Can We Heal Ourselves by Becoming More Self-Aware?

selfawareness and healing

By Troy Headrick

I’ve long been interested in the connection between self-awareness and healing.  This interest didn’t begin in some academic way with me reading something about the causal relationship implied here.  It started in a more practical way.  It began with me trying to deal with a medical condition that has long bothered me.

When I was in high school, I played American football and tore my anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee.  Because I didn’t think I’d been hurt very seriously, I did not see a doctor at the time the injury took place.

Many years later, because the joint had been weakened in the original mishap, I started having recurring knee injuries, each one more problematic than the one coming before it.  Then one day, while jumping to spike a ball over a volleyball net, I came down wrong and heard a loud pop, almost as if a gun had been discharged.  I was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery the day after I was admitted.

I was then told, after the anesthesia wore off, that I’d been living with a torn ACL for a long time.  Several years later, I had a second surgery on that same joint.  As a result, I have one knee that will never be normal again.  Over the years, I’ve had some pain and lots of inflammation and have needed to constantly rehab the damaged joint.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned through all this is that pain is the body’s way of speaking to us.  What I had to do was realize this fact and then come to understand what that discomfort was trying to tell me.

In “Mind over Melodrama:  5 Lessons on Self-Awareness and Healing,” Vironika Tugaleva writes that each person is the “world’s foremost expert” on herself.  I agree, in part.  This can be true only if we learn how to know ourselves and therefore understand those things that are bothering us.

Most people with pain get so emotionally involved in experiencing it that they forget to use it as way to open the door to self-learning.  In my own case, I began to pay attention to it, not in an obsessive sort of way but in a way that involved close observation and questioning.  I became, in other words, much more mindful and analytical.  Did the pain increase or decrease after physical activity?  In my case, it increased when I was less active.  So, I thought, aha, that’s important.  As a result, even though it felt counterintuitive at the time, I began to exercise to see what the result would be.  I took a walk and my knee got worse.  I paid attention to that.  I then rode a bike and, lo and behold, the knee felt better.  My body was telling me what it didn’t like and what it did.

In “Awareness of Self,” an article composed by the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spiritually and Healing, which is affiliated with the University of Minnesota, the writers provide readers with practical techniques that can be used to increase self-awareness as well as comparing each human being to a “system.”  This means that every person is a complex organism made up of many parts that all interconnect and interrelate.

In the case of my knee, as my self-awareness became more developed, I began to notice that my joint also responded (both positively and negatively) to all sorts of stimuli.  It felt better if I ate certain kinds of foods and worse when I ate other stuff.  I also learned that quality sleep was extremely important.  If my emotional life was not healthy, my knee would begin to hurt.  Thus, as I started paying very close attention to what my leg was telling me on an hourly and daily basis, it began to heal and strengthen when I gave it what it wanted (and needed) and got worse when I took actions that were detrimental.  I learned to become my own doctor, a kind of hyper-self-aware healer.

Have you had similar experiences with self-awareness and self-healing?  What do you think about all this?  I’d love to hear your responses!

Troy Headrick’s personal can be found at Thinker Boy:  Blog & Art.

51 thoughts on “Can We Heal Ourselves by Becoming More Self-Aware?

  1. I have experienced similar things trying to manage multiple chronic illnesses……..great article…….hope your knee is feeling good today 🙂

      1. Didn’t ever got this close with physical pain but yes, in some sort have experienced such in a shallow understanding.

  2. Try water aerobics! It’s done wonders for me. What do I think? For me, self awareness has worked sometimes, but not always. My doctors chuckle because typically I arrive with a self-diagnosis and I’m usually right. Not always though – when my wrist pained me terribly I really thought I’d broken it. Turns out it was psoriatic arthritis. Who knew there were different kinds of arthritis?

    1. I think we must be cut from the same cloth. Whenever I go to the doctor with a specific ailment, I always tell them that I think I know what it is. And, like you, I’m often right. Like Tugaleva said in her article, no one else knows us as well as we know ourselves. I appreciate the water aerobics tip. I haven’t tried that one yet. I usually ride my bike and then walk. I really need to keep the quadriceps built up. Take care and thanks for sharing your story. And thanks for the comment.

  3. I think its wonderful you have such a high level of self-awareness with your body. And I agree completely that healing can happen when the mind is aware of the pain pulsing in the body.

    1. Thank you for the comment. It seems that you’re speaking from experience. Do you have a healing story you’d like to share? If so, I’d love to hear it. Take care!

