Self assessments should be a simple, right? After all, we’re with ourselves all the time. “Who would know us better?” But judging the self is complex. Subjectivity interferes with fair evaluations of feelings, motivations, strengths and weaknesses. We can’t blindly march into careers, relationships, or life. We must have an inkling of who we are, and what we can accomplish. Successfully navigating obstacles and determining appropriate action demands a sound sense of self. We find this through regular self assessments. Change requires identifying behaviors that limit futures and halt progression. Simple self-evaluations of good or bad often fail; tainted judgments fail to identify realistic problems for us to work on. The crude labeling creates emotional haywire, disrupting the self and discouraging efforts to change. We drown in the bitter thought of “I’m not good enough.” The harsh self-judgment invites self-hatred, protective defenses, and depression.
Purposeful change requires goals. We must be able to envision who we want to be, and have an accurate picture of where we currently are. Armed with this knowledge, we can draw out a plan for change. Change always collides with misguided impulses that push us away from our goals. We employ self-regulation skills to squash misguided impulses and stay resolute in our goal. “Self-regulation is the capacity to override or alter behavior to bring the self into line with a preferred standard or goal” (Vohs & Baumesiter, 2016).
Goals, Roy Baumeister warns are not enough for change. He continues, “without the ability to monitor current behavior relative goals, self-regulation is extremely difficult” (Trudel & Murray, 2013).
Complexity and Self Assessments
Self-complexity. We are complex. No wonder we default to automation. Act now; justify later. The internal drives mindlessly motivate action without interference of logical thought. Our emotions go unexamined. When emotionally aroused, we look outward for the cause, critically blaming others; they must have done something wrong or we would be happy.
We can’t trust emotions. Our emotions occasionally go off course—programmed from the past. The past, as informative as it is, doesn’t always provide accurate patterns for the present. Emotions gained from traumatic experience may be wrong for the present, generating fear instead of curiosity, rejection instead of bonding.
“Self-knowledge affects how we think, feel, act, and guide.”~Adrienn Herendi | Insights
Accurate Self Assessments Require Skill and Knowledge
Accurate self-assessments require skill, patience, and knowledge—both intellectual and experiential. Understanding biological foundations and learned behaviors assists in widening our perspective but without felt life experiences the theories are empty.
D.T. Suzuki wrote, “Fire; mere talking of it will not make the mouth burn.”
Experiences appear unified, but the unified perception is representation of several independent functions. An organism (such as a human being) soaks in environmental information and then reacts—hopefully in a beneficial manner. Information flows into the mind (brain) from the senses, combining new information with experienced pasts. This hodgepodge of information merging with preexisting knowledge is organized and bursts into consciousness where we often label it with a coherent meaning.
We are prone to errors when conducting personal assessments. We often overrate our skills, externalize by projecting failures on outside sources, and take responsibility for successes that we luckily stumble upon. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, wrote “people are…prone to self-serving assessments when it comes to apportioning responsibility for their successes and failures.” He continues, they “people have been found to attribute their successes to themselves, and their failures to external circumstances” (2008). In psychology, we refer to this as the fundamental attribution error.
We store these representations of reality in memory to recall during future constructions. A faulty representation of the present contaminates future perceptions, further distorting reality. Impoverished and abusive childhoods evoke creative interpretations of the dangerous environments, giving order to the disorder, but interfering with healthy adaptation to adult life. Eliminating all thought distortions is impossible. Even the wisest distort and misinterpret the external world to fit their customized internal world. It is how the brain orders experience, creating the map for continued interaction with the world.
Healthy adaptations propel successful interaction with life. Unhealthy adaptations provide measured relief while extracting a heavy cost on the future. Unfiltered reality can overwhelm the senses, disrupting security—especially for those with disrupted childhoods. Taming reality through thought is adaptive; but constantly escaping reality is dangerous. If protections stray too far from reality, we must contend with a constant flow of contradicting evidence. Reality becomes less and less palatable. Anger, sadness, and depression flow from doses of reality that expose our protective deceptions.
