Self-awareness doesn’t appear in the human consciousness until people are about 18 months old. Psychologists have determined this using a “mirror test” where a baby is placed in front of a mirror with a red dot his or her forehead. Early in life, babies will show no signs of recognizing their reflections in the mirror. Then, around 18 months, the babies will touch their foreheads or show some other signs of recognition. Psychologists believe the test shows when the child becomes aware of itself.
Later in life, self-awareness takes on a paramount significance in many people’s lives. People go on trips to “find themselves.” After breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, people have been known to say, “I finally feel like myself again.”
This process of finding one’s self can be painful, according to an article by Karen Wright in the latest issue of Psychology Today. Many people try to mask inauthenticity with “cosmetic surgery, psychopharmaceuticals, and perpetual makeovers.” According to Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, “[p]eople feel profoundly like they're not living from who they really are, their authentic self, their deepest possibility in the world. The result is a sense of near-desperation.”
Although it can be hard work, there are real psychological benefits to self-recognition. Wright reports, “[a]uthenticity is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills” The other option—a life unexamined—often leads to anxiety or depression. It’s like the old joke: “You can never hide from yourself, because no matter where you go, there you are.”