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Self-observation or introspection means inwardly directed observation . It is used to view, describe and analyze one's own experience and behavior and can thus lead to self-knowledge .

Introspection, together with the self-perception of one's own consciousness education and self-confidence indispensable. Therefore it is an important aspect in meditation , philosophy and also psychology (e.g. in psychotherapeutic procedures). Since ancient times people have used a hypomnema (a notebook as a material memory of things read, heard and thought) or a diary as a tool for self-observation.

Conceptual clarifications

Subject and object

Since observation is understood to mean the planned, targeted and attentive perception of processes or objects (or objects), "self-observation" initially appears to be a contradiction in terms. After all, self and object (or subject and object ) are mutually opposite or represent a necessary difference in the perspective of observation or perception. On the other hand, both sides of this perception process are necessarily connected and related to each other. Self-observation cannot escape the problem of this logical contradiction on the one hand and the internal relationship on the other, but it can make use of certain tricks. These require overcoming the so-called subject-object split , which can itself have a changing effect. This difficulty of splitting can be countered by attempting to oscillate between the two attitudes of subjectivity and objectivity , which methodologically always leads to uncertain, but more or less probable and plausible results. Hans-Georg Gadamer regards the gradual overcoming of the contradiction between subjective opinion and objective objectivity as part of the hermeneutic task (see hermeneutic circle ). It applies not only to the opinion of the other, but also to the interpretation of the observations of oneself. Accordingly, there is no need for self-extinguishing to maintain factual “neutrality”.

Introspection and self-awareness

Introspection is the general name given to any activity aimed at inner experience. Self-perception is the special term for experiences with regard to the special qualities of oneself , one's personality or the self.


Self-observation is a means of gaining self-knowledge , and thus an age-old requirement of philosophy (“ know yourself ”). However, in order to provide reliable knowledge for a science of inner experience - in the sense of a science of psychology - the method of self-observation was already exposed to considerable doubts on the part of the skeptical philosophy in antiquity ( Sophistics , Pyrrhon von Elis , Sextus Empiricus ). Even Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said such doubts. He noted that [...]

“The observation in itself [itself] alters and disfigures the state of the observed object. It can therefore never be anything more than a historical and, as such, as much as possible systematic natural science of the internal sense, i.e. i. a natural description of the soul, but not soul science, not even psychological experimental theory; [...] "

- Immanuel Kant : Metaphysical foundations of natural science.

Introspection is the opposite of empathy . However, empathy can be built on introspection. This is illustrated using an example as follows:

On October 15, 1897, Sigmund Freud wrote to his friend Fliess:

“A single thought of general value occurred to me. I also found the love of my mother and the jealousy of my father in myself and now consider them to be a common occurrence from early childhood [...] If that is so, then one understands the gripping power of King Oedipus despite all the objections that the Raises understanding against the assumption of fate and understands why the later fateful drama had to fail so miserably. Against every arbitrary individual compulsion [...] our sensation rises, but the Greek saga takes up a compulsion that everyone recognizes because he has felt its existence within himself. "

Freud is considered the founder of self-analysis . Empathy and introspection are seen as the “proudest achievements” of psychoanalysis . In the 1950s and 1960s, some psychologists defended introspection as a scientific method (see Albert Wellek , University of Mainz). The behaviorism , this development again questioned, similar to previously skeptical of the ancient philosophy.


Introspection corresponds to the Svadhyaya (self-inquiry) of the Niyama stage of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali .

In white magic, introspection is used for self-knowledge and control of the negative aspects of the four so-called elementary principles and ultimately to achieve the magical balance. Franz Bardon explained this practice in detail in his Path to the True Adept .

Epistemological meaning

As already indicated, the problem of scientific reliability of observation and even more of self-observation is the subject of epistemological debates. The path to finding theory and meaning is always controversial here. Goethe summed this up to a short formula, which of course can also be applied to the method of self-observation: “Every looking turns into an observation, every observation into a sensation, every sensation into a connection, and so one can say that we already do theorize with every careful look into the world. ”The French language shows this connection in the juxtaposition of signe - signification , which could be translated as “ sensually perceptible phenomenon ”and its meaning .

Criticism of the method of self-observation is thus identical to that of the more subjective method of understanding psychology ( Wilhelm Dilthey ), psychoanalysis ( Sigmund Freud ), and existential-phenomenologically oriented psychological anthropology ( Ronald D. Laing and Hubertus Tellenbach ) on the one hand, but also in experimental psychology, on the other hand, which made self-observation the method of choice in a more interactive, objectifying manner.

Klaus Dörner attributes the strengthening of the humanities approach in psychology since 1920, and even more so since 1945, to the fact that natural science was blamed for the destructive side of the dialectic of the Enlightenment . In this light, the psychology of introspection is of course an expression of romanticism . Mario Erdheim also sees the development of psychoanalysis in this contemporary historical context, especially in that of Viennese decadence . From a historical perspective, it is understandable that Dilthey emphasizes the source of knowledge in the autobiography in the sense of understanding psychology in a positive way. Nevertheless, the scientifically shaped worldview appears primarily responsible for the fact that around 1970 in Germany terms such as self-observation and self-knowledge were not counted among the basic technical terms of academic psychology and were missing as a keyword in common psychological dictionaries. Only the depth psychology schools continue to insist on training analysis .