  4. 𝙸 𝚍𝚎𝚏𝚒𝚗𝚒𝚝𝚎𝚕𝚢 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚔 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚒𝚜 𝚊 𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚘𝚗𝚐 𝚖𝚒𝚗𝚍-𝚋𝚘𝚍𝚢 𝚌𝚘𝚗𝚗𝚎𝚌𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗. 𝚆𝚑𝚎𝚗 𝙸 𝚊𝚖 𝚊𝚗𝚡𝚒𝚘𝚞𝚜 𝚘𝚛 𝚍𝚎𝚙𝚛𝚎𝚜𝚜𝚎𝚍, 𝚖𝚢 𝚋𝚘𝚍𝚢 𝚊𝚌𝚝𝚞𝚊𝚕𝚕𝚢 𝚑𝚞𝚛𝚝𝚜. 𝚈𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚙𝚘𝚜𝚝 𝚙𝚛𝚘𝚟𝚒𝚍𝚎𝚜 𝚊𝚗 𝚒𝚖𝚙𝚘𝚛𝚝𝚊𝚗𝚝 𝚛𝚎𝚖𝚒𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚛 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚝𝚊𝚔𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚝𝚒𝚖𝚎 𝚝𝚘 𝚕𝚒𝚜𝚝𝚎𝚗 𝚝𝚘 𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚋𝚘𝚍𝚒𝚎𝚜–𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚗 𝚏𝚘𝚕𝚕𝚘𝚠𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚞𝚙 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚊𝚙𝚙𝚛𝚘𝚙𝚛𝚒𝚊𝚝𝚎 𝚊𝚌𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗–𝚌𝚊𝚗 𝚠𝚘𝚛𝚔 𝚠𝚘𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚜. 🕊

  5. I think many people have become very disconnected from themselves. That may be because so many of us treat ourselves in a depersonalized way that objectifies. We have also forgotten that we are part of nature. So many think they are apart from nature. That explains why so many of us are OK destroying the world we live in. Thanks for sharing your story and for reading and responding to my post. Take care.

  6. You can use this awareness for mental illness as well. Keeping a mood journal and being diligent and honest with it can help you understand your triggers to “why do I feel this way?”
    For me, when I’m able to learn how to notice a problem, physically or mentally, I’m more apt to do something about it. I think it’s super helpful to be self-aware.
    Great post!

    1. And your comment was great. Thank you for sharing your story. You are absolutely right and I believe deeply in the power of keeping a journal. I often asked my students, back when I taught writing courses in college, to keep journals about their thoughts about the readings I assigned, etc. I’d like to hear more about your mood journal. I invite you to say more about that process here if you wish. Again, thanks…

      1. Well, I honestly don’t carry one around anymore, but it can be as simple as setting a series of reminders on your phone to “check in” with yourself to try and get a baseline started. I know I didn’t pay attention to different moods because I was too involved in the intense feelings. I had to train myself to. Then I would discuss with my therapist and / or psychiatrist to help them help me better. It ends up teaching me how to be in tune with myself better and it helped my drs treat me better. It’s a win/win.
        I’ve now gotten to a pretty content point in my life. When I feel extreme, or even just out of the ordinary, feelings come on, I take a minute and do a check in with myself to figure out what the cause was and what I can do about it.
        Also, a game changer for me was about anger. I truly believe anger is a secondary emotion. If you google “anger iceberg”, you can get a visual aid. So ANYTIME I feel angry, I stop and figure out what I’m really feeling. Frustration? Embarrassment? Mine usually comes down to one of those two.

      2. You’ve taught me so much in this comment. Why not do a guest blog for PO about all this? I find this fascinating and I’m sure many others would too. Let me know if this idea appeals to you. Again, thanks for sharing.

      3. There’s a contact email address listed on the Pointless Overthinking website. Just send a blog post to Bogdan at that address, letting him know you’d like to be a guest blogger. Thanks and take care.

      4. This is such a massively great thing to do for your mental health. When I was seriously struggling I always carried my journal. Now I have an app on my phone which tends to be a list these days.
        When I started dealing with my childhood trauma, I was not able to name what actual feeling I was experiencing at any given time. My entire childhood I would consistanly be told that I wasn’t feeling what I was feeling, I eventually dismissed any kind of negative emotions. Keeping a journal I would take it to my therapy and learn to name them.
        I learned “Fine” is not a feeling…. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      5. I totally agree about the value of keeping a journal. By the way, if you look back at the archive of blogs I’ve published on this site, you’ll find a couple on freewriting. You might want to check those out. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for contributing to the conversation.

      6. I love apps. I really do. Sometimes tech stuff is overrated, but then you read something like this and realize how much it can help!!
        I agree that fine is not a feeling too!! It’s a band aid over the feeling.
        Sending good vibes your way!! 🥰🥰🥰

  7. Just like everyone above mentioned, mind and body are one; if one shuts down, then so does the other. It’s amazing how are bodies are set up like a system, like cars. Check engine light comes on, its an indicator something is amiss or wrong. When our bodies become feverish or swell, those are our indicators.

    I’m glad you are healing- mind and body!

