by Hal Warfield
Have you ever wondered what part you might have played in a quarrel? In a communication breakdown? In a misunderstanding? Don't feel bad or be surprised if you answered "no".
Why? Why is it easier to say that the problem is the "other guy" and not us? It seems to be inherently easier to say "I'm OK, you're not" when considering interpersonal interactions. We naturally tend to look outside ourselves for the reasons for problems. Less than 5% of people naturally tend to look within themselves rather than without for answers to problems.
Introspection is defined as the inspection of one's own thoughts and feelings; the process of self-examination.
Encyclopedia Britannica adds that introspection is the process of observing the operations of one's own mind with a view to discovering the laws that govern the mind. What laws govern your mind? Can you see into your motives, your psychology, and your self-image?
Most of us don't take time to consider how we got to be the way we are now. We "just are" and that's as far as it goes. The truth of the matter is we didn't just "get that way"; we were influenced by a vast multitude of factors: genetics, culture, family, education, social orientation, trauma, birth order - the list goes on and on. Each of these factors was woven into the tapestry that makes us who we are – that causes us to react to others in the ways we do.
But in an argument or misunderstanding we don't usually think, "what is my part in this? What did I do or say to cause this misunderstanding." It's much easier to look without rather than within. Taking responsibility for ourselves means being willing enough and honest enough to question ourselves about what drives us – and much more than that, introspection means a willingness to change what we see in order to make changes.
I'm having trouble even being interested in the topic. Why should I even be concerned about introspection?
This may not be an answer you like, but you don’t need to be concerned about your inner life if you want to continue the way you are today. However if you have even an inkling that you might be the cause of someone else’s unhappiness or that your self-centeredness is the cause of some problems between you and others, then introspection is a skill you might want to cultivate.
I'm okay; problems I encounter are in others. How do I convince them of that?
Most of us are “okay” with ourselves. How could we be otherwise? We are so used to living with ourselves that it’s difficult to even conceive that we might be less than perfect. While some of the problems might and probably are in others, this does not give us the right to excuse ourselves from doing some inner exploration. Before you try to convince someone else that they are the problem, you must take the time to question your own motives. If you can be honest with yourself then you will be better able to speak about the other person’s problem.
What kinds of questions do I ask myself? What am I trying to discover about myself?
Not “why do they make me so angry?” but “why do I get angry?” is a better approach. Am I being selfish, self-centered, or just wanting my own way? Am I trying to manipulate the other person through guilt or bad feelings? Am I being lazy? These are only a starting place.
How do I get someone else to be introspective?
There is no sure way to get another person to be introspective. Perhaps if they see you being more thoughtful about your motives they may question themselves. But in the long run you can’t make anyone do anything about their inner life unless they see the benefit for themselves.
Why should I change? What does it benefit me?
My personal belief is that the self-discovery found through being introspective is a reward unto itself. But, more practically, self-honesty can yield greater peace in life – less strife within and less strife with others.
There are things about my (spouse, boss, friend, kids) that infuriate me - how does being introspective make a difference?
I’ve found time after time that the thing that irritates us about another is often a weakness we have in ourselves. Seeing that weakness in another person infuriates us when actually we have the same problem – if we would be honest with ourselves.
Introspection is not a cure-all for relationship problems. It is a valuable tool for growing up inside and becoming a happier person.