Robert Strock discusses the third level of awareness. This level of awareness requires that we become aware of and identify our most challenging feelings. To address these feelings, we must reach the first level of awareness, which is to be humble enough to be aware that in many areas we are unaware. The second level is to recognize the ways in which we see ourselves in brief flashes because it’s too hard to tolerate challenging feelings or profound insights that would cause disruption in our lives if we integrated them. We reach the third level when we can ask ourselves—how can I focus on caring for myself with this challenging emotion without criticism and withdrawal?
Strock and guest use deeply personal examples to show how you can become aware of your reactions and continue on the road toward self-compassion. The third level of awareness is another step toward seeing yourself and your feelings from a non-judgemental place. It requires deep introspection to investigate the ingrained patterns of behavior learned in your early life. The danger in the third level is that our heart isn’t stimulated to help us even though we think it is, revealing the need for the fourth level of awareness that includes our intention to heal. As you move toward greater awareness, you also begin to progress on the path of self-compassion and minimize rejection, abandonment, and blame.
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 18.
Robert Strock: (00:06)
At first, it will seem like an absurd question because when we’re in a challenging state, we just sort of instinctively feel like, well, if were in a challenging state, of course we don’t like it. Of course we don’t. And we don’t realize not liking it is a form of self-rejection and it’s a form of compounding, whatever it is that we’re in and that we have the possibility to actually tolerate it, accepted care for it. Be empathic with ourselves.
The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity, to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book, Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges, to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.
Robert Strock: (01:18)
Welcome again, to Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges. As we mentioned in the last episode, we’re talking about something that’s very subtle, very hidden for most of us and insidious, and that is how we reject ourselves in ways that are so frequently unseen. And the theme that we’ll be dealing with again today is how we move from self-rejection toward self-compassion. I’d like to start out by introducing my partner at The Global Bridge Foundation, and 50 year closest friend, Dave.
David Knapp: (02:03)
So great to be here for these important discussions and, uh, especially given the, the importance of them as it relates to the book, Awareness That Heals itself and understanding it and Illuminating it.
Robert Strock: (02:20)
In the last episode, we’re learning how to notice two distinct levels of awareness, both of which, well especially the first one, is unpopular, which is why it’s not the normal conversation.
Robert Strock: (02:36)
And that is being aware of what is most challenging for you emotionally or situationally at any given point in time. And really you are being encouraged to see that focusing on inspiration or spirituality or even humanitarianism, all of these wonderful things that are important are no more important than asking yourself, what is it that’s most challenging to me because if we go up in the air and we aren’t grounded, we’re guaranteed to hold onto that energy and it’s going to freeze us in our body in some way that’s unpleasant. So the first level of awareness is really seeing the dignity, the courage, and the humility and asking ourselves, what is it that’s most challenging. And as we’re asking the question, probably at first, it might be a little dread, little fear, but as you get the knack of it, it becomes enjoyable because you’re realizing, you’re asking yourself, how can I really take good care of myself by noticing this?
Robert Strock: (03:57)
Cause if I don’t notice this, I know I’m not going to be able to take care of myself, literally, because those feelings are a very big part of me. As we noticed in the last episode, we see that in addition to this first level of seeing our challenges, that there is the second level, which is, are we rejecting ourselves or are we caring for ourselves? And that the way to really discover that is to ask ourselves, do we care for ourselves while we’re in this challenging emotional state? And at first it will seem like an absurd question because when we’re in a challenging state, we just sort of instinctively feel like, well, if we’re in a challenging state, of course we don’t like it. Of course we don’t. And we don’t realize not liking it is a form of self-rejection and it’s a form of compounding, whatever it is that we’re in and that we have the possibility to actually tolerate it, accepted, care for it, be empathic with ourselves.
Robert Strock: (05:06)
We’re not going to have that potential. Let’s ask that second question, which will bring us to the second level of awareness, which is how we’re reacting to our challenging feelings.
David Knapp: (05:20)
As you say that a life circumstance comes up for me. And it’s, um, early in my relationship with, with my current wife, it’s now 32 years ago. And she was introducing me to a friend who knew me from a prior time of my life, where I was ashamed of who I was. And I literally, at that time, because it was just a few weeks into knowing her thought it was taking care of myself to get up and leave and, and just move away because that shame, that response to my shame felt like I just didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to deal with it. There’s a lot of opportunities out in the world where I don’t have to do that.
