Human beings have a unique ability that rarely gets talked about. It’s the ability to observe and react to our own behaviours as if they were the actions of someone else. In other words, to be the ‘observing self’.
As a Life Coach I encourage my clients to utilize their observing self, because it allows them to ‘step out’ of problematic trance states and gain a fresh perspective.
The observing self makes us human.
The ‘observing self’ is perhaps the seat of what it is to be human. As far as we know, no other creature has the capacity to reflect on reality and its own place within that reality; if other creatures do have something similar, it is to a much lesser extent.
This ability is a function of the prefrontal neo-cortex, which we can regard as the ‘conductor’ of the brain’s ‘orchestra’ or the leader of the brain.
From this capacity flows the potential to become more than just our immediate and current self in our immediate and current situations.
Many psychotherapeutic techniques specifically encourage the use of the observing self. The extent to which we can engage this faculty corresponds to how well we can transcend the situations in which we find ourselves, understand the workings of our own minds, and minimize damaging emotions so we have clarity and tranquility.
Here are three ways I use my clients observing self to help them feel better:
1. Grade emotions
I have them grade their emotions because it is as if a part of us is watching the problem from the outside. We are partly outside the problem pattern and have removed it from our ‘core’ self. This breaks the grip of the problem behaviour.
So for instance: If I feel anxious and decide that ’10’ is the most terrified I could possibly feel and ‘1’ is the most relaxed, I might then rate my anxiety at that moment as ‘6’. The act of doing this requires me to use my observing self. This is one reason I use grading with our clients.
When we laugh at a situation, for that time, we engage the observing self. When we label ourselves or get labeled as ‘depressive’, ‘anxious’, or ‘alcoholic’, the opposite happens. The core of the person then identifies with their behaviour. In a way, perspective is lost and their identity becomes meshed with their ‘condition’.
Humor needs to be encouraged at the right time and in the right way. But you can tell that the capacity to engage the observing self is getting stronger when you see someone start to show glimpses of humour in relation to their situation.
3. Use imagination and analogy
If you are lost in a forest, all you know is that you are surrounded in a sea of trees.
But imagine what it would be like if you could be lifted above the trees for a few moments. You would look around and see that you are actually very close to a trail. After being set down again, you’d be able to find your way out of this sea of trees.
This metaphor/imagination practice demonstrates both how metaphor/imagination can activate the observing self and how engaging the observing self can help people have a detached view of their situations, putting themselves in a better position to escape a problem state or circumstance. Describing the pattern of a person’s problem with a story or analogy lets them see it ‘from the outside’.
There are many ways to help people detach psychologically from their emotional patterns. It’s a very important skill to learn to have the best chance at becoming as mentally healthy as possible.