Self-awareness, especially on an emotional level, takes time and introspection for any human being to develop. It’s a constantly changing process, lasting throughout a person’s lifetime.
Some develop a deeper understanding of self than others for a variety of reasons. These reasons may include family dynamics while growing up, experiences with relationships, friendships, and social interactions, religious convictions (their parents’ or their own), or perfectionistic/obsessive personality types. These can be important factors in a person’s level of self-awareness. I also believe that there are some people who are more naturally tuned in, and able to understand themselves more fully on a higher level.
With an anorexic, the level of self-awareness that a person may have had before their disease, may become greatly narrowed. As the disease unfolds, and becomes more complex, many fears and doubts may begin forming in their mind. The anorexic identity broadens to include more aspects of life, while any former identity my slip away, or lie dormant. During the intense phases of the disease, true self-awareness isn’t possible. The inability to think rational clear thoughts is also a hindrance, due to the affects of starvation. In anorexia, self-awareness is usually limited to the most basic needs for survival, and even at that, becomes clouded in terms of physical well-being. Their awareness of self is contained to only who they are in their disease strictly on the outside, what they consider to be obvious to others. Self-criticism and the belief that they are never “good” enough goes hand in hand with the fear and isolation that is often exhibited. The awareness that they have at that point may only be that they are “bad”, “wrong”, “imperfect”, etc. They have no awareness of their true self.
I have found that true self-awareness involves accepting oneself, being confident of who you are, and motivation to keep moving forward. This requires honest evaluation of yourself, psychologically and emotionally, and reaching out for support and input from others. Imperfection is difficult for most people to accept in themselves, but the reality is that no one is perfect. It’s much more complex for an anorexic. Most of all, in the minds of anorexics, being imperfect causes great fear. It can indicate loss of control, being a failure or a “bad” person, and can bring on a sense of danger or impending doom. In their minds, their ability to be “perfect”, by their own standards, protects them in some way. In recovery from anorexia, breaking away from the obsessive mindset to begin to focus on thoughts, feelings and self-analysis is the hardest part.
The first step, weight restoration, can be in a way, the key to unlocking the rational and teachable part of the brain. Learning about oneself requires taking risks and a willingness to reveal parts of themselves which they have kept hidden for a very long time. It’s a process which requires time to begin to fit the pieces together, but which then, at a certain point, becomes more of an exciting discovery. Acceptance, as in the process of recovery as a whole, is necessary for continued progress.
My own self-awareness has drastically improved while in recovery. A major difference is that I can now accept my imperfections, or my humanness, as I prefer to refer to them, including physical qualities (weight, size, shape, etc.) as well as who I am inside, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. I don’t consider myself as inadequate or mentally ill anymore. In addition, my definitions of “perfect” and “imperfect” have completely changed. I don’t believe anymore that there exists perfection, so therefore there can not be imperfection. Attempts at perfection will most likely lead to self-hatred, feelings of failure, and possibly unhealthy coping methods. As I have become aware of these things, and have begun to practice awareness and acceptance of self, I can realize that I can use this to go forward, to face my future, and to develop meaningful relationships with special people in my life; on all levels. I feel a new confidence in knowing who I am, and in my ability to contribute to relationships. I also know that I must continue to grow and change and always remain aware and open to who I am becoming.
Very similar to self-awareness, one’s concept of self is often based more on judgment and criticism and how they evaluate their own worth. It is directly related to a person’s level of self-esteem and respect for themselves. In the world of anorexia, worth may be based on accomplishments, level of perfectionism, self-denial, and control (of themselves and often the world around them), all of which are meant to be noticed by key people in their lives. In the anorexic mind, strength is exhibited by losing weight (no need for food), over-exercising, needing less sleep, higher accomplishments (grades, sports, etc.). This is their daily goal. Many determine their own worth solely on inner strength, outward accomplishments and self-control. Recovery involves acquiring an understanding and belief that worth is not earned, nor is it something that is developed. Worthiness is something that is realized along with the development of an identity outside of anorexia, the social skills to contribute to meaningful relationships, and the acceptance of who they are as a person. This requires taking risks, a commitment to examining who they are as a person, and patience. I believe that time is critical.
I now find strength in having true control over my disease, trusting my own decisions, and by refusing to use past coping skills.