- Cognitive defusion involves noticing your thoughts without getting caught up or buying into the thoughts.
- A self-forgetful humility could help alleviate some of the need we have for self absorption.
- The overly sensitive nature of the social media user can manifest into many of our psychological maladjustments.
- We are struggling to understand how we disengage from ourselves.
“To discover yourself, you must first lose yourself.” - Unknown source
Self absorption has become the new mental albatross. Our mental capacity has reached a threshold level through a hypertrophied sense of self. High levels of anxiety, depression, stress, and cognitive dissonance are now endemic in modern living.
We are so focused on ourselves that we are making ourselves unwell. Why is this happening? Is it possible that self-awareness has reached a point of diminishing returns?
Intrusive thoughts and overthinking in general are common maladaptive complaints that clients acknowledge in 2023. We are becoming stuck in our thoughts.
Cognitive defusion involves noticing your thoughts without getting caught up or buying into the thoughts. Repeating thoughts of depression and anxiety only serves to reinforce and strengthen the binding quality of such thinking. “I’m always anxious” thinking feeds our anxiety. Observing your thoughts is a mindful approach to noticing without reinforcing your thinking. There is a conscious separation of one’s thoughts from one’s personal identity (Duarte-Noe, 2022).
“The surest way to lose your self-worth is by trying to find it through the eyes of others.” - Becca Lee
At first glance, the helping professions look to be about self-forgetting. That is, putting others ahead of self. Because the helping professions are especially susceptible to putting others first, this constant focus on others may distract the helper but not necessarily assist them in finding the respite needed to self-forget. Social service requires a certain amount of mastery and performance evaluation (Fontana, 1988).
As helpers there is a constant need to self-evaluate as well. Self-awareness for the helping-professional becomes a vortex of personal expectations that consumes. How does the helping professional find the skill to cognitively defuse from this cycle of self-awareness and learn to self-forget?
Do We Need a Self-Forgetful Humility?
Maybe we need a new form of humility. According to C.S. Lewis, three features mark self-forgetful humility. We would firstly, admire anything outside ourselves. A sunset, a symphony, or anything else that is not about us would be a self-forgetful example.
Secondly, through enjoying life and experiencing others sincerely, the self-forgetful human can laugh easily, even at their own expense. And thirdly, the self-forgetful person loses a sense of ownership in their own works (Rigney, 2020). A self-forgetful humility could help alleviate some of the need we have for self absorption.
“When you have drunk of it you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else’s: without pride and without modesty.- The river of forgetfulness in Dante’s Divine Comedy
Zen Ink Paintings
Another method used to self-forget is the Japanese Zen ink paintings of sumi-e, which are part of the Nishida Philosophy. These paintings are an approach to aesthetics based on self-effacement, or erasing the self (Duarte-Noe, 2022).
The art is designed to allow the observer the opportunity to evoke emptiness of the self and become lost in the splendor of nature. The ultimate goal of this experience is to allow the viewer a sense of simplicity, calmness, and reverence. Zen ink paintings exemplify the release of anxiety through self-forgetting.
The Influence of Social Media
Social media has had an immeasurable influence on self-absorption. The constant checking on comments of posts, and the number of likes, is part of a dopamine hit that is becoming more addictive all the time.
We have created an unhealthy platform for self-involvement that makes self-forgetting all the more difficult. The overly-sensitive nature of the social media user can manifest into many of the psychological maladjustments that are on the rise, especially anxiety and depression.
Advantages to Self-Forgetting
Currently, we are in a period of over-the-top self-awareness. All the signs are there. Overly consumed with our thinking and our self-absorbed lives, we have created a need for a world without respite.
After 30 years of self-awareness teaching and learning, the time has come to balance ourselves by self-forgetting. We know narcissism is not healthy, however, our life focus is rapidly moving more toward this form of self-involvement. We are struggling to understand how we disengage from ourselves. We cannot control everything and everyone around us. Paradoxically, letting go of the need for control will actually give us more.
Duarte-Noe, P. (2022). Sumi-e & The Art of Self-Forgetting. Japan House, 2022.
Fontana, D. (1988). Self-Awareness and Self-Forgetting: Now I See Me, Now I Don’t. Science Direct, Advances in Psychology, Chapter 27, 1988, Volume 51, pages 349-357.
Rigney, J. (2020). C.S. Lewis and the Beauty of Self-Forgetfulness. Crossway, November, 22, 2020.