I like to analyze things. My desire to dissect what I'm thinking and feeling stems from growing up in a confusing environment fueled by alcoholism, mixed messages, and instability. When things got tense in our home, I’d retreat with my journal to escape. I desperately wanted to understand what was going on around me and how I was feeling. I wanted to think I had some control when I had none.
While I regret all the times friends had to listen to me dissect my life, I am grateful for my desire to analyze, because it helped me dig out from depression.
Yes, analysis paralysis does exist. But sometimes analysis (combined with action) is exactly what you need to live a productive, self-aware life. When you are willing to take a hard look at who you are, the choices you make, and how you feel, you constantly raise your self-awareness. Knowing yourself well is essential to wiggling out of depression’s grip and finding happiness.
Here’s how knowing yourself better can create a happier life:
1. It brings your needs clearly to the forefront.
My love for self-analysis led me to talk therapy. I wasn’t afraid of it because I desperately wanted to understand why my parents were the way they were and how to repair my damaged self-esteem. I wanted to know why I felt lost, angry, and empty. The process was life-changing for me. Talk therapy helped me realize I was strong and helped me practice turning adversity into insight. If you suffer emotional pain regularly, talk therapy could help you heal in a lasting way.
2. You can conquer your demons.
It’s brave to confront your issues head-on. I used to use dating and attention from guys as a means of validation. I’d basically hand my self-worth over to the guy I was dating. If things were going well, I’d feel on top of the world. If things went downhill, so did my self-image. Needless to say, it wasn’t healthy.
I’d often have a Plan A guy and a Plan B guy so I’d have validation waiting in the wings. I had to discover how to disconnect dating from defining who I am. I had to give value to my own opinions and determine my own self-worth. Taking a break from dating and learning to love living alone (and love my own company) was liberating. Soon I didn’t need to be dating anyone to feel good about myself.
3. You learn to choose getting better over feeling better.
My psychologist taught me that there’s a difference between feeling better and getting better. Feeling better is like the tub of ice cream you consume because you are depressed. Or the wine you drink too much of because you want to numb yourself. Or the bad-for-you guy you don’t break up with because you like the attention and you find the unknown scarier.
Getting better is making a decision that is hard or painful but will improve your life in the long term. Getting better is personal growth and resilience. Feeling better is escape and avoidance. Every time you make the harder choice that’s more aligned with your life goals and the person you want to be, the better your life gets.
4. You get comfortable being brutally honest with yourself.
Emotionally healthy people can step outside themselves, examine their behavior, and identify what’s working and what isn't working. Imagine your life and your role in it as if it were a movie you were watching. What makes you cringe and sink into your seat?
What do you need to change? The more self-aware you are, the easier it is to self-correct and make decisions that are healthy and congruent with who you are and who you want to be. Life gets incrementally better good decision by good decision.
5. You'll stop idealizing other people.
You’ve probably heard more than once that you should just be yourself and not compare yourself to other people. If you idealize other people while you tear yourself down, it’s a quick way to feel terrible about yourself. Trust me, I know. I stopped doing this when I heard this George Bernard Shaw quote: "Nothing is as good as it seems and it's never better."
Keep that in mind the next time you start idealizing someone else or a lifestyle other than your own. I guarantee the person or situation you're idealizing is flawed—just like you.
We just have to be brave enough to take a hard look. Once you see how much your life has changed, you'll never look back again.