Self-awareness is one of the most important skills to have in order to have happy, healthy, lasting relationships. It involves monitoring your inner world, thoughts, emotions and beliefs in order to gain a conscious representation of yourself.
Self-awareness is how you come to recognize and understand yourself as an individual with your own characteristics, feelings, motives and desires. The better you understand yourself, the better you can attend to your needs, fulfill your desires, predict your likes and dislikes and regulate your emotions. With self-awareness you gain the agency to control your behavior in a way that can make you and the people you care about happy.
To better understand what it means to be self-aware, we'll look at how our self-awareness first developed throughout our early childhood. We can break down self-awareness into 5 levels that unfold in our early development. The description of each level is put in terms of how we would process the experience of looking at a mirror.
Level 0: Confusion.
You are unaware you're looking at a mirror, and the reflection is an extension of your surroundings.
Level 1: Differentiation.
You know the reflection in the mirror is just a reflection of something and not a thing itself.
Level 2: Situation.
You realize that your own movements are somehow connected to the mirror's reflection.
Level 3: Identification.
You know the reflection of the mirror is you
Level 4: Permanence.
You understand that the mirror's reflection is of you and you can identify yourself in pictures of you when you were younger.
Level 5: Self-consciousness or "meta" self-awareness.
You understand other people can have mental models of you and you can imagine how they may perceive you.
The thing to note as you move up in levels of self-awareness is that you become more conscious of yourself and how you relate to your environment. As you develop through adolescence you become conscious of emotions such as shame, guilt, pride and embarrassment, and what those emotions say about how others perceive you. As you continue to develop your self-awareness you become more conscious (or aware) of your thoughts, feelings, drives, etc.
The special ability you gain from bringing things to your awareness is that you can make conscious evaluations of them and use the information to make better decisions. For example, if you're aware that you get angry with others whenever you're very hungry, you decide to avoid others or regulate your anger the next time you're very hungry. Without this awareness you might believe your anger is caused by others treating you unfairly.
In relationships, you will experience many different feelings at varying degrees about your partner. You'll also have all sorts of thoughts and beliefs about them that may or may not be true. With a low level of self-awareness, your thoughts, feelings and beliefs about yourself, your partner and the relationship cannot be evaluated properly.
You won't have the consciousness required to evaluate what information your feelings are telling you or whether your thoughts/beliefs are valid. This limits your ability to attend to your needs or your partners needs.
With low self-awareness you'll often find you and your partner arguing about the same things over and over. Like in the example above, if you aren't aware that your anger is triggered by being hungry, you might get into conflicts with others that never get resolved because the underlying issue isn't addressed.
You may also find yourself doing or saying things that you later regret. For example, you might keep contacting your ex after they broke up with you, even though you know on some level it only pushes them away further. With low self-awareness of your own needs, standards or values, you may find yourself in a relationship where you're being treated in a way that conflicts with them.
The key to improving self-awareness is to start living in the present. Only if you are in the present moment are you able to notice (or be conscious of) the environment around you and your experience of thoughts, emotions and feelings that come along with it.
The past does not exist nor does the future when you're living in the present. Energy that goes into thinking about the past distracts you from the present. Thinking too much of the future often comes along with anxiety and stress which further distracts you from being self-aware.
Whenever you find yourself in conflict, especially in a relationship, try to take a humble position and check yourself first.
What could I have done to improve the situation?
Am I also responsible for this argument which we are having right now
What could I do right now to move forward, to reconnect?
Sometimes we might be right but we will only solve the argument by saying sorry and taking a humble position. At the same time we should be bold & confident when it comes to physical or emotional abuse.
If someone is trying to control us or to mistreat us, then it's important to stand up for ourselves and to not tolerate that kind of behavior. Being humble will allow you to learn more about yourself and about other people, too.
Make a list of what you like and dislike about yourself. Reflect on these attributes- why do you feel the way you do? What do these things tell you?
Clarify your values- what is most important to you? What do you believe in this world? Write them down so you can see them.
Pay attention to what you like and dislike about other people. Oftentimes the things we admire about others, as well as the things that irritate us about them, can be a reflection of some quality within ourselves.
Make a timeline of your life, starting with your birth, and mark all of the major events that have impacted your life. Spend as much time as you need to mark down every significant impact- both positive and negative. It sounds simple, but we oftentimes overlook the simple things in our lives and ignore the way they effect us.
Ask for feedback from (credible) friends- yes it sounds silly to say improving your self-awareness may begin from others, but it's a tried and true method. Asking others for feedback is one of the fastest (and most effective) ways to grow. It shows us our blind spots, and allows us to get a unique view of who we are.