Self-awareness is important in every area of life, but it's essential when dealing with relationships. If you're aware of the things you say and do, you'll be able to recognize when your actions bother or anger someone else. It sounds straightforward, but it takes some adults years before they understand what this concept means, and how to apply it to their life.
What Does It Mean to Be Self-Aware?
Self-awareness means that you have a solid understanding about who you are and how you relate to the world. This means being mentally and emotionally present in situations, and understanding how your actions affect people. It also means that you're clued into to what you really enjoy and dislike.
This concept is not as simple in practice, however. Many things in life can change us, for good or bad, and these changes cloud self-awareness. Some things that can wreak havoc on our awareness are:
- Our upbringing. We are taught to behave a certain way, and also that some things are bad or good. This means that we may get stuck in a rut or fail to try new things to see if we really like them.
- Media. We're bombarded with images and messages telling us how to be, and many of these can change our perception of what we think we should act like.
- Our friends. We choose friends that we think we should be like, or we look for approval from them.
- Society. We understand what's acceptable in society, learn social grace, and live by the golden rule. But unless we really have a grasp on our self-awareness, any changes will be on the surface and not at the emotional level where they need to be.
Do You Have a Problem With Self-Awareness?
One sure way to determine if you've got an issue with self-awareness is that you feel everyone else is always to blame for things. For example:
- You are unaware that you've been making nasty comments to your daughter. She asks you to please stop and you become irritated with her for accusing you. Without self-reflecting at all, you ramp up your negative jabs until you say a few horrible things you can't take back. She becomes hurt and says she won't see you again unless you stop. You blame her and tell others you don't understand what's gotten into her, and that out of nowhere she has threatened never to see you again.
- You meet someone new and instantly feel that the two of you are friends. You hound your new acquaintance with requests to meet for lunch, and when the person agrees you ask them to stand up in your wedding. The person is put off, and doesn't contact you again, while you wonder what her problem was.
- You are up for a promotion at work, and you naturally bring it up to all your friends. At a friend's birthday party, you talk loudly about your promotion through dinner and while your friend is opening gifts. When your friend tries to change the subject, you assume she must be jealous.
In each of these examples, what's missing is self-reflection. If these sound a little like your own life, do some soul searching to determine if you could be more aware. Most us can be, so you're not alone. What's more, self-awareness is a continual process. The more you do it, the better you will be at determining how the way you think and act affects your own happiness.
Self-Awareness and Conflict
Another common trait of those unaware is an inability to give and receive apologies. When someone apologizes, they either may not accept it at all, or believe that the person needs to keep apologizing. They don't understand what it means to truly accept someone's apology and move on, and as a result they continually harm the relationship by rehashing old arguments.
By contrast, they rarely apologize when they should, and if they do it's a non-apology instead of a genuine acknowledgement for how they acted. Their focus stays on what someone else did instead of their own contribution to the argument. (Here's more about different types of apologizes.)
Being More Self-Aware
The first step to self-awareness is to look at past issues you've had with people and be honest with yourself. Sometimes it's so hard to think that we might have messed up that we don't allow ourselves to reflect on the actions we took to help prolong or cause an argument.
Admitting you have a part in how people treat you is a hard concept to embrace at first. The following thoughts can act as a warning sign for better self-awareness.
- What's wrong with them?
- They did this to me for no reason.
- Our friendship ended and I have no idea why.
- Suddenly she's not talking to me. She must be moody.
When you think these thoughts, turn the focus back to yourself and see if there was something you did to push someone's buttons, start an argument, or prolong a disagreement. If someone blows up at you and you feel it's "out of the blue," take a moment and see if perhaps you were pushing them toward anger or resentment for awhile. Sometimes subtle nagging or condescension builds, and a friend who put up with your negative qualities before will suddenly not stand for it any longer. This is a good time to reflect on your actions.
When you do have an argument, listen closely to what your friend is telling you. It can be really hard to hear negative things about our actions, but if a friend is hurt you might have done something without even realizing it. Ask your friend to share their frustration with you so you can learn. If your friend is done with you, then go back over the attitudes you've had toward them (that you thought were hidden) and see if perhaps you weren't as good a friend as you should have been.
Self-awareness is important in our relationships, but you also have to balance it. The act of self-reflection should be to determine how your actions affect your friendships, not to act as a martyr or take the blame for everything. Understanding your role and acknowledging the things you do wrong will help you keep a harmonious social life.