What is the observing self?
We often talk about self as a physical self (our body) and thinking self (our mind). What we do not do is talk about another part that observes, that does not get involved with the battel of your thoughts, this is called the observing self. Whenever you observe your breath, your feelings or your thoughts, the observing self is the part of you that does all the observing.
The observing self is not a thought or a feeling but more an awareness. You know that you are thinking and feeling because there is part of you that is aware of your thoughts and feelings.
Your thoughts are constantly changing: sometimes they are pleasant, painful or joyful. The same is true for your feelings: at times you feel anxious, sad, angry and frustrated. The roles in your life are also changing: sometimes you are a parent, sister, teacher, husband and wife.
The observing self is the part of you that does not change but experiences, sees, touches, thinks. The observing self does not judge, it does not take any responsibility; it helps you to become aware of what you have done; whereas the thinking self is the part of you that judges, the observing self does not generate any thoughts but simply observes them.
ACT or acceptance and commitment therapy believes that the observing self is like “the sky”. The thoughts and feelings are like the weather constantly changing and moving but the sky remains blue and not even the most powerful hurricane can harm the sky.
ACT believes that to access the observing self you need to become aware of a sound, smell, taste, thought or feeling. Then you focus your attention on what you have chosen and as you are noticing you become aware of you “noticing" the object, smell, sound or taste you have chosen to observe.
Whenever you feel you are in a battle with your thoughts, remember to step back and just observe the story. The observing self allows you to observe the most difficult thought, feeling or memory and see them as what they are, a collection of pictures, images and words of the thinking self.
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About Gherardo Della Marta
Gherardo Della Marta BACP counsellor in private practice in W10, NW1, WC1B in London