See Mental Maps for more on this topic
“A faulty representation of the present contaminates future perceptions, further distorting reality.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Difficult Lives Breeds Faulty Perceptions
Those struggling to survive are most susceptible to deviations. They relieve the anxiety of powerlessness through funky interpretations, adjusting and manipulating facts to regain a simple grasp of control. The loss of the protective power of fantasy proceeds a nasty crash into hopelessness. Reality can be a bear when we’ve ignored its existence. The mind artfully obscured reality to protect. But missed realities accumulate; instead of courageously making practical changes, the avoiders cower in the shadows of make believe to escape their crumbling and scary life.
Our perception molds the world into a personalized version. Understanding that our perceptions are not reality allows for a deeper examination—of our self and of others. Other’s feelings don’t resonate with the poignancy of our own experiences but with intimacy, we gain glimpses into their hearts. Their childhoods, hurts, and joys are too complex for us to fully understand. We must acceptance the limitations of knowledge and grant greater patience to others, giving them the freedom to feel life.
“Self-awareness is an aptitude that allows you to consciously act in alignment with your standards. It reflects how clearly and objectively you can define your individuality.”Adrienn Herendi | Insights
Trauma and Adaptations
Perhaps, our pasts left scars on our souls. Trauma usually persists to influence our lives in many unseen ways. We may or may have not made mistakes that contributed to the mistakes. Usually, whether the trauma was our fault or not, we adopt ways (or survival styles) to deal with the pain. Our self assessments will uncover some of these behavior protections we use. Now, after escaping the toxic environment, we may realize our adaptations no longer serve our purpose. Instead of protect, they limit.
Richard Strozzi-Heckler teaches, we shouldn’t blame “ourselves for acting this way. This simply begins another loop of self-criticism and negative self-assessments.” He continues, “It’s important we acknowledge that the behaviors we’ve adopted and inherited played a critical role in getting us to where we are now. They’ve helped us to survive, and even thrive, and for the most part we’ve succeeded. The small ritual of giving thanks to them creates a space in which we can be self-accepting and build toward a new phase of our life” (2014).
Rigid Beliefs and Self Assessments
When rigid beliefs interfere with reality, Mindfulness helps us catch our rigidity and skeptically exam for correctness. Understanding that constructions of reality are not facts allows for a gently probing of personal beliefs, finding internal reasons for dissatisfactions, without self-condemnation. When a career stagnates, a relationship struggles, or finances crumble, we can explore principle beliefs supporting unhealthy behaviors, instead of blindly pointing to outside causes and bitterly blame the world.
Structured Self-Assessment Worksheets
One way to limit subjective, unconscious reflective assessments is using a work sheet for self evaluations. University of Exeter provides this one for their students:
Not every self-assessment needs to be all inclusive. Our lives are complex and varied. Some assessments may root out hurtful biases, other self assessments may expose buried emotions, while still others may focus on values, skills or beliefs.
Self Assessments Facilitate Growth
With improved accuracy, assessments provide a clearer vision of areas in need of adjustment. We can effectively see behaviors that lead away from intentions. Personal imperfections acknowledged become guiding stepping stones towards improvement.
Even the briefest glance, the momentary enlightenment, that exposes errant thought becomes a beginning to beautiful change. We slowly shed avoidances, false assumptions, rationalizations and projections. Our self-knowledge builds trust. We learn by repeated conquering of the moment that we can survive in reality. The growth sustained through accurate self-assessments limits faulty constructs for security by building skills we can confidently trust. We know ourselves; we know our capabilities, and we flourish.
Baunmeister, Roy; Vohs, Kathleen D. (2016). When People Strive for Self-Harming Goals Sacrificing Personal Health for Interpersonal Success. In Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications. Editors Kathleen D. Vohs and Roy F. Baumeisterr. The Guilford Press; 3rd edition.
Gilovich, Thomas (2008). How We Know What Isn’t So. Free Press; Reprint edition.
Herendi, A. (2020) A Practical Guide to Self-Assessment: Your Key to Opening New Doors. Insights by Lensa. Published 4-24-2020. Accessed 6-1-2021.
Strozzi-Heckler, Richard (2014). The Art of Somatic Coaching: Embodying Skillful Action, Wisdom, and Compassion. North Atlantic Books.
Trudel, R., & Murray, K. (2013). Self‐regulatory strength amplification through selective information processing. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 23(1), 61-73.