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Self-Awareness: Definition, Lesson & Quiz

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Sarah Collins

In this lesson, we'll discuss the definition of self-awareness and its benefits to your life. Discover what can prevent a person from being self aware, and learn about several tools to help you increase your self-awareness.

We also recommend watching What Is the DSM? - Definition, Lesson & Quiz and Social Cognitive Perspective: Definition, Lesson & Quiz

Being Aware

How do you feel? Yes, I'm really asking you. How do you feel right now at this very moment? Take a second to think about it. What comes to mind? You might realize you're curious, annoyed, neutral, confused, sad, thirsty or impatient. Regardless of what the answer is, if you were able to come up with one, you are self aware.

Self Awareness Defined

Self awareness is the capacity to recognize your own feelings, behaviors and characteristics - to understand your cognitive, physical and emotional self. At a basic level, it is simply understanding that you are a separate entity from others. In a broader sense, the questions, 'Who am I?,' 'What do I want?,' 'What do I think?' and 'How do I feel (physically and emotionally)?' are all questions that require self awareness to answer.

Areas of Self Awareness

Take a look at the awareness wheel below. Given any moment in time or specific event (referred to as 'issue' in the wheel), you can become aware of several different areas of your internal world.

Awareness Wheel

Let's pick an issue/event and run it through the wheel, so you can see how it works. Say you are at a baseball concession stand waiting to get something to eat:

Sensory (information taken in through sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing, and your own body's internal physical sensations): There are lots of loud people around, and the line is long. It smells like soft pretzels; you are hungry, and your stomach is grumbling. Also, your feet are sore.

Thoughts: 'I hate lines.' 'I should have gotten in the other line.' You remember when you got violently ill from a concession-stand hotdog last summer.

Feelings: Impatient, anticipation, longing, overwhelmed by the crowd.

Wants for self and others: You want to get to the front of the line quickly. You want to eat the hotdog before getting back to the stands. You don't want to get sick. You want people to keep their distance and stop bumping into you. You want the worker to give you a good hotdog, not the shriveled-up one that's been sitting in the rotator all day.

Actions (past, present and future): Past: You did not tell the worker which hotdog you wanted, and you let people bump into and cut in front of you. Present: You will tell the worker which hotdog you want and you assertively tell people to watch out and wait their turn. Future: You will go to the stand earlier in order to beat the rush. You will ask the worker how fresh their hotdogs are.

Now, this is a rather lightweight example. Imagine putting something a little heavier in the center of the wheel (i.e. a breakup, a problem at work, the death of a love one, or an argument with a friend).

Is Ignorance Bliss?

Some people feel it's not worth it to take the time to understand their own feelings, behaviors and characteristics. What is the point of going to the trouble of being self aware? People who are self aware tend to make wiser decisions, know their limits and practice good self care. Self-awareness may allow you to develop deeper relationships, and, since you're more likely to understand what you want or need, you'll have a better chance at personal fulfillment. In addition, as you practice self-awareness, you may discover faulty thinking patterns or troubling feelings that can be worked through, thus helping to avoid depression and anxiety.

Barriers to Self Awareness

So, why do some people seem to be more in touch with themselves than others? Often times, people have run into barriers to their self-awareness such as:

  • Family of origin rules: This can include coming from a family in which feelings and thoughts were never asked about or shared; self awareness may not have been taught or modeled. It can also mean that certain emotions and thoughts were permitted, while others were not.
  • Culture: Some cultures and subcultures encourage self-awareness more than others.
  • Trauma: A traumatic experience can cause a person to disengage from themselves as a way to cope.
  • Depression and or anxiety: Both of these ailments can cause a people to become emotionally numb and lose touch with how they are really feeling or thinking.

How to Increase Self Awareness

In our lives, we often volley between having too much to do and engaging in mind-numbing activities, so it's important to take time to stop and focus on yourself. Journaling, having a friend to discuss issues with and going to counseling are all things that can help a person stop and reflect. Ask yourself questions and be curious about your reactions to life.

Lesson Summary

Self-awareness is the knowledge of self in three basic areas: cognitive, physical and emotional. It is the ability to recognize your own feelings, behaviors and characteristics. Being self aware can help you take better care of yourself, have deeper relationships and live a more fulfilling life.

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