It is easy to let others tell us who we are. Learning who we are for ourselves is harder. The journey to knowing yourself can be painful, spiritual, and deeply healing.
Why is it important to know yourself?
Increased self-awareness leads to increased emotional intelligence, which ultimately makes us more focused, adaptable humans. Those who practice self-awareness are more well equipped to identify and deal with their emotions, making them strong leaders, dedicated partners, and confident thinkers. Instead of being weighed down by the expectations or perceptions of others, pivoting your focus to your own expectations for yourself can dramatically improve your quality of life.
Losing touch with our core values and needs can make us feel lonely or misunderstood. Without a clear understanding of who we are, it’s easy to let others tell us who we are and spend our lives living up to their standards instead of our own. Feeling like we don’t know ourselves or that others don’t know the “real us” can lead to feelings of depression and isolation. Whether you want to excel at your job, build stronger relationships between friends and partners, or feel more at peace with yourself, heightened self-awareness can set you on the track to feeling more fulfilled.
We spend more time with ourselves than anyone else. By developing a refined sense of self first, we develop the emotional and mental fortitude to deeply understand the people around us, our society, our work, and our world.
How is self-awareness related to spirituality?
Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, defines spirituality as "the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred."
Spirituality comes in many forms but derives from the need to think about the world existentially. Questions like, “Am I a good person?” and “What is my purpose?” are what lead us to spirituality as we search the world for meaning and connectedness. When we get in touch with our spirituality, we often find that other aspects of our wellbeing come into sharper focus; love, compassion, and happiness, among others. Spirituality can allow us to answer questions about ourselves that deepen our knowledge of and connection to the world around us.
There’s no one way to express spirituality. Many find connection through meditation, prayer, study, and self-exploration. In this way, spirituality and self-awareness go hand-in-hand; to practice one is to enhance the other. A greater understanding of self improves our understanding of our place in the universe. When we know our place in the universe, we feel a greater confidence in our sense of self.
What Steps Can You Take to Get to Know Yourself?
Identify your thoughts, feelings, and values
These things comprise your overall personality and can help you feel more secure in who you are. This can be as simple as asking yourself questions. How would I describe myself? What’s most important to me? How do I want others to perceive me? What are my defining experiences and how have they shaped me? You can ask yourself these questions by speaking them aloud and having a conversation with yourself or by writing them down in a journal.
Open, honest reflection about the core components of who you are will lead to a greater understanding of yourself. And, if you are honest with yourself about who you are, you are more likely to be honest with others.
Acknowledge fear and doubt
Understanding who you are isn’t just identifying the good parts. You’ll want to be honest with yourself about the parts of your existence you might not be proud of. Understand your weaknesses, fears, limits, and doubts. If you find that something really scares you, it might be beneficial to choose to face that fear. Adversity, fear, and adrenaline all activate different stimuli in our brain that are crucial to understanding how we function. You might learn something about yourself that you never knew simply by being in a new setting or by being faced with a new challenge.
Identify the why of your fears and weaknesses. Can you overcome them? Or can you accept them as part of what makes you uniquely you? Either choice is correct, but making a conscious choice instead of letting these things control you is a crucial component of self-awareness.
As humans, our experiences, our relationships, and even our genetics define us. But, understanding these components of ourselves and choosing to challenge or accept them can lead us not only to a greater understanding of ourselves, but to a true sense of peace.