“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung
Self-awareness involves the ability to be conscious of a range of experiences, including our emotions, thoughts, motivations, and behaviors. Our degree of self-awareness and the capacity to engage in self-reflection can have a significant impact on our mental health and relationships as it allows for us to step outside of a reactive approach navigating the world. In addition to self-awareness, the ability to empathize or understand what other people are thinking and feeling allows us to develop a more complex and less judgmental understanding around the actions of others. Taken together, the development of greater self-and-other awareness forms a cornerstone for healthy functioning and psychological growth.
Understanding ourselves and others is an ongoing process that begins early in life and extends throughout the lifespan. This makes it an excellent area of focus for personal growth. There are numerous ways we can work to improve our self-awareness.
Next time someone gives you feedback or criticism, take a moment to slow down and notice how you react. Do you feel defensive? Do you begin to discredit or criticize that person in your head? Do you feel hurt or anxious?
Take a few minutes to calm down. Once you feel grounded again, take time to observe your reactions to this feedback and begin to ask yourself questions. What is it that they are trying to communicate to me? Could some part of this be accurate? Is there something I can learn about myself from this? How can I use this as an opportunity for growth? If they are wrong or treating me unfairly, what is the most useful way of proceeding?
Reflecting on emotions
Think of the last time you became upset or reactive. Perhaps another driver honked at you or cut you off on the highway. Perhaps someone didn’t follow through on plans with you. Perhaps you were criticized or blamed for something at work.
Once again, take a few minutes to calm down. When you are ready, allow yourself to connect with how you feel and ask yourself why you might be feeling that way. Can you name your feelings? When is the last time you felt this way? Does it feel appropriate to the circumstances? What other situations have caused you to feel this way? What have you typically done? What patterns do you see in the ways you feel or behave?
Think of a time when you had a difficult interaction or felt confused by how others behaved towards you. You might also think of a time when others were in disagreement with you. Take a moment to reflect on what the other person might have been experiencing. What do you think they were thinking and feeling? How might they have viewed or experienced you?
When it comes to self-awareness, encouraging curiosity about yourself is an excellent practice. Practice taking more time to pause in your life and reflect on these questions. You may incorporate journaling about your day and writing down ideas or answers to the questions presented above. You can also practice asking more questions about how others experience you.
Understanding ourselves and others is an important part of living a healthy and satisfying life. However, it can also be challenging as we face things about ourselves that are not easy to accept. Nevertheless, as we grow in self-awareness, we are likely to experience greater freedom and a stronger sense of agency. Our relationships will likely benefit, and we may find ourselves experiencing less stress and self-doubt. We might also find it easier to see why others behave or react in certain ways and we will be better equipped to handle criticism. Human beings are complex. Taking an active interest in yourself is a lifelong process and will serve you well as you navigate the many ups and downs of life.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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