The Self-Observing Capacity and Two Tools to Build it:

The further and further I learn about successful psychotherapy and the essential elements of positive change, the more I’m learning that over time it’s a series of capacities or inner skills.

Such as the ability to regulate one’s internal state without overwhelm from difficult emotions or anxieties.

One of the most essential of these capacities is the Self-Observing Capacity. Also called in Attachment Theory the Self-Observing Function.

It’s simply the ability to reflect on your inner experience in the moment.

Unlike thinking about your inner experience or thinking about the past or imagined future, it’s a direct reporting of what comes up in your experience.

This is called a “meta-cognitive” capacity. It’s larger than thought and thinking. It’s stating what one is feeling and thinking and sensing without being in it. Similarly to mindfulness but stated, not just an internal experience.

The reason for building and practicing this skill is that it organizes your inner experience. It builds the capacity to take a step back and become proactive and curious, rather than reactive and “embedded” in experience.

This capacity is naturally built when a parent or early attachment figure in your life inquired with interest into your experience. Such as asking questions in an open way and being interested in what your inner world was like.

This helps a child see themselves as the are seen in another’s eyes and organizes their psyche.

If a child did not have parents or caretakers of whom cared about their inner world of feelings, thoughts, desires and drives, the child usually grows up without an inner compass in life.

They may be compulsive, confused about themselves and others, have a poor sense of their identity and possibly seek it out in others. Forming goals and a personal sense of values may be foreign and all out stressful.

When someone such as a friend, partner, or therapist asks questions and wants to get to know the person, it can feel like an attack, or invasive, or pointless, confusing, and so on, like the person doesn’t have an answer when someone is interested in their inner psychological experience. As if there’s no internal sense of feelings, values, and desires in the first place.

They also may grow up becoming either highly reactive or passive in life.


But this does not have to be forever in these cases. This ability can be practiced and built.

Below are two main tools to begin to grow this capacity to observe oneself without judgement but first, here are the essential elements to a person’s direct experience:

1. Spontaneous images and memories

2. Emotions, moods and impulses

3. Body sensations

4. Hearing and Auditory, (what you hear from feelings and parts of yourself and your voice)

5. Thoughts-stated objectively and not thinking about them

TOOL #1: Reporting on your experience

This is very simple and can also be deceptively challenging.

It is simply reporting verbally out-loud or inside your mind what is coming up in your experience.

In a form of psychotherapy called Gestalt Therapy, it is called “The Awareness Continuum.”

It goes like this: I report to myself the first thing I notice. Such as a body sensation, a thought, an emotion, and so on.

It’s easiest to begin with a statement such as “Now I am aware of…” Such as “Now I’m aware of a thought about myself…now I’m aware of a sensation in my belly…now I’m aware of the mood I’ve been feeling today… now I’m aware that I feel that I want to get something from the fridge…”

It’s like a stream of consciousness but more focused.

You can bring to mind an issue in your life and state your experience of it in the moment: “Now I’m aware of what happened last night with XYZ… now I’m aware of feeling…” and so on.

TOOL #2: Checking-in

This is another deceptively simple technique. The reason for it is to build the capacity to stop, slow down and observe one’s inner psychological experience.

When we’re going about our lives, we’re naturally in an outwardly engaged state.

Checking-in is about taking a brief moment to ask yourself:

“What am I experiencing inside?” “What am I thinking that I’m not aware of?” “Whom or what am I reacting to?” “What am I feeling?” “What am I habitually doing?”

And staying with any sensations or emotions WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT THEM! Just objectively reporting on them and feeling into one’s body and states until there may be a shift. A sense of something different when you go inside and allow what’s there without judgement.

I welcome any questions or comments on this subject.

Good luck observing your self! Your self is worth looking into!

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