How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Help Build Successful Personal Relationships
The method may involve a bit of pain from others, but it’s worth it.
It seems a badge of honor today to say things such as “I could care less about what people think” or “Other people’s opinions mean nothing to me.” These statements make us feel bold and uninhibited, independent in thought and action, and authentic.
However, perhaps we should rethink our attitudes towards hearing others’ perceptions of us.
For, as television screenwriter J.Michael Straczynski’s says, “Understanding is a three-edged sword. Your side, my side, and the truth.”
And the only way to truly understand ourselves and get to this truth is to take a peek into how “the other side” sees us. Because most of the time our self-image is undeniably one-dimensional.
Patrick Rothfuss explains this when he says that “everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time.”
And yes, our “stories” may contain truths about our own strengths and shortcomings, but the reality is we probably aren’t as cognizant as we think.
After all, we may not like to admit it, but it’s human nature to lie to ourselves to protect our fragile self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
So we do. Quite often, if we are honest. And usually, the lies are in our favor.
As a result, these lies lead to limited self-awareness.
Because true self-awareness is realizing that some of the stories of who we believe we are are likely fiction, not fact. And only by recognizing those fictional elements can we improve our relationships with others.
One way for us to separate fact from fiction, to become truly more self-aware, is to listen to the opinions of those we work with, share our lives with, and interact with every day.
Indisputably, their perceptions may not be totally accurate, as all people’s opinions are created through their own unique visions, life experiences, and value systems.
So perhaps we shouldn’t automatically believe their words, but we should look inside ourselves to see if, in fact, there is a kernel of truth in what they say. For in seeking out those hidden kernels of truth, we increase our self-awareness.
And this self-awareness can lead us to have happier, longer-lasting and satisfying personal relationships.
Listening to others help us gain awareness by allowing us to better define our “non-negotiables” in a relationship.
Dr. Alexandra H. Soloman, psychologist and expert in family and marital relationships, emphasizes the importance of what she calls “relational self-awareness.”
In her article in Psychology Today, she states that a successful relationship can only result when both partners “[understand] who [they] are and what [they] ‘bring to the table’. “
This means we need to have an awareness of both the gifts and flaws we bring to an intimate partnership.
And we can even use the comments of previous romantic partners to better help us have this awareness.
For example, say your last relationship ended because your lover complained you were too needy.
Think about that his or her opinion. Is it true?
If it is, it’s telling you something vital about your requirements for happiness in a relationship.
Or perhaps your last marriage ended because your partner said you were too driven, too focused on your career.
Think about that comment. Is it true?
If you consider their opinions carefully and consider what they say about your own needs and priorities, the knowledge they provide can be extremely beneficial.
For one, it can help you understand indisputable truths about yourself that will help you make wiser decisions on the probability of the relationship’s success.
Because the truth is that while we can change our actions to interact with others more effectively, we are who we are.
Therefore, using what others say can be a springboard to becoming more aware of whether or not a potential romantic partner is right for us.
For example, others have told me many times that I am “high maintenance,” and the more I pondered their comments, the more I knew them to be true.
I need a partner who will be there for me, both physically and emotionally. I need small acts of everyday emotional intimacy if I am to feel happy and secure in my romantic relationships.
And thinking about their offhanded comments helped me make some hard but rewarding choices.
After all, I am deeply in love with my husband and have been happily married for twenty years.
But when I first started dating him, he was in the U.S. Special Forces. His term was coming to an end and this meant he had a choice over whether or not to renew his contract.
It was about that time that he broached the subject of marriage.
I loved him deeply, but I also knew that I could not be happy in a relationship where I only saw him for half of the year. I now saw the truth that I was in fact a bit “high maintenance” and this added self-awareness helped me realize that I needed more from a partnership.
So I told him that I loved him, but that I could not marry him if he chose to re-enlist.
And some may see this ultimatum as selfish, but I see it otherwise.
By knowing and acknowledging my own needs and “non-negotiables,” I was giving both him and myself a true chance at real happiness.
For instance, if he truly wanted to continue his career, he would need to find someone who could deal with the stresses of being a military wife. And if I wanted true fulfillment in a relationship, I would need to find someone whose physical presence in my life provided me the constancy and security that was essential to me.
So by listening to others’ comments and using deep introspection to evaluate the validity of their words, I better understood what I truly needed in a relationship and in a partner.
However, knowing who we are and what we need in a relationship doesn’t mean we can’t change our actions to better interact with our lover.
And this is another way that reflecting on others’ words and opinions can help us.
Others’ words can also help us gain awareness that helps us be better partners in our relationships.
My fellow teachers at work are always telling me to slow down. In their opinion I work too hard and need to try leaving “work at work.”
At first, I took their words as signs that they weren’t as dedicated as I was.
But then I began to contemplate the fact that they might be right. After all, I did come home nightly and spend hours and hours grading and preparing lessons.
And if I was honest with myself, it was affecting my relationship with my husband.
We came together each night after work, but only to “check the blocks” — get dinner started, help our children with homework, discuss any pressing financial matters, and decide who would take our children to this dentist appointment or to that teacher conference.
Then we knew “the drill.” He would sit and watch television alone while I worked on schoolwork.
He never complained because he knew being a good teacher was important to me, but I knew he probably also felt lonely and a bit abandoned.
So, I tried to take the advice of my co-workers. I’ll admit, I couldn’t let the habit of working at home go all at once. But I could take more steps to leave more of my job at my job.
I decided to set a time limit for myself to work at home. As my husband usually prepares dinner, I made the choice to only work while he was cooking. When the meal was done, so was my work.
And this resulted in a lot more together time. A deepening intimacy formed as we began to reconnect with each other through more time spent as a couple, laughing at shows we now watched together and discussing the troubles and triumphs that occurred in our lives away from home.
All because I listened to the helpful advice from a few friends at work.
The bottom line
Advice columnist Ann Landers once quite humorously stated the importance of self-awareness. She said, “Know yourself. Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” (Is that the reason dogs are “man’s best friend?” I wonder.)
And relying only on our own dreadfully one-dimensional knowledge about who we are leaves us dangerously unaware of the very things that we need to know to lead us towards more fulfilling relationships.
So grit your teeth and listen to others’ words. It may just change your world for the better.
I know it changed mine.
If you liked this, you may also like:
Bored With Your Marriage or Job? Be careful.
Excitement can be wonderful, but deadly. Think cautiously.
Reasons to Deliver the Cold Brutal Truth in Your Relationships
The sharper your sword, the less pain for all involved
In a Relationship with a Passive-Aggressive Person?
What to know and how to stop this toxic form of silent bullying
If you want to read more, sign up here.