Self-awareness involves being aware of different aspects of the self including traits, behaviours, and feelings. Essentially, it is a psychological state in which oneself becomes the focus of attention. Self-awareness is one of the first components of the self concept to emerge. While self-awareness is something that is central to who you are, it is not something that you are acutely focused on at every moment of every day. Instead, self-awareness becomes woven into the fabric of who you are and emerges at different points depending on the situation and your personality.
People are not born completely self-aware. Yet research has also found that infants do have a rudimentary sense of self-awareness. Infants possess the awareness that they are a separate being from others, which is evidenced by behaviours such as the rooting reflex in which an infant searches for a nipple when something brushes against his or her face. Researchers have also found that even newborns are able to differentiate between self- and non-self touch.
Researchers have proposed that an area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex located in the frontal lobe region plays an important role in developing self-awareness. Studies have also used brain imaging to show that this region becomes activated in adults who are self-aware.
The Lewis and Brooks-Gunn experiment suggests that self-awareness begins to emerge in children around the age of 18 months, an age that coincides with the rapid growth of spindle cells in the anterior Cingular cortex. However, one study found that a patient retained self-awareness even with extensive damage to areas of the brain including the insula and the anterior Cingular cortex. This suggests that these areas of the brain are not required for most aspects of self-awareness and that awareness may instead arise from interactions distributed among brain networks.
Types of Self-Awareness
Psychologists often break self-awareness down into two different types, either public or private.
Public Self-Awareness : This type emerges when people are aware of how they appear to others. Public self-awareness often emerges in situations when people are at the center of attention, such as when giving a presentation or talking to a group of friends. This type of self-awareness often compels people to adhere to social . When we are aware that we are being watched and evaluated, we often try to behave in ways that are socially acceptable and desirable. Public self-awareness can also lead to evaluation anxiety in which people become distressed, anxious, or worried about how they are perceived by others.
This type happens when people become aware of some aspects of themselves, but only in a private way. For example, seeing your face in the mirror is a type of private self-awareness. Feeling your stomach lurch when you realise you forgot to study for an important test or feeling your heart flutter when you see someone you are attracted to are also examples of private self-awareness.
Sometimes, people can become overly self-aware and veer into what is known as self-consciousness.5 Have you ever felt like everyone was watching you, judging your actions, and waiting to see what you will do next? This heightened state of self-awareness can leave you feeling awkward and nervous in some instances. In a lot of cases, these feelings of self-consciousness are only temporary and arise in situations when we are “in the spotlight.” For some people, however, excessive self-consciousness can reflect a chronic condition such as social anxiety disorder.
People who are privately self-conscious have a higher level of private self-awareness, which can be both a good and bad thing. These people tend to be more aware of their feelings and beliefs, and are therefore more likely to stick to their personal values. However, they are also more likely to suffer from negative health consequences such as increased stress and anxiety.
People who are publicly self-conscious have a higher level of public self-awareness. They tend to think more about how other people view them and are often concerned that other people might be judging them based on their looks or their actions. As a result, these individuals tend to stick to group norms and try to avoid situations in which they might look bad or feel embarrassed.
5 ways to improve self-awareness:
- Mindfulness and meditation
Practicing mindfulness or meditation helps you to focus on the present moment and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, without getting wrappd up in them. You are guided to let your thoughts drift by without needing to react or do anything, which helps you become more aware of your internal state. For more details on mindfulness click on the last blog Mindfulness to restore calm.
Whether you do yoga, Pilates, running, walking, or whatever form of movement that works for you, notice what your body is telling you. During movement you become more aware of your body and all the feelings that manifest in it and you become more aware of your mind and the thoughts within it, which increases your self-acceptance and self-awareness.
- Reflection and journaling
A journaling practice allows you to be an objective observer of your thoughts which can help bring clarity to what you want and value. Make time to write down what has gone well today, or reflect on what has been a challenge, what has got in your way and what could you change or improve? Notice what may have triggered you today. It is equally as important to understand both sides for yourself.
- Ask for feedback from people you trust or loved ones
One of the best ways to build self-awareness is to understand others’ perspectives of you and what impact you have on others. The simplest way is to ask for honest feedback. We rarely do this for fear of criticism, but if you don’t ask you will never know what others think. But don’t just rely on feedback from one person, gather a range of insights and evaluate what you want to do with that information.
- Work with a coach!
You can achieve a certain amount on your own, but it’s hard and sometimes you need someone to hold a mirror up to you. Self-awareness takes time and is a lifelong journey and by working with a qualified coach it can be a truly transformational process.