Robert Strock: (06:11)
Why do it? Well, first of all, thank you for sharing the present shame and, and giving us such a good example to work with. So when you walked away, you obviously walked away with shame. And from the ways we’ve been talking about it, you moved into an avoidance or a disassociation and the difficulty, especially if you’re talking about walking away from somebody that you’re going to be married to for 37 years, it’s probably a pretty good chance that’s going to come up. And similarly, when we have a situation that is undesirable, not only if we walk away, are we going to be carrying the feelings, but the likelihood of it coming up again is very high. And more importantly, the inevitability of it, just staying frozen as shame and not asking the question of, do I care for this in any way? Do I have an understanding of this in any way?
Robert Strock: (07:19)
Do I have an empathy for this in any way? Can I tolerate this? Can I communicate about this? Can I find any sense of, uh, understanding why I was the way I was, all of these keys to inner healing are ignored. And so at the one level, you’re likely if you have a long-term relationship of any sort, just delaying the inevitable, but even worse, you’re leaving yourself in a state of abandonment. You’re leaving yourself in a state of shame and your innocence, your trust has no possibility of coming forward. And many times when I use a word like innocence, it’s paradoxical that if you had something to be ashamed of and you were openly ashamed, then that allows you the potential of being innocent. Again, if you were guilty and you’re openly guilty, and you’ve done what you can, since that time to really be more innocent, then it gives you a chance to bring that innocence to the guilt.
Robert Strock: (08:33)
And so being guilty about the guilt or being ashamed about the shame is a classic example of compounding the suffering. Whereas being able to care for the shame and realize, God, this is painful, really, really painful to have the shame and to have to run away from it. And that really kind of naturally leads us to a third level, which is again, re-repeating the first two, being aware of our challenges. And then number two, being aware of the ways we reject ourselves. Then there’s a third level of awareness, which again, I hope people are not getting confused, which is learning how to pivot and asking yourself, how can we focus on ourselves to care for ourselves? What thoughts do we need? Do we need to do any actions? Do we need to have any conversations? Do we need to go to therapy? What do we need to do?
Robert Strock: (09:43)
So we cannot be in this endless cycle of having a challenging emotion and followed by a criticism or a withdrawal. So again, just to repeat this and because it’s a very new concept for most people to be aware of all three levels at once or in close sequence, aware of the challenging feelings, aware of self-rejecting feelings, and then asking the question, how can I possibly care for myself? Now, imagine for a moment that you really had that down every time you felt lousy in whatever way that is, you said, oh, good, for me, I’m aware, I’m feeling lousy in this specific way. And then secondly, ah, I can see that I’m hating it and I don’t want to hate it. You know, I want to find a way to ask myself the question of, is there anything I can do to make this more easy on myself?
Robert Strock: (10:47)
So when you recognize those three levels of awareness, you can afford to be at any time in your life and you have a process to stay aware of the bottom-bottom of whatever it is. You have a way to stay aware of your reaction to it, instinctively and impulsively through your conditioning. And then you have a way to potentially start to reverse the negative reaction, the self-rejection and move toward a self-compassion.
David Knapp: (11:19)
And just on that note, just to complete what is, uh, at the time, a humiliation in my own mind about myself, I literally got up once I heard this person was coming and I tried to get out of back door. There was no back door, had there been a back door I probably would not be married as long or at all right now. Uh, had there been a back door I would not have had the opportunity to go into those other levels, which charging back in, left me no choice, but to at least engage it, uh, not very effectively at first, but certainly the beginning of that.
Robert Strock: (12:09)
And, what’s funny about it is, and tragic at the same time, is that most people are chronically without awareness going through the backdoor. And are living not only through the back door, they’re already out of the house, they’re in the sky somewhere under the, under the earth and don’t know it. They’re in a state of self-rejection that they not, they probably know they don’t feel well. They don’t feel good, but it’s that vague. So again, when, when you don’t feel good and it’s vague and you can’t nail it down, it’s so important to be able to be specific. And I would again encourage you to go to awarenessthatheals.org and get the free “Introspective Guides” and look at Chart One and look at Chart Three and see 75 examples of challenging feelings and 75 examples of healing actions and thoughts and qualities.