Clinical general practitioners, psychiatrists and psychologists are also aware that every self-observation also includes the possibility of self-deception . “Increased self-observation” is therefore a descriptive expression for hypochondria and overestimation of symptoms of illness ( aggravation ).

The scientist can assess neither the validity nor the reliability of the self-observation, whereby a certain standardization and thus a fulfillment of the quality criteria, e.g. B. the validity, the reliability or the objectivity would be achieved by standardizing the induction and recording or logging means.

See also


  • Attersee Anders, Anne Iris Miriam: Introspection as an effective factor in psychotherapy. A psychotherapy-scientific model for effect structures of gradual cognitive training . Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2017, ISBN 978-3-658-17880-2 .
  • Thomas Burkart, Gerhard Kleining , Harald Witt: Dialogic introspection. A group-based process for exploring experience . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-531-92390-1 .
  • Thomas Eder, Thomas Raab (Ed.): Self-observation - Oswald Wieners thought psychology . Suhrkamp, ​​2015
  • Werner Greve, Dirk Wentura: Scientific observation. An introduction . Psychologie Verlags Union, Weinheim 1997.
  • Oliver Grimm: Problems of introspection at the interface between analytical philosophy and neurophilosophy . Ed .: Central Institute for Mental Health . Mannheim ( [PDF; 292 kB ; accessed on October 14, 2019]).
  • HR Günther: The problem of self-understanding . 1935
  • Heinz Kohut : introspection, empathy and psychoanalysis. Essays on psychoanalytical theory, on education and research and on the psychology of art (=  Suhrkamp-Taschenbücher Wissenschaft . Volume 207 ). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1977, ISBN 3-518-07807-0 .
  • Heinz Kohut: introspection, empathy and psychoanalysis. Texts from the years 1959 to 1970. Ed .: Eva Rass, Lotte Köhler (=  Heinz Kohut. Collected works . Volume 2 ). Psychosozial-Verlag, Giessen 2016, ISBN 978-3-8379-2377-3 .
  • Tilmann Moser : Analytical body psychotherapy. Speeding up introspection . In: Ärzteblatt . 2004, p. 526 ( [accessed October 14, 2019]).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. introspection . In: Georgi Schischkoff (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary. 14th edition. Alfred Kröner-Verlag, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-520-01321-5 , p. 630
  2. a b c d Hans-Georg Gadamer : Truth and Method. Basic features of a philosophical hermeneutics . Collected works, JCB Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1990; Volume 1, Hermeneutics I , ISBN 3-16-145616-5 , (a1) p. 24 ff., 488 f. and (a2) - to stw. “Truth and Probability”; (b) p. 273 f. - Re. “Openness of opinion”: Part II, 1; (c1) Pages 179, 194, 270 ff., 296 ff. and (c2) - on the “Hermeneutischer Zirkel”; (d1) side; 215, 219, 239, 274 and (d2) - to the term “self-extinction”; Volume 2, Hermeneutics II , ISBN 3-16-146043-X (a2) pp. 111, 234 f., 280, 499; (c2) pages 34, 57 ff., 224 f., 331, 335, 357 f., 406; (d2) pp. 60 f., 221 f.
  3. Peter R. Hofstätter (Ed.): Psychology. The Fischer Lexicon . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1972, ISBN 3-436-01159-2 , p. 77
  4. Immanuel Kant : Metaphysical Beginnings of Natural Science . [1786] by Johann Friedrich Hartknoch , Riga, S. XI; Like. in: Complete works , RM book and media sales, Mundus Verlag, Volume 5, p. 134 - and - cf. Thomas Sturm: Kant and the human sciences (Paderborn: Mentis, 2009), chap. 4th
  5. ^ A b Mario Erdheim : The social production of unconsciousness. An introduction to the ethno-psychoanalytical process. 2nd Edition. suhrkamp pocket book science 456, Frankfurt / Main 1988, ISBN 3-518-28065-1 ;
    (a) p. 12 f. - Freud's letter text quoted from the aforementioned source;
    (b) pp. 41–199 - Freud's concept of the unconscious and the Viennese decadence.
  6. Heinz Kohut : The psychoanalyst in the community of scientists . [1973 a], page 36; In: ders .: The future of psychoanalysis. [1975], Frankfurt / M., Pp. 28-65
  7. The polarity in the structure of the character: system of concrete character studies . 3., rework. and essential exp. Edition. Francke, Bern 1966.
  8. Franz Bardon: The way to the true adept . Bauer, Freiburg (2000), ISBN 3-7626-0004-X
  9. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : Color theory . [1810]; Preface
  10. ^ Jean-Paul Sartre : L'être et le néant. Essai d'ontologie phenoménologique . [1943] Gallimard tel, 2007, ISBN 978-2-07-029388-9 , p. 15, chapter ›Le phénomène d'être et l'être du phénomène‹
  11. Klaus Dörner : Citizens and Irre, on the social history and sociology of science of psychiatry . [1969] Fischer Taschenbuch, Bücher des Wissens, Frankfurt / M. 1975, ISBN 3-436-02101-6 , p. 17 f.
  12. Self-knowledge . In: Wilhelm Karl Arnold et al. (Ed.): Lexicon of Psychology . Bechtermünz Verlag, Augsburg 1996, ISBN 3-86047-508-8 , column 2027 f.
  13. introspection . In: Uwe Henrik Peters : Dictionary of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology . 3. Edition. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Munich 1984, p. 513.