The Importance of Introspection: Curiosity Can be Enlightening

introspection during counseling to identify sources of stress

Our nervous systems are amazing threat-detectors, but what happens when they get left on?  How do we let them know that we aren’t in danger anymore and let them relax?  Sometimes, stress can be a marker if this prolonged “I’m in danger” feeling.

When I talk with clients I see, when I talk about danger, I don’t usually mean physical danger.  Sometimes it can more accurately feel like a stressful situation – maybe a dinner with people who seem to, maybe unbeknownst to them, do something that irritates us.  Stopping, taking a breath, asking ourselves what’s irritating us and how we could navigate it more like the way we picture ourselves doing can be very helpful¹.  Sometimes, spending some time answering the question “What do I see myself doing if I wasn’t spending time being irritated?” can be so rewarding.  It can give us a place we want to get to, and, perhaps more importantly, shed light on what’s holding us back from getting there.

Perhaps most importantly, through introspection we can learn to listen to what we want and how we talk to ourselves when we don’t get it.  It might be shocking, at first, to hear how angry we get at ourselves, but hopefully, that can turn into compassion and curiosity.  We can learn to be kind to ourselves.  Accepting us for who we are in a given moment; not judging ourselves as good or bad, but seeing ourselves as just someone trying to change, and curiously trying to understand what’s holding us back from the change we want.

¹Hembree, E. A. (2008). Anxiety management training. In G. Reyes, J. D. Elhai, & J. D. Ford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of psychological trauma (pp. 41–44). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.