Robert Strock: (13:18)
And by doing that, you give yourself a chance to not want to be looking desperately for the backdoor. You’re you’re wanting to be right where you are and you recognize if you move away from yourself, you’re screwed. You need to, we all need to be with ourselves exactly as we are and not fall prey to this endless part of us that wants to just be a little bit different or a lot different in ways that are hopeless and are not in the moment we want to rewrite history about what happened 20 years ago or 10 years ago, or we don’t want to be as short as we are, or we don’t want to be bald, you know, or we, we want to have our pee-pee be longer or, or whatever it is. And we, we can’t do any of that. And so we need to start as we are, we need to then see the self-rejecting feelings or the withdrawal or just association.
Robert Strock: (14:14)
And then we need to ask that question, and there will be no need for back doors if we can really intuitively and practically and through repetition, understand these three levels. Now I would say, it’s most likely when you leave this podcast, you’ll say to yourself, well, what were those three levels again? You know, I kinda remember there were three levels and it kind of seemed like it was right, but I don’t really remember what they were. But again, it’s being aware of the challenging emotions and seeing that as a, as a bonus to your seeing the feelings that don’t like it, or the disassociation from it, and then asking the question of how can I move forward? This isn’t simple as even staying aware of our challenges is difficult. And so when we start to get the benefits to ourself of seeing that, we can ask this question, it’s like every time I asked myself the question, how can I take care of myself? How can I best take care of myself? Or how can I best take care of you? Something uplifts. It, it comes from a, from a, from a heart place where, you know, you want to move in a direction that’s toward self-compassion or other compassion. And just being in that zone while you’re also aware that you’re human, that we’re all human, we’re all challenged, we’re all suffering.
Robert Strock: (15:58)
There’s something so perverse about this world rejecting challenging feelings. Why is it? We don’t talk about challenging feelings because we’re in a permanent state of rejection and we, we like appearing to be fine. I’m fine. How about you? I’m fine too. Well, that’s a repeated cultural tendency, not only in our culture, but throughout history. So we’re talking about a foundation of reversing. What are our normal priorities or conditionings, which is to feel good all the time, you know, to, to gain wealth, to be sexy, to be young all the time, to really facing the challenges as a, as a clear state of evolution that is not just theoretically beneficial, it’s existentially beneficial because if we can see what’s challenging from a nonjudgmental place, and we can look at how we normally react to it and we really can ask that question of how we take care of ourselves.
Robert Strock: (17:11)
And then we ask it. And by the way, it’s not just asking the question one and out, oftentimes it’s a hundred or 200 questions of how do we take care of ourselves? It doesn’t come in one glib, easy package answer. This requires a lot of contemplation because the answers, especially at first are not intuitively obvious, but even 30 years later, every situation is different. So it requires a dedication to live as that questioner of how do I take care of myself? How do I take care of how do you take care of me? So many of us let’s say, might be more generous with another, but won’t be generous of ourselves, but also so many of us might be generous toward others and won’t let others be generous toward us. I know you, Dave have spent a good portion of your life being a giver and being generous toward other people and anticipating their needs and, and doing that since you were, since I’ve known you for 50 years, and it’s been relatively recent years, that you’ve been dedicating yourself to take care of your own needs.
Robert Strock: (18:25)
How can others take care of me? This is an inside process. It’s an outside process, multi-drug, multi-directional.
David Knapp: (18:31)
And just to amplify that, it got to the point where I was aware, finally, that I didn’t even know what my needs were. I didn’t even know I had them. It was that far along in that direction. And so there was nothing to talk about. As far as me, it was all outward. And that was my way. And I now see, it was a very early, early in my life, way far before I met you even 50 years ago.
Robert Strock: (19:04)
Yeah. I mean, when we’re raised in a family system, usually these patterns are perpetuating, you know, in the psychology world, it’s called repetition compulsion. And essentially if we were taking care of our parents, we’re likely going to be a caretaker. If we were raised to be narcissistic or self-centered and our parents were always taking care of us, then we’re much more likely to expect that of others.
