Self Awareness 101: How to Improve Your Relationship By Focusing Inward
Most of us have a reasonable idea of what self awareness is - an understanding and insight into our own internal world, and reactions. One way of defining self awareness might actually be looking at what it is NOT - and we can sometimes see people who are completely oblivious to what is going on internally. This can look like someone who is reactive, prone to projection, insecure, defensive and unable to take responsibility for their own issues - and who may struggle to feel satisfied and content in their lives overall. Most of us exist on a spectrum of self awareness, with some people deeply tuned into their internal worlds, and others completely oblivious - but it is a useful concept to think about.
One area of our lives where self awareness is almost essential is in relationships - whether this is romantic or platonic. If we have a good sense of what is happening for us emotionally and cognitively, it can be much easier to identify issues that have come up. For example, feelings of anger at our partner for being late home can be better understood as insecurity, and we can de-escalate the situation by reminding ourselves that we’re likely responding to memories of a past relationship. Feeling angry at a friend for demanding a lot of our time can be understood as feelings of guilt and of being torn between wanting to support the friend, but also needing that much-cherished alone time to relax.
\ So - now we’ve established that self awareness is a key relationship tool - how can we make sure we have developed this skill, and that we are using it to our advantage? Here are some useful tips:
For many people, the process of seeking therapy - whether this is relationship therapy or individual - is an unavoidable self-awareness rabbit hole. Even if you only seek help for anxiety or stress, a large part of the process of therapy involves examining our past experiences and seeing how they have shaped us, and how our thoughts and feelings intersect. This can be a very useful process if you’re wanting to understand more about your own motivations and behavior - and therapists are trained to ask the right questions and deliver those ‘aha’ moments. For example, in talking through your previous choices of partners, you might discover a tendency to choose emotionally unavailable partners, or those who are unlikely to hurt you - leading to a new awareness of your inner motivations, and the opportunity to do things differently next time.
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A less intense way to develop self awareness is through coaching - whether this is relationship coaching or individual. Just like therapists, coaches are trained to ask the ‘right’ questions - but these are often more based around your values and goals in life. Many people who have had coaching will describe themselves as more intentional and mindful than before, and will feel connected to their inner drive and motivation - they will have clarified their goals and how these are going to help them achieve the relationship that they want. Coaching often helps people to connect with their big picture, and raise their awareness of how their day to day lives contribute to this.
Who knows what goes on inside our heads most of the time? Many people have a long, internal monologue that is sorting through our day to day lives - and many of our behaviors and thoughts might be almost automatic and unconscious (especially things like checking our phones or daydreaming about this and that). Journaling is a free and relaxing way to get some of those thoughts out on paper and reflect on what is happening - both inside and outside our heads. Just like therapy raises our self awareness when we are given space to talk things through, journalling provides a similar space - and best of all, you can read back over what you’ve written. Most of us don’t take the opportunity to do this in our day to day lives, but if we can develop a habit of daily journaling, it often becomes a valuable resource in alerting us to issues or gaps in our lives.
Did you know? Journaling is a form of self-care. Get relationship self care tips, customized lesson plans, interactive quizzes and more with Relish. Try our awarding winning relationship app free for one week - get started!
You’ve likely heard all the stories and recommendations for mindfulness and meditation - and the good news is that most of these are spot on. Mindfulness in particular is great for developing self awareness, since we are given the opportunity to tune in with ourselves and switch off from distractions. Many people report improvements in their relationships when they practice mindfulness, since they are more aware of what is happening for them internally, can take the time to listen, and can choose how they react. For example, if I were in the middle of moving house and something stressful or upsetting happened with a family member, I might notice myself starting to get angry, and make the decision to step away momentarily. Since mindfulness encourages us to notice how emotions feel in our bodies, we can be much more receptive to the physical experience of emotions - whether this is a tightness in our chests or clenching in our stomach signalling anxiety, or a tightening or our jaw or tingling in our hands signalling tension or anger.
This may not come as a surprise, but one of the best ways to become more self aware is to get into the habit of sharing things with others - whether this is your partner or friends. When we talk about what is happening for us, we also invite others to share their experiences - and through hearing their stories, we can also reflect on our own. Technology can help with sharing our thoughts or feelings about things - Relish, the relationship self care app, has a function which encourages members to share their thoughts and memories with their partner in order to build trust and connection, as well as asking thought-provoking questions. Other ways of building this practice into everyday life include a date night where you focus on discussing the ‘big’ topics (like values, your future, and intimacy), or set aside some time before bed to talk through your days and share your challenges and wins. Researchers have found that taking inventory of what went well each day, and why, helps with mood and wellbeing - and it is also likely to help with self-and-partner awareness, since you’ll be sharing this with each other.
Just like being in a relationship, practicing self-awareness and self-care takes time, patience and a level of commitment. Let Relish help you on your self-awareness journey with unlimited one-on-one coaching, customized lesson plans and more. Click here to claim your free trial!