When I first read Keep Your Love On, I had been married for over ten years. My husband and I had been pastors and leaders in church for seven of those years. I genuinely believed we were doing well. I distinctly remember reading the first chapter of the book with a mixture of horror and excitement—horror as I discovered I was the definition of a powerless person, and excitement as I recognized the opportunity that was being presented that would allow me to grow and change.
I wish that I could say that I read the book (which I did three times), prayed a prayer, made a declaration, and became a powerful person. I would love it if personal growth was that easy! Instead, it was the beginning of a long, slow, and sometimes painful journey of identifying the sources of powerlessness in my own life, overcoming fear, and changing my relational behavior as I learned to take responsibility for my heart and my choices.
Of all the powerful choices I had to learn to make in that journey, however, there is one that was especially critical. I firmly believe we cannot make powerful choices without first making the choice to practice self-awareness.
Setting Up Your Internal Checkpoint
How often do you pause, especially in the middle of a difficult emotional situation, and evaluate what is happening internally? Can you identify how you are feeling? Do you notice what your thoughts are? Are you able to recognize if those thoughts are helpful or harmful in the situation? True or untrue? Are you paying attention to your reactions? Is your voice raised or your body closed off? How is your body language and your facial expressions? Are your reactions escalating the situation?
Practicing this kind of self-evaluation regularly is essential if we want to be powerful in conflict or confrontation, which is where we are most tempted to display powerlessness. This is where we get angry and aggressive, shut down and withdraw, turn accusatory with our “But you” statements, or start using guilt and manipulation to control the situation.
Part of the problem in these moments is that we are more “others aware” than we are self-aware. Pain and fear trigger our defense mechanisms. When we’re feeling defensive, we naturally become so focused on identifying what is “wrong” with the other person and what they need to adjust so we can feel better.
Most of us are less skilled at recognizing what is happening inside our own hearts and how we are contributing to relational breakdown. It is when we can shift our focus to evaluate our own thoughts, emotions, and reactions, and commit to take control of them, that we start the process of becoming powerful in our choices. Regardless of what is happening in the other person, we must be committed to managing the responses of our own heart towards love.
Proverbs 4:23 instructs us, “Above all else, guard your heart for from it flows the issues of life.” Imagine stationing a watchman to stand at a checkpoint in your heart and decide what is allowed in to affect you and what is allowed out to affect others. That is the picture this verse creates. It instructs us to not only live in awareness of what is happening inside our own heart, but to decide how we will respond to others. In any situation, we have the responsibility to keep our focus on ourselves and ask, What is happening inside of me? What is my reaction and where is it coming from? Am I responding consistent to my core values? If not, why not? Is there something here that God wants to show me?
So, how do we practically establish this internal checkpoint in our lives? Here are 3 keys to grow in practicing self-awareness:
1. Welcome correction from God.
At the deepest level, growth in self-awareness begins by having a heart that is humble and hungry for God to lead, guide, correct, and train us. There are twenty-five verses in Proverbs alone that talk about the wisdom of having a correctable heart and the foolishness of refusing instruction. Proverbs 3:11-12 states, “My child, when the Lord God speaks to you, never take his words lightly, and never be upset when he corrects you. For the Father’s discipline comes only from his passionate love and pleasure for you.” If we learn to welcome correction in our relationship with God as a sign of His love for us and His commitment to us reaching our full potential, we will grow quickly in self-awareness without fear or shame.
2. Invite feedback from others.
We all struggle with feedback, but none of us can grow in self-awareness without it. We need the people around us to let us know how they are experiencing us so we can see into our blind spots and grow.
Recently, my husband and I were trying to navigate a conversation around an area of misunderstanding. In discomfort of this exchange, my internal voice began to say, He doesn’t appreciate you. He doesn’t see all the things you do for this family. If he did, you wouldn’t be having this conflict right now.
I immediately started to feel sorry for myself and tried to turn the conversation to feeling unappreciated—which had nothing to do with the initial conflict. As we started that dialogue, he asked me, “Is that really true?”
I took a moment to self-evaluate and quickly recognized that while it felt true in the moment, it wasn’t actually true. There was a lot of daily evidence that he both recognized and appreciated me. I recognized that I was resorting to one of my old methods of gaining control of a conflict. By using the defense mechanism of “unappreciated,” I could make it very difficult for him to press forward in sharing a place that he needed something different from me. While it could sometimes successfully shut a conflict down, it also created disconnection between us, as he was constantly blocked from being able to give feedback. Recognizing what I was doing allowed me to return to the truth, apologize, and get back on track with the original conversation so we could find mutual resolve.
Ask the people closest to you how you respond when you are in conflict or confrontation. Do you display any aggression or passivity? Ask if there is anything you do that makes them feel unheard or misunderstood. Commit to looking for feedback out of a desire for growth and refuse the temptation to defend yourself from whatever you hear. You then get to choose what you are going to do with what you learn about yourself.
3. Practice the pause.
In difficult emotional situations, it is easy to run with whatever emotion is strongest. It takes a lot of discipline and self-control to step back from our thoughts and feelings and evaluate what is happening in our heart in that moment.
By practicing the pause, we create space to interrogate our emotions and identify the thoughts or beliefs attached to them. We then have the opportunity to evaluate those beliefs and bring it before the Father “Is this true? If it is not true, then what is truth?” Partnering with the truth allows us to stay powerful in the middle of emotional situations.
As you continue in your journey towards becoming powerful in all your relationships, I challenge you to have a renewed commitment to growing in self-awareness. Whatever your circumstances, set your heart to discover the place of self-discovery that is available for you.
P.S. I’m thrilled that Carla will be joining us and bringing more powerful teaching at our upcoming LOP Summit in the Washington DC area! Please join us! Tickets are available here!