Robert Strock: (19:33)
And we won’t necessarily have access to anticipate their needs. And so it’s important to investigate a little bit as we’re doing this, what are your patterns? Are you more likely to appreciate and care for and accept yourself or another or neither. And that will help you be guided to know where to look in the future. We need to keep remembering to ask the question. Do you feel tolerant? Do you feel empathic? Do you feel good? Do you feel caring? Do you feel appreciative when you feel whatever it is that are your darkest feelings? When you have that as part of what you can define as “you,” meaning your wisdom is part of you that wants to care for you, it allows the fear of looking and finding a terrible feeling inside you to diminish because you realize, instead of it being a hell that you’re finding, it’s a potential heaven that was a hell. And so who wouldn’t want to look, if you knew that you had the incentive to move it in a positive direction?
David Knapp: (20:59)
Sounds like you’re saying, inside yourself you’re your own best friend.
Robert Strock: (21:07)
Yeah. I, I think that the way I would say it is you have the potential to be your own best friend. And most people are usually their own worst enemy. And it’s unwitting. Of course, I don’t think that anybody certainly in the right mind would ever be intentionally against themselves. And it’s that subtle awareness that, oh my God, I have been against myself in this way. I have been rejecting or abandoning myself through withdrawing my heart. I haven’t really thought to ask how can I best take care of myself. Now for someone that’s very religious, they may ask God, how can I care for myself? Or will you please take care of me?
Robert Strock: (21:58)
Or will you show me the way? So there’s a lot of different ways of doing it and in consistency with whatever your religious beliefs are. But the point is you’re focusing on how can compassion or self-compassion be amplified and how can rejection, abandonment, or blame be minimized. So, I had an overwhelming experience of this following my kidney transplant, 21 and a half years ago where it wasn’t the transplant itself. The medications were like taking a mainlining of speed. So for the first six months, and I’m going to say this solely because it’s hard to comprehend. I slept for an hour a night for six months. And I was a wasteland. I was in a chronic state of exhaustion, agitation, irritation, depressive, illness, anger, hopelessness, despair, in short, I wasn’t that much fun to be with either for other people or myself. And so I realized that I didn’t like it.
Robert Strock: (23:19)
I hated it. I was off. And then it became evident to me because I had 23 hours a day to think about it that I better learn how to make peace with this or I was literally going down and probably would have led me to be suicidal. Because if, if you’re in misery, true misery, cause I could, I could have any client in front of me and I could easily, I didn’t, but I could easily say you think you have it bad, you have no idea what my internal life is like. And so it became really a survival need to develop the capacity to say things like, who do I know that this would be easy for, isn’t it obvious this would be difficult for everyone? Isn’t it obvious that you’re doing the hardest work of your life to tolerate? Because really at that level, the best I could really do was tolerate because I didn’t have any energy. I didn’t have the ability to deeply feel exhausted. So the best I could go to was wisdom. And when we’re in our worst suffering, we can’t expect ourselves to love ourselves because we were absorbed in fear or absorbed in depression, love as a concept. So on the other hand, we actually are capable of finding what we might call wisdom, empathy, and by wisdom, empathy I mean, we can think the thoughts that are empathic, but they won’t have feelings if we’re really in our worst state.
Robert Strock: (25:10)
When I started to realize that it wasn’t only the exhaustion, the depression, the anxiety, and all the other feelings that were there, but it was also that I hated it and that I could move toward tolerating it. That was the key to stabilizing me into a certain kind of hellish feeling, but being able to listen to my wisdom as guiding my life and where it became obvious that the wisdom or what I’ve also termed at many times as friendly mind, that that was way more important than my feelings. And that defining yourself by how you feel is a horrible barometer for self-evaluation. Whereas recognizing that we’re capable of asking ourselves what would be wise, what would be the wisest way for me to think, act, do. And if we train ourselves to do that, especially when times are at their hardest, that’s really the key to minimizing the darkness that’s happening.
Robert Strock: (26:29)
And I would say that I had a subtle, intuitive trust that I couldn’t feel that there was an inner knowing and that inner knowing was enough to survive anything. So I wish that, I hope that the clarity of these three levels has come through for you. And that what I said earlier about what were those three levels again, isn’t true, but we’re going to do our best to keep moving deeply into it and future episodes. And I thank you for your attention to whatever degree that you gave it. I thank you for it and wish you all, uh let’s say just a little bit of wisdom, even if you don’t feel good.
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