I was going through my personal morning devotional routine to prepare for the day. I was reading an article by a religious leader about self-awareness. He said “Being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being.”[i] I found his words uplifting and inspiring—and it led to some healthy self-reflection. It was the footnote references that really got me going, however.
I learned a new big word: Anosognosia. It’s a medical term that Webster’s Dictionary defines as “An inability or refusal to recognize a defect or disorder that is clinically evident.”[ii] It’s applied to people with brain damage from strokes that don’t recognize that part of their body is paralyzed. I once saw this condition in a relative. When she drew a picture of herself, she included only the right side of her body. Where the left side should be was left blank. The word is also applied to those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders who don’t recognize their condition. More than 50 percent of those who suffer from schizophrenia are unaware of it. I once had a neighbor with schizophrenia who was unaware. She would say nonsense things to me. This embarrassed her other family members until they recognized that I understood what was going on and I was sympathetic to their situation. Since I’ve observed anosognosia multiple times I think I understand what it means—though I can’t pronounce the word!
Here’s another new thing I learned: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s “A cognitive bias manifesting in unskilled individuals suffering from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their own ability much higher than is accurate.”[iii] Studies show that college students often significantly overrate themselves in their abilities in logical reasoning, grammar, and humor. Test scores put some in the 12th percentile, but they rated themselves to be in the 62nd.
I think this topic of self-awareness is very interesting to me because it has had such a big part of my recovery from chronic clinical depression and generalized anxiety. For years I had anosognosia combined with the Dunning-Kruger effect about my condition. Until I was able to see my condition more clearly, I was unable to address my problems to get to recovery.
A good friend of mine who, like me, has undergone years of counseling defines psychotherapy as “Getting to know one’s self.” I agree with this definition. Therapy helped me get confidence to look at myself and get comfortable with who I am. My therapists helped me overcome the negative self-talk recordings that constantly ran through my brain that I was a nothing—that I was worthless. I’ve grown to like and feel comfortable about who I am. My book entitled “Rising Above Fog” describes this journey. The “fog” is a lack of self-awareness.
I teach classes and lead support groups for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In my community, there are two weekly classes taught: one for those living with mental illness and one for their family members. There are always many more individuals who attend the classes for family members than those who have mental illness. I believe part of the reason for this disparity is that often family members more readily recognize the symptoms of mental illness than do those afflicted.
So this morning’s journey into tangential topics on the article I set out to read was poignant and enlightening—and gratefully I’m aware that I took a detour—at least this time.
[i] Uchtdorf, Dieter F., Lord, Is It I?; https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/lord-is-it-i?lang=eng