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Look Inward

  • Neil Clark Warren for the eHarmony Research Library
  • Published Jan 10, 2003
Look Inward

Some life events are so powerful that they are indelibly branded into our consciousnesses, even if we are not directly involved in them. For instance, I often think about an incident that occurred more than 20 years ago when our family lived in Chicago.


My neighbor was mowing his lawn and his 3-year-old boy Jimmy was riding his tricycle up and down the sidewalk. He made a sharp turn and fell over onto the cement, hitting his knee. He began to cry. Two bigger boys-5 and 6 years old-laughed at Jimmy from across the street.


Jimmy's dad, who may have had some insecurities about his son's lack of toughness, immediately stopped work and snapped, "Jimmy, Get up from there and stop crying! You're not hurt!"


Jimmy did eventually stop crying, but I've always wondered what was going on inside his head. Through the years, I heard Jimmy's dad yell the same basic message to him hundreds of times. From an early age Jimmy learned that he should ignore feelings of fragility and vulnerability.


It isn't just little boys who are told to ignore their internal messages. The same is true for little girls. The message may be different, but the results are the same. While little boys are told to "be tough," little girls are told to be sweet, proper, and nice.

Kathy's parents may not be comfortable with her aggressive feelings, or anything hinting of anger or sexuality. She is told-verbally or non-verbally-"good girls don't behave that way." So she pretends she doesn't have such feelings or thoughts.


Let's fast forward 25 years into the future.  Jimmy and Kathy have met, married, and now have two young children. Given their upbringing, it is unlikely that either will know anything about their inner world. They will be miserably ill-equipped to deal with their employers, friends, children, and each other.


If Jimmy doesn't know how he really thinks or feels, how can he represent himself accurately? He can't be true to who he is because he doesn't know who he is. How can Kathy clearly state her feelings when she is disconnected from the internal messages that would make her feelings and thoughts available at each moment?


Two Reasons to Look Inward


Authenticity involves the relentless determination and ability to make one good decision after another, and good decision making is an internal event for every person on earth. This is why I am so concerned about people who have never become comfortable with exploring their inner world.


First, If you fail to look inward you won't take possession of any internal data-your thoughts, feelings, needs, wishes, and concerns. Clearly without this information you will jeopardize any decision at hand. You won't know what you feel.


Second, and even more important, if you fail to look inward and don't listen closely to yourself, you are in no position to deal with your thoughts, other's thoughts, and your values. You will be unable to stand in the middle of all this information and make a solid decision.


Persons who have never learned to feel comfortable in their internal world become hamstrung in managing their lives. They may sell out and give over their personhood to some influential person or group of persons. If they finally give these "choosing rights" over to someone else, a tragic personal event occurs. It is as though they commit emotional suicide. They give up being who they truly are.


Five Ways to Know Yourself Better


I've tried to convince you that paying attention to your internal world is vital to your attainment of soul-satisfying contentment. Now I want to give you five specific suggestions for achieving greater internal awareness.


1. Write out your intention -- On a piece of paper or an index card, write what you hope to accomplish and how you're going to accomplish it; post it on the refrigerator or anywhere you're sure to see it every day. Your message might be as simple as:

  • I want to know myself well.
  • I want to become fully aware of my deepest thoughts.
  • I plan to spend at least 30 minutes every day thinking and writing about my feelings.
  • I will find a friend with whom I can sort through what I'm thinking and feeling.


2. Write in a journal or notebook everyday -- You don't need to write for more than 10 to 15 minutes, but it's critical that you write your honest thoughts and feelings as they come to you. The more you do this the more naturally it will come to you.


3. Read something every day that stimulates your internal process -- I read a chapter from the Bible. Focus on the kind of writing that leads you to the center of yourself-you will get more deeply in touch with your inner thoughts and feelings.


4. Spend regular time with people who know themselves well and who encourage you to talk about what you feel most strongly. Get personal with these people. Try to understand them as best you can.


5. Pray-- Prayer is meant to be a conversation with God. It involves pouring out your heart to him about what is most on your mind and then listening intently to what He says to you in response. I can tell you that prayer has had more influence on my life and work with people than anything else I do.


I know these steps will help you learn to find that inner voice. To the degree that you can stay solidly in touch with your internal messages, deeply aware of all your data-especially your thoughts, feelings, needs, and wishes-then you are well on your way to experiencing contentment.


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