Why is it so hard to know yourself?
Busyness is one of the biggest obstacles to knowing yourself. When we’re constantly on the go, distracted, or multi-tasking, it’s nearly impossible to tune into yourself. Knowing yourself requires quiet attunement so that you can actually listen to yourself; listen to your thoughts, feel the physical sensations of your body “talking” to you, and experience the whole array of your emotions.
In addition to being busy, we also tend to keep ourselves numb. For most of us, this is a very subtle disconnection from ourselves that we’re not aware of. It often takes the form of a couple glasses of wine with dinner or constant use of our phone/social media/video games or smoking some weed after work. “What’s the big deal?” you might be thinking. The problem with numbing our feelings in these small ways is that we miss the cues that tell us how we’re feeling and give us the opportunity to explore why we’re feeling this way.
Why is it important to know yourself?
Knowing yourself has many benefits; it informs all of your decisions from the friends you choose to your career direction. Understanding your values helps you to know where to invest your time and money. Self-understanding also helps you to be kinder to yourself; when you understand why you’re doing things, you can more easily see that you’re doing your best and give yourself grace when you mess up. And knowing yourself is associated with success in many areas of life, which makes sense because when you choose goals aligned with your strengths, interests, and values, you’re more likely to achieve them. I often write about the importance of getting your emotional needs met and you have to know how you feel and what you need in order to meet those needs yourself or ask others to give you what you need.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Knowing yourself is the core of living an authentic life. Knowing yourself and living in alignment with your true self can be scary and vulnerable, especially if you’re used to forcing yourself into a mold to please other people. Authentic living means that you have to embrace who you really are, know what matters to you, and have the courage to be you rather than who everyone else wants you to be.
How to know yourself better
Listen to yourself: Psychotherapist and Registered Dietician Alison Pelz, LCSW told me that listening to your thoughts is an important way to connect with and know yourself. “What do you say to yourself and how do your thoughts make you feel? Without judgment notice how your thoughts make your feel and react. This process can give you lots of insight into your mood, how you feel about yourself and others.” And while your thoughts and feelings provide great insight into yourself, Pelz reminds us that “thoughts are not facts…” and if your thoughts are leaving you feeling angry or hopeless, a therapist can help you sort out what’s going on beneath the surface.
Ask yourself different questions: “Another way to understand yourself better is to ask yourself: What do I care about?” says Holistic Coach Lene Bisgaard. “I believe we often engage in questions like: What do you do? What do you want? Instead try to investigate: What do you care about? What’s important to you? This will help you find out where meaning and passion live in your life. If we don’t care about what we do, it becomes a life of obligation, lack of meaning and often leads to resignation. When we engage in what we care about, we become more energized and find what we do meaningful.” Bisgaard suggests making a list of the things you care about and then think about whether you’re connected to what’s important to you; and if not, consider how you can incorporate more of your values into your daily life.
Notice what bothers you about other people: According to Jungian Analyst and Psychotherapist Lisa Marchiano, LCSW, “We can learn a lot by paying attention to those things that bother us about other people. Carl Jung coined the term ‘shadow’ for all those parts of ourselves we would rather not know about. He noted our tendency to see in others those qualities we like and accept least in ourselves. Becoming curious about those people that really get under our skin can help us get in touch with those aspects, which are often the very parts of ourselves that can help us grow.” Marchiano told me about an experience she had with a former coworker: “She was pretty and obviously knew it. She enjoyed flirting and being the center of attention. It made my skin crawl. When I realized this, I got curious about why that quality of her bothered me so much. Growing up in my family, we were discouraged from being in the spotlight…It was conveyed to me that this was a shameful thing to enjoy. Recognizing this trait in my coworker and realizing it was something that I had disallowed in my own life gave me permission to get in touch with my own desire to steal the show sometimes.”
You can also explore different parts of yourself by answering my 26 Questions to Know Yourself Better. You can download a PDF version of them, as well as dozens of journaling prompts designed to increase self-awareness when you subscribe to my blog using the form below.
©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW.