our thoughts and feelings and reflect more deeply, there are some considerations that are useful:
Here and now reflections:
Day to day reflection may seem obvious, but how many of us really take the time to reflect on our present experiences? My guess is that our busy lifestyles mean that stopping to process thoughts and feelings is a rarity. As a therapist I have also noticed there is a mind-set that distracting ourselves from thinking about a difficult life experience is helpful. How many of us are guilty of telling ourselves, “don’t think about it”, or telling others, “let’s not talk about it”? A lot of the time this can be counterproductive, as we are neglecting ourselves the opportunity to decide what our next best step is.
In the face of a helpless situation, self-reflection can pave the path to change. Person-centred therapists in particular work to aid clients to understand the meanings attached to their here and now experiences. The techniques employed within this model encourages the client to move their process of evaluation from the external to the internal. This process ultimately leads to one gaining self-responsibility and control over how they are perceiving an emotionally painful situation. Change becomes possible as one decides how they can change their perspective over the situation- this is called reframing.
Cognitive behaviour therapy employs a similar process of reflection of present life problems. Therapists within this model often use worksheets which ask the client the evaluate the triggers to stress, depression and anxiety. The reflection process focuses on what the feeling looks and feels like to the individual. The therapy will also direct the client to come up with more effective thought processes which aim to improve emotional wellbeing.
Reflection of past experiences.
We all receive both covert and overt messages throughout our childhood that shape our way of being in later life. If we do not reflect on these messages, we are denying ourselves access to a wealth of information that can help us make positive changes in life. Humans have the compulsion to repeat and unconsciously act out on past relationships, experiences or unresolved issues. This thinking is particularly prominent within psychodynamic approaches to counselling and psychotherapy.
Ideas from psychodynamic theories can be used in self-reflection if we allow ourselves to think about the patterns that we find ourselves in throughout our lifespan. For example: is there a particular type of relationship that keeps repeating throughout your life? or it may be that you have noticed that you avoid a certain situation over and over again. Repeating patterns are fine, and it is perfectly ok to do this provided you are ok with it. The need for change may become necessary when these repeating patterns are causing you grief, emotional pain or you feel that you are not progressing. At the same time, it is often the case that the need for change only becomes apparent in an anxiety provoking situation or at a difficult phase in life. In a sense it is difficult to spot these patterns unless it is brought into our awareness in the shape of a threat to our emotional wellbeing. Thus, in testing times it can be invaluable to heighten your awareness of your internal world through self-reflection. In doing so you are allowing yourself to develop personally and enhance your mental health wellbeing.
Of course, thinking about painful past experiences is a difficult process that can uncover a lot of shame and vulnerability. Thus, many choose the confines of therapy in which they can uncover these patterns during regular time limited sessions with the added insight of the therapist. In terms of self-reflection, generally the rule is to think about how your present situation relates to your experiences from the past.
In this blog post I have attempted to demonstrate why self-reflection can be beneficial. As I touched on earlier, it is not always easy to find the time to reflect, but the value of self-reflection is huge. Through self-reflection we can begin to make sense of our experiences and are equipped with choice where we would otherwise feel helpless. I also highlighted how therapy can facilitate self-reflection. Although I am a therapist and obviously an advocate for therapy, it is important to remember that not every life situation triggers the need for therapy. It is ultimately down to personal choice- many people value the process of therapy, and benefits of having an outside perspective. Additionally, it is important to think how you are being affected by the situation. Sometimes we have enough tools within us and the support around us to reflect on a situation and get the closure, answers, or understanding that we need. In other times we become stuck and overwhelmed (and I want to stress how normal and human it is for this to happen) and that’s when therapy may be an option worth considering.