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What’s it take to create and maintain a healthy relationship? Not just a romantic one, but a father-daughter relationship; mother and son; friend-to-friend; brother and sister. There are a few widely popularized answers to this question: time, effort, dedication, honesty, effective communication. And while these are all great answers—certainly essential to a happy, healthy relationship of any kind—there’s another vital ingredient that many undervalue, forget, or simply don’t know about. And that’s self-awareness. Get to know yourself better and your relationships will blossom beautifully.

Start with the Man in the Mirror

Or woman, of course. In any regard, you could benefit from becoming more self-aware—and so could your relationships. Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Aram explains how self-awareness is key to building and maintaining healthy relationships: “The way we relate to others as adults, whether in friendships, familial relationships, or romantic partnerships, frequently aligns with familiar dynamics we experienced during our formative years. No matter how well-meaning our parents are, they are human and vulnerable to making mistakes. No matter how much distance we get from playground bullies or high school drama, we internalize the messages we receive about our worth through social and cultural engagement.”

At our core, we each have individual needs (i.e. safety, attention, autonomy, validation), which I believe we continue to seek as adults in ways that reflect what we lacked or had in excess when we were growing up. Understanding your own needs and learning to accept what is vulnerable can be the foundation for genuine communication, empathy, and connection with significant others. One of the most harmful factors in our relationship with others (and ourselves) is our inner critical voice that judges events through past wounds. By understanding these raw spots and practicing self-compassion, we can better relate to others and advocate for what we need in relationships.”

Increase Your Self-Awareness: 5 Tips

    1) Keep a journal.
    Yet another great reason to keep a journal! Journaling is designed to pry open your mind and your heart—all you have to do is lead a pen to paper, and let the magic happen. Your thoughts and feelings will become clear in times of uncertainty, and you’ll get to know yourself better with every entry.

    2) Reflect daily.
    Before going to sleep each night, I like to reflect on my day: what went wrong, what went right, how I can have an even better day tomorrow. This simple habit has helped me better understand what makes me happy and what I can purposely do each day to live a more fulfilling life. It also allows me to move forward with confidence when something doesn’t quite go my way—I’ve thought about what happened, now it’s in the past.

    3) Be mindful.
    If you’re not big on meditating, try being mindful instead. All this practice requires is that you intentionally direct your attention to the present moment: when you’re eating breakfast, savor the delicious taste of each bite; on your walk to work, notice how the sun shines perfectly through the leaves and warms your face. This technique will lead to internal revelations, and you’ll understand your mind better than ever before.

    4) Set goals.
    Clearly outlining your goals will help you to understand exactly what you want, where you want to go, and how you can get there. And what’s more revealing than that? Defining your goals is defining what’s important to you—which is vital to what makes you, you. Furthermore, this activity will prompt you to think about your values and your priorities. What started out as a simple brainstorming activity will prove to increase your self-awareness.

    5) Get feedback.
    The truth is that it’s hard to look at yourself objectively. If you really want to gain more self-awareness then ask your friends, family members, and coworkers how they perceive you. Tell them you’re looking for honest and open feedback—that it won’t hurt you, but help you become a better person. Don’t shy away from asking questions either; if you need further clarification, then ask for it.

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