The Road to a Better Self

Imagine life as a long route pervaded with peaks and troughs, and every individual faces the idiosyncratic choice of being the passenger or the driver. As the driver, the individual is in control of which turns and roads to take. This analogy is in accordance with a phenomenon known as self-awareness.

Self-awareness has been studied by many researchers and has been defined diversly. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines self-awareness as “self-focused attention or knowledge”. The self-focused knowledge that the individual obtains, allows for the ability to self-evaluate, reflect, and understand what makes them unique from others. The amplitude one has for self-awareness has been researched in relation to its impact on personality and traits. Social and clinical research has concluded that self- awareness has shown both a constructive and deconstructive attribution on human functioning.

Self- awareness has been examined from many different perspectives including, evolutionary, humanistic, neurological, and more. The spirit of inquiry of self-awareness is dated back to the late 1800’s, when William James noted the dissimilitude between the objective and subjective self. His findings sparked interests in many researchers such as Carl Jung, Rollo May, Duval and Wicklund, mother daughter team Meyer-Briggs, and additional investigators.

Throughout the years, researchers have been able to analysis the influence of self-awareness on personality and traits using a wide array of theories and models. With the intention of highlighting the adaptive and maladaptive aspects of self-awareness pertaining to personality, Rollo May’s theory of the Human Dilemma will be furthered examined.

Rollo May is best known for his work on the existential approach of psychology. His outlook on humans accrued throughout his time working as a psychotherapist. May’s perspective is not science based, but rather clinically rooted. May’s perspective on humans was that he saw people existing in the present world of experiences and that individuals are solely responsible for who they become. May further believed that the multitude of people lack the tenacity to face their destiny. In the midst of fleeing from their kismet, they deprive themselves a great deal of freedom. With the negate of freedom, people often scarper from their onus. The root of this tendency is based in self-awareness. May’s approach emphasized the inevitability of death.

May argued that without the conscious understanding of the inexorable facet of demise, people lack the inclination to make choices, elude from their true selves, and burgeon a sensation of insignificance and alienation. A person with awareness of death is able to adore their freedom and live authentically with themselves and others. With the recognition of death, an individual has the tenacity to live life in the present.

In 1967 Rollo May wrote a book called “Psychology and the Human Dilemma”. This dilemma is the human capacity for self-awareness. “The human dilemma is that which arises out of man’s capacity to experience himself as both subject and object at the same time. Both are necessary-for the science of psychology, for therapy, and for gratifying living”. (May, 1967). May emphasizes the importance of viewing the self both subjectively and objectively concurrently. May writes “if… I set out to deal with myself as ‘pure object’ fully determined and manipulatable, I become driven, dried up, affectless, and unrelated, to my experiences”. (May,1967). In contrast, living life as a ‘pure subject’ can cause one to place excessive emphasis their own opinions and attitudes, giving rise to sensations such as affect and boundlessness.

May’s cardinal belief within the human dilemma is, that human nature is inherently composed of the paradoxical relationship between the subjective and objective dimensions within consciousness. In his analysis May writes,

“Nor is it quite accurate to speak of our being subject and object simultaneously. The important point is that our consciousness is a process of oscillation between the two. Indeed, is not this dialectical relationship between experiencing myself as subject and as object just what consciousness consists of? The process of oscillation gives me potentiality — I can choose between them, can throw my weight on one side or the other…when we are dealing with ourselves, it is the gap between the two ways of responding that is important. My freedom, in any genuine sense, lies not in my capacity to live as “pure subject,” but rather in my capacity to experience both modes, to live in the dialectical relationship”. (May, 1967, p. 9).

The amalgam between the subjective and objective realms of consciousness allows for the furtherance of self-awareness. Research has shown the adaptive and maladaptive aspects of self-awareness, according to May with the synthesis of the objective and subjectiveness states individuals can then maximize the benefits and minimize the dolor from self-awareness.

The benefits and afflictions that stem from self-awareness have been investigated by many researchers. Though the role in dysfunction has been apparent, self-awareness contributes many redeeming qualities. Many researchers have investigated the corollary of adaptive or maladaptive effects of self-awareness based on a contextual slant. The phenomena of accurate self-awareness is quite supple depending on the standards of its use. Research on expectancies, have demonstrated how contextual factors play a role on the adaptive or maladaptive aspect of self-awareness. Setting rational standards versus setting unreasonable ones, is a vital exemplar of how self-awareness can be beneficial or detrimental. When standards are met, adaptive aspects are enhanced. In opposition, if standards are not met, maladaptive facets are exhibited.

