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The 3 Key Areas of Self-Awareness and How to Build Them

Most people don’t give much thought to their own self-awareness. Yet being aware of yourself is an absolute requirement for being able to make yourself and your life happy, healthy and strong.

How can you seek what you truly want, choose options that will bring you joy, and make decisions that are healthy for you if you are not quite sure what you want, enjoy or need? You can only know these important personal qualities by paying close attention to yourself.

The 3 Key Areas of Self-Awareness

  • Physical — This involves being aware of your body and what it needs to be healthy and strong. This includes the amount of sleep you need, the amount and type of food, rest, recreation and exercise. It also means being aware of your body’s cues to you about what’s wrong or what it needs.
  • Relational — How do others see you and experience you? What are your strengths, weaknesses, foibles and flaws when it comes to your relationships? Being aware of your habits and qualities and how you relate to others enables you to manage your own reactions and responses, and also understand others’ reactions to you.
  • Emotional — This type of self-awareness is the most important. It involves being able to notice when you are experiencing a feeling, and being able to identify what that feeling is. Knowing when you are angry, hurt, or lonely, for example, allows you to attend to the feeling and use it to motivate, inform, guide and enrich you.

Knowing yourself well and being aware of your physical, relational and emotional needs and rewards pays off in substantial ways. Research shows that people who spend money on things that best suit their own personalities are the happiest, regardless of the amount they spend.

Higher emotional self-awareness has been found to improve your overall health. Research shows that people who are more aware of what they are thinking and feeling in the moment have lower BMI (body mass index), lower fasting glucose, less smoking and higher levels of physical activity.

It is true that some people have higher levels of natural self-awareness than others. One of the biggest obstacles to self-awareness comes from childhood.  Those who grew up in a household where their emotions were ignored or discouraged by their parents tend to push their emotions and emotional needs away, and try to make them disappear. This is the definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN.

Those who grew up with CEN are going through their adult lives unaware that they are squelching a deeply vital resource from within: the natural fount of emotions that is literally wired into us at birth.

Living your life without full access to your own feelings can leave you with a sense of emptiness and purposelessness. With your emotions tamped down, you may lack enough of the very substance that should be keeping you connected to your body, feeding your relationships, and stoking your energy. You may end up feeling disconnected from yourself and your life in a way that eventually becomes your new norm.

How to Increase Your Self-Awareness

  1. Start thinking of your body as something to take care of. Pay attention to your body’s needs, day after day and collect data. What’s the optimal amount of sleep it needs? What foods make it feel the best? How much of what kinds of exercise give it energy? Track your answers, write them down and try to live by them.
  2. Pay closer attention to the feedback you receive from the people who know you best. The people around you may have observed more about you than you have observed about yourself. You may be missing lots of valuable information about how others see you, especially if this is not a concept you’ve thought about before. By simply paying attention to how others react to you and what they say about you, you can gather, and file away, loads of useful data about how others perceive you, and how you are in your relationships with others.
  3. Begin to pay more attention to what you are feeling. This is the single most powerful way for you to build your self-awareness. If you grew up with your emotions neglected, you are probably continuing to neglect them. Becoming aware of your emotions is becoming aware of the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are.

Becoming more aware of your body, your relationships and your emotions all combine in a wonderful way to make a profound difference in your life. Knowing who you are, what you need, what you feel, and how you affect others gradually helps you to feel more grounded, more fulfilled, more connected and more alive.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often subtle, invisible and unmemorable. To find out if you grew up with it, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn how to understand and use your emotions in your relationships, see the book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

The 3 Key Areas of Self-Awareness and How to Build Them

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2018). The 3 Key Areas of Self-Awareness and How to Build Them. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 1 Apr 2018
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