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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Townsend

"Knowing" vs Knowing

Self-awareness: the essential ingredient to self-understanding, self-reflection, and introspection.

Self-awareness is so important! Without it, we wouldn't be able to get curious about the way we engage in our lives and how we live according to our values. We wouldn't be able to make connections, practice empathy and compassion towards ourselves, or make shifts towards healing, growth, and change—and (did you know there was an 'and' coming?)—self-awareness is also a place we can get fixated on and stuck in. If you've ever found yourself constantly analyzing yourself or hyperaware of yourself, here are a few thoughts for you ⤵

Sometimes we may stay stuck in constant self-focusing and hyperawareness because it feels productive given the immense amount of mental energy that goes towards it. This can be called rumination. We are highly cerebral beings and there sure are benefits to the way our brains evolved to function. And yet, it can also lead to so much anxiety and thought spirals. Hyperawareness can also be an unconscious way that we disconnect from our emotions towards "figuring out" our problems, instead. This can often be an adaptive response to difficult experiences, like pain, grief, or trauma. We're not always equipped to be able to process our emotions, or revisit painful experiences and the felt sensations of them. Verbally processing and analyzing what happened and why feels safer. And sometimes it is! Obsessive self-awareness can also be connected to other ways we cope with fear, like perfectionism or intellectualization. This can look like wanting to understand something in its entirety or needing to have all the answers so that we have no uncertainty. Especially if we crave certainty and often engage in all-or-nothing thinking.



That's where the "knowing" vs knowing comes from.

Same word. Different meaning.

"Knowing" has to do with the way we understand something, cerebrally. Knowing is about our embodiment of that information, how we practice and connect to ourselves, our experiences, and integrate the "knowing" into our presence.

Maybe it's a breakup you're going through. And you're trying to figure out all the reasons, or try to find all the warning bread crumbs that something wasn't right. Hey, don't get me wrong, that's part of it. Remember that self-awareness is an ingredient. It can be helpful to process our thoughts and — are we making time to actually sit with and feel our grief and loss?

Maybe it's a decision you're mulling over. You're trying to mentally justify it, come up with all the pros-and-cons, and yet you don't feel like you're getting anywhere. Is it possible that the mental decision is not what you're needing more of, but instead, you're needing more of an emotional, intuitive answer?

Or perhaps you're trying to understand why you said that thing, did that thing, acted in that way, or why you're stuck in a behavioral pattern. And you're finding yourself stuck on the "why", identifying what you can do differently, or you may know the "why" but you can't figure out "why" the "why" is not enough, because you're still doing that thing. and — what if that why has a self-blamey tone. What if that why is bringing about more shame or self-frustration? "why" only gets us so far.

Here are a few ways to get unstuck from hyperawareness:



1. Allow discomfort

Not knowing, uncertainty, and the grey can be uncomfortable. Sometimes we want to know, have all the answers, and fill in the blanks. But we don't always get those pieces. So if you're finding yourself unable to work through something tough because you're waiting until you fully understand it before you feel comfortable making changes or moving forward, i invite you to thank your self-awareness, and to be okay with not knowing every piece of the puzzle. you don't need to "figure it all out" in order to learn, grow, and heal parts of you.

Self-awareness and insight are wonderful tools. And they're only part of the equation.

2. Practice self-compassion

Obsessive thoughts, rumination, and anxiety spike our stress hormones. They can disembody us and serve as protectors to difficult emotions. That makes sense. Let compassion be a tool. It can help us come back down and return to our bodies. Compassion brings us back to presence, self-connection, and the here-and-now. When you're finding yourself in hyper self-focus, try placing your hand on your heart, belly, or somewhere that feels safe and inviting in a pause in your thoughts. Take a breath if that's accessible, and remind yourself that you may not have all the answers, and that's okay. Invite in acceptance and allowance of wherever you're at, and letting that be where you are. Gentle self-talk can help us regulate and actually decreases the cortisol levels associated with hyper-rumination and anxiety.

3. Press play on your feelings

What it's like to be in your feelings? If it's dreadful, you're not alone and that's so okay. Is it possible to shift from "thinking" to feeling? Can you shift from "knowing" to knowing? Does it feel manageable to invite in more presence, more being, more feeling? We have so many thoughts, and can often get so stuck mentally. Can you notice any sensations that feel tolerable? Any feelings that feel uncomfortable but manageable? Starting with what's possible can be a great entry point.

Thinking about change doesn't get us there.

Thinking about "why" isn't practicing "how".

Thinking about our feelings isn't feeling them.


I hope this offered you a perspective on self-awareness and while there's strengths inherent in being reflective, curious, and aware, that too much of it can keep us stuck in patterns of thought and behavior. If you find yourself in a hyperawareness fixation, see what it may be feel like to practice regulation skills like compassion and acceptance. or ask yourself if it feels possible to invite in practice and action, so that you can create new neural pathways through mindfulness, unclenching from thoughts, and building new mental habits and emotional tools.


For more on feelings, The Feeling Feelings Course is an intro into how to feel feelings. You get psychoeducation on emotions and your nervous system, mixed with practical steps, and a guide into the messy art of feeling your feels from the lens of self-compassion and gentle acceptance.

It is absolutely not a substitute or replacement for therapy with me or another healthcare professional and is meant to be a supplement to professional mental health services you may be receiving or seeking or a complement to your own inner work.

Pop on over to for more deets & to enroll :)


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