    1. Your “check engine light” is the perfect metaphor. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that the ways we treat our bodies is going to have mental and emotional consequences. Again, thank you so much for including such an insightful response. Take care…

  8. I believe emotional and physical health are connected. My traumas were emotional but they effected my physical health enormously. I am not even 50 and I feel like my body is ancient. My twin brother and I grew up in the same toxic environment, and I buried him in Oct. 2011. He was always sick, as was I, but he was less into to therapy and was more into alcohol… Though that is not what killed him. That was pneumonia. My life is a balancing act of multiple chronic illnesses, and even though I have consulted physicians, they have not always been helpful. In fact nearly all of my chronic illnesses can be traced back to a medication I was given, which I would not learn for years. It is much easier to write a prescription than it is to find out the root source.
    Funny thing is that I am the only person in my biological family that did not drink and I was the one whose pancreas failed, for literally no reason. It ruptured, I was in a coma for two weeks, and fed through a tube in my abdomen for a year… But I am still here. I am an insulin dependent diabetic due to pancreatic failure. So as much as I have tried to heal myself, there are some things that I cannot do. My mental health is much better than it used to be and I do believe that is because of self care.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. After reading it, I am in awe of your ability to survive and thrive through such challenges. You obviously have a deep comprehension of how our bodies and minds are interconnected. As I think about your situation, I want to assure you that my thoughts are with you. Why not write a guest blog and submit it here? I’m sure many readers would like to read about your life, your struggles, and the lessons you’ve learned as a result of your difficulties.

  9. FANTASTIC ARTICLE! I completely subscribe to the link between self-awareness and healing. I had a radical hysterectomy and worked on myself before the operation (which came out of the blue) and during the healing process and it has been documented by my consultant that I made the quickest recovery she had ever seen! I didn’t mind explaining to her what I had done. The mind is indeed the most incredible supercomputers available to us… and it’s on our shoulders!!

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your amazing story. My thoughts are with you as you continue your recovery. Why not write a guest blog and submit it to this site? I’m absolutely certain that many readers would like to hear more about your story and the lessons you learned from it. Yes, the human mind makes the most complex super computer look like a cheap PC. Take care.

      1. Thanks for your kind words. I would love to write a guest post. Feel free to give me a steer on the focus. Thanks again for your kind words.

      2. Hi. You could write on this same topic or any subject that would be appropriate given the sort of things published on the site. Send your guest blog to the contact address listed on the Pointless Overthinking website. Thanks.

  10. Self-awareness is one of the most important skills I’ve cultivated in therapy. Reflecting and outward processing helped me to understand myself so that I could manage my PTSD triggers better. Before I began this work, I didn’t understand what was going on deep inside of me so I didn’t know how to heal. Now, I’m better equipped. Thanks for sharing this great post!

    1. Hi. Glad to hear from you again! Yes, I was also feeling sort of hopeless about my health challenge until I learned to understand how much my mind could help my body. Why not write a blog about your PTSD situation and submit it to this site? I’m sure that many would love to read about your situation and the lessons it taught you. PO is always looking for guest bloggers. Take care and stay in touch!

      1. Glad to connect again, too! And glad that your hard work to understand your mind-body connection has really helped. Thanks so much for the invitation to submit to PO – I would love to contribute and will definitely reach out to do so. You take care and stay in touch too 🙂

  11. What a great read. I enjoyed it and related to it on several levels. Hyper-self-aware Healer! I’m looking forward to reading more of your work. Thank you, Joseph

    1. Thanks for the comment and compliment! Do you blog? If so, why not leave a link to your site here? I’d like to have a look and I’m sure others would too. Take care…

  12. I don’t think it’s possible to heal ourselves without being more self aware. Speaking as someone who has two cranky knees – one of which I have sprained the ACL on, torn the MCL, and had chondroplasty on… Well, let’s just say I knew I needed to have the broken cartilage remover decades ago, and was continually told that I was “too young” for that. Hmmph. Now they tell me I need a knee replacement, but I’m too young for that – which is fine by me, because the pictures alone are horrifying.
    Back to the question… If you’re not listening to your body, paying attention to what it’s saying, then it’s like throwing darts at the moon to figure out what’s going on. I know both my knees and back are better when I do water aerobics at the Y – and I need to get back into that. Less pain is good. I know that if I don’t prop my knee up to sleep, I’ll regret it in the morning. More water is better. Steps are evil. Barometric pressure changes are out of my control. I listen – and with returning to school, utilizing things like a roller bag for books instead of a backpack is going to make a difference.
    The other aspect of healing is to listen to your mind – why is this issue so upsetting, or why am I so passionate about this other thing? Can i track it back to a situation? Is there a trigger in place that I need to examine, and see if I can excise? What about the physical pain – is the reason I want it to be “treated” is so I can muffle emotional pain?

    Always an excellent post. I’m working on cleaning up my lists, and getting your personal blog into my sphere.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so impressed with your ability to pay close attention to what your body is communicating to you. Not everyone is able to do so and I feel sorry for folks who are simply mystified by pain and find it inscrutable. I would very much appreciate if you continued to read my writings, and, as usual, I get so much from your comments. Thanks, again!

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