By: Wynn Coughlin, LCSW, CADC
Are you feeling stuck in your life? Trapped in your feelings of anxiety? Unsure why you continue to engage in behavior that doesn’t work for you?
When was the last time you took an honest inventory of your life?
Spiritual giants, therapists, and 12-step programs all espoused the necessity of consistent self-reflection. It was Socrates who reportedly said that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” yet his remark remains just as true today as it did in ancient Greece. Without a continuous practice of self-reflection, life becomes an unconscious pattern of re-enacting childhood trauma, misdirected anger, and harmful bias. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge, but thankfully, there are ways to do so outside of sessions with a psychologist or counselor. For the many of us that struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, an inventory gives an opportunity to take stock of our strengths and what we contribute to life. One of the most important goals of therapy is to cultivate a more balanced and a more realistic view of ourselves.
There is no one right or wrong way to undergo a personal inventory: it can be formal or informal, focused on one sphere or covering several. The Alcoholics Anonymous basic text likens the process to a business inventory of useable and not-usable merchandise. Inventories done as a component of 12-step programs commonly constitute four domains: fears, resentments, harms towards others, and relationships. In a more general approach, start by identifying major areas of your life such as finances, family, mental health, and physical health. Then address what is and is not working in each arena. Although there is no universal standard, there are some themes to keep in mind.
Adopt a fact-finding and a fact-facing attitude.
What are you hoping to gain by this process of self-reflection? How would you like your life to look and feel as the result of an inventory? These questions help clarify your purpose and provide you the courage to look at what and is not working in your life. Try to let go of any defensiveness and view yourself with neutral yet loving eyes. It is important that we identify how we may have contributed to the current state of affairs while not assuming more responsibility than you have. This can be done on your own, or with the guidance of a psychologist or counselor during therapy sessions, if you want a bit more help.
Put pen to paper.
It may seem tempting to keep your inventory solely within the confines of your mind. However, writing it out is crucial since it allows us to acknowledge that our assets and liabilities are real and promotes a less defensive view of ourselves. Remember that any business inventory is written down. Also, a note for perfectionists! It is not vital that the inventory is pretty or even legible. All that matters is that the content is honest and that the inventory is as thorough as possible.
Find someone safe and neutral.
The process of exploring your personal assets and liabilities can be difficult at times, especially if this is a completely new experience. A crucial component of this process is sharing what we learn about ourselves with someone else to get support and honest feedback. The ideal people for this job are often a 12-step sponsor, therapist or psychologist, or spiritual mentor. These kinds of people are also likely to have completed their own inventories, which gives an invaluable perspective. Keep in mind that it will be important to establish that this person does not share the content of your inventory with anyone else.
Counselors at Symmetry Counseling can help facilitate the process of self-reflection for you! Reach out via email or phone and we will help connect with you with a counselor today.