Negative constituents of self-awareness can present themselves in a variety of ways. Over-thinking and over-analyzing are common negative ascriptions of self-awareness that can transpire into vast assortment of mental disorders and maladaptive traits. Internal focus can act as a culprit of negative proclivities. Investigators Smith and Greenberg (1981) were the earliest researchers to discover the links between self-focused attention and depressive symptoms. Since then, analysts have proven that high self-awareness can exacerbate negative experiences that can likely lead to a “depressive self-focusing style” (Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987), self-critical tendencies, along with self-destructive behaviors, (Duval & Wicklund, 1973). Humans are susceptible to being locked into cycles of self- critical tendencies, and rumination. These bleak patterns generally lead to high levels of anguish, that one perilously attempts repair through self-destructive behaviorisms. Self-destructive behaviorisms can appear as binge eating, alcoholism, drug use, masochism, suicidal ideation, and more. These attributes act as foundational elements to many emotional and affective disorders.

Unhealthy preoccupations of the internal state have been associated with a wide range of abnormal psychological proclivities, that are likely to manifest into disorders. Inaccurate self-awareness amalgamates to disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, social anxiety, eating disorders and more. Implementing Rollo May’s model of The Human Dilemma, those who exhibit maladaptive traits of self-awareness lack a productive synthesis of objective and subjective self-awareness. Those who demonstrate an amicable relationship between the two, are apt to bear the efficacious ramifications.

Accurate self-awareness functions as an obliging contrivance. Self-awareness allows individuals to be conscious of who they are, and what makes them unique. With accurate self-awareness the enhancement of constructive functioning is apparent. The enablement of perspective taking, self-control, creative accomplishments, high self-esteem, stress management, resilience, and more transpires as a result of accurate self-awareness.

Individuals with accurate self-awareness are proficient in understanding strengths they embody. They are able to assimilate their strengths, then use them as tools to help themselves and others. The robustness those with accurate self-awareness possess, attribute to positive calibers that greatly improve human functioning.

An operative facet of self-awareness is the availment of empathy. Empathy allows for reverent and tacit perspective taking. Researchers have looked at the impact of an empathetic psyche and have conclusively found that individuals with higher levels of empathy have stronger social, and problem-solving skills. Empathy allows humans to connect with one another and exalts one’s sense of well-being.

Though the capacity of self-awareness that one possesses is dependent on, psychological, biological, and societal factors, the acknowledgement of adaptive self-awareness skills, along with coping mechanisms for maladaptive aspects, should become necessitated within the human environment. With the imposition of awareness of the adaptive and maladaptive aspects of self-awareness, humans will be prepared and willing to strengthen the alliance between the objective and subjective self as Rollo May describes in The Human Dilemma. ‘

Techniques to subsume the positive attributions of self-awareness and diminish levels of negative attributions have been investigated by researchers. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be helpful in reducing negative factors of self-awareness, while enhancing positive attributions. Other procedures such as, meditation, mindfulness, (Myer-Briggs company, 2018), journaling, and art therapy (Coholic, 2011) have shown to impede negative features and enhance levels of empathy, self-acceptance, communication and more. The true demise of self-awareness and its negative qualities is the lack of discernment and education on coping mechanisms and self-awareness in itself.

Education is a foundational apparatus that is likely to raise the human potential of self-awareness and promote healthier personality traits. By simply introducing what self-awareness is and its attribution of positive and negative features, individuals then have the capacity to make decisions on how they wish to refine and improve on maladaptive and adaptive aspects of self-awareness. With education on enhancement and coping mechanisms individuals are put in a position to distinguish themselves from societal conjectures and reach their kismet. Bestowing a newfangled sentiment, allows humans the ability to be in the driver’s seat of their own life.


Coholic, D. A. (2011). Exploring the feasibility and benefits of arts-based mindfulness-based practices with young people in need: Aiming to improve aspects of self-awareness and resilience. Child & Youth Care Forum, 40(4), 303–317. doi:

Duval, T. S., & Silvia, P. J. (2002). Self-awareness, probability of improvement, and the self-serving bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 49–61.

Hippe, John. (2004). Self-Awareness: A Precursor to Resiliency. Reclaiming Children and Youth: The Journal of Strength-based Interventions.

Silvia PJ, Gendolla GHE. On Introspection and Self-Perception: Does Self-Focused Attention Enable Accurate Self-Knowledge? Review of General Psychology. 2001;5(3):241–269. doi:10.1037/1089–2680.5.3.241

May, R. (1967). Psychology and the human dilemma. W W Norton & Co.

Myer-Briggs company (2018) Https:// (n.d.).

Silvia, P. J., & O’Brien, M.,E. (2004). SELF-AWARENESS AND CONSTRUCTIVE FUNCTIONING: REVISITING “THE HUMAN DILEMMA”. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(4), 475–489. Retrieved from



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