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Releasing Fear: Increasing Self-Awareness By Improving Self-Knowledge

grow self-awareness by improving self-knowledge

illustration by Nat Lue

illustration by Nat Lue[/caption]

The reason why you have a pattern of thinking and behaviour that’s working against you is due to lack of self-knowledge. The more you strive to open up your awareness about your true self and to align your habits with this consciously, is the more self-aware you are and ultimately the more that your pattern adapts or completely changes. Remember – you cannot expect to do anything such as have a romantic relationship, do a job that you love etc., that meets your needs if you don’t know what your needs are. It is the single reason why people wake up in poor situations thinking, Huh? I’m not getting my needs met here! They entered into the relationship without having a clear view of themselves and not knowing what their needs were, or knowing what they were but suppressing them.

If you improve self-knowledge, you improve the action in your life. It enhances decision-making, receiving, processing and giving feedback, being assertive (knowing when you need to step up), being conscious and being authentic. You will be able to effectively self-manage, and your self-esteem will rise accordingly including your confidence.

I’ve put together a list of exercises and tips for improving your knowledge of who you are.


1. Evaluate Your Needs

One thing that you need to accept from the outset is that your needs are personal to you. You don’t need to get approval from others about your needs – your needs make sense to you. I’m not the type of person who needs a lot of praise, but a friend and ex-work colleague of mine does. This used to baffle and wind up a lot of my colleagues plus she experienced a number of difficult situations which really boiled down to misinterpretations and not finding ways to have that need by a variety of sources. It’s tricky to tell someone who feels that they need praise all the time that they ‘shouldn’t’. What she’s learned is to 1) acknowledge her own efforts without having to have the equivalent of an Olympic medal ceremony before she’ll do it, 2) acknowledge that appreciation of efforts is not always with a pat on the back or verbally stated but reflected in how you progress, interactions, what you’re asked to do, and 3) be honest about her need for praise without demanding it.

Your needs are your general ‘self’ needs (how you want to feel and live on a day-to-day basis), work, education/self-improvement, health, family, work, friends, romantic relationship and any other areas that apply in your life.

Some of your needs cross into several or all of these, but it’s also essential to evaluate the appropriateness of them. For example, ensure that needs that should have been originally met by a parent are not expected from a romantic partner or friend.

Write down the details of each area of your life and how you would like to feel, be treated, and act, so for instance think about the job that would be happy with, the relationship that you would be happy with, what type of relationship with your friends where you would be happy.

Don’t edit / self-censor – just put your ideal relationship down on paper.

Things to consider:

  • How would you be treated?
  • How would you feel?
  • What types of things would cause you to feel that your needs weren’t being met?
  • What do you feel like you couldn’t do without?
  • What would make your position in a situation untenable?
  • When you’ve been in other jobs/relationships/friendships where your needs weren’t being met, what were the reasons?

For example, I’m the type of person that enjoys freedom of expression, feeling connected in each other’s lives but who doesn’t feel joined at the hip and is still an individual entity.

This means expressing myself is vital, something I didn’t do in most of my relationships unless I was melting down. I need to feel that we are in a mutual relationship, not one-sided. I need to retain my sense of self and have some personal space. I also need to feel loved, cared for, trusted, and respected.


What you’ve put down is a vision of your needs.

Once you have gone through them, do relate your needs to the ‘self’ section. It’s not that others cannot meet your needs, but you need to be capable of also meeting the majority of your needs in some way.

For instance, it’s okay to want to express yourself or to feel loved, cherished, respected etc., but if you’re being passive, that’s going to limit that need. And if you bust your own boundaries, how on earth can you expect someone else to respect your boundaries and love, cherish, respect you etc?

Are there items in your needs that relate to your self-esteem that are not in your ‘self’ section? i.e. improving worth, validation, giving you an identity, making you feel secure about things that aren’t issues that relate to your involvement/interaction with them.

I used to have Daddy Hunting issues. While my exes were far from being right for me, it was inappropriate for me to try to get them to meet the needs from my childhood that my parents hadn’t. When I stopped doing this and address my own self-esteem, this void closed.

As another example, some people consider themselves to be ‘needy’. Now, this might reduce by tackling certain issues around self-esteem, but it’s also a lot easier to find someone who is on the same page and will meet those needs without being clobbered than it is to try to force someone who is not that way inclined. Someone who is emotionally undemonstrative is not going to meet a need of being demonstrative. It’s like bashing your head off a brick wall. Likewise, being with someone who is unavailable means that they cannot meet your needs either.

Remember – every person has their own needs. Like values, it’s better to find someone who is on the same page than trying to impose your needs. They may have the need not to be in a committed relationship for instance – that’s their prerogative.

2. If you were the person that you’d like to be in an ‘ideal’ setting, what would that involve?

How would you handle difficult situations that you currently struggle with?

What values would you embody?

How would you behave in your interpersonal relationships?

Which beliefs would you have? What stops you from having them now?

This person and these possibilities exist within you now. What you’ve answered here are insights and tools gained from experiences you’ve already had, that can help you to grow. They are recognition of your pattern and where you can adapt.

3. Work Out Your Values

Once you know what your needs are, you can have a clearer idea of your values. Incidentally, if you were afraid to say what your needs are, you will find that by identifying your values, you reveal what your needs are anyway.

Use the What Are My Values? Workbook.

Which personal values do you take for you?

What and who do your values say that you are?

Focus more on what you want to embody moving forward, which may include values that you already embody now. It is more than normal to be working towards some of your values – you are a work in progress. Also choose values that are you, not what you think someone would want you to choose if they were looking over your shoulder.

4. How will you incorporate each value into your life?

Example: Honesty, integrity, trust, loyalty, consistency.

How will you practice each value? List some ideas.

What new boundaries will you need or which existing boundaries do you already have that will support these?

5. Working Out Your Beliefs

Even if you are still working on some unhealthy beliefs, understanding what you believe and why gives you a great deal of insight into what has shaped you and what you need to tackle to ensure that you can have your needs met in your life. If a lot of your beliefs are about feeling undervalued or lacking in value then you know that you need to address ways in which you can treat you like a worthwhile human being (try doing the stuff for you that you do for others as a start) or about your capabilities (you know that this is about assertiveness). The beliefs module is packed with lessons on changing your beliefs.

6. What are your short- (0-6 months), medium- (6-18 months) and long-term (18 months +) goals?

They don’t have to be set in stone but just brainstorm them and see what you come up with – these tell you where your heart lies and what you need and desire. Look out for any conflicts of interest in there whether they are goals that conflict with each other, or goals that conflict with your own values and needs that you’ve either identified in #1, 2, 3 and 4 above, or as part of other work you’re doing on the course or goals that conflict with your own actions. If, for example, you say that it’s a medium to long-term goal to be in a committed relationship, in the short to medium term, you don’t hang around in anything casual and ambiguous or where the person shows that you have conflicting core values. Goal writing is an incredibly useful exercise. I wrote a list back in 2005, and even though I didn’t look at it for a long time afterwards, it actually focused me in on being my true self, utilising my talents and directing my life in the direction of these goals.

7. Are you playing a role that you need to shake off?

You may know that you tend to have a recurring role in your own sitcom called life. The plot might be like my old one “Unlucky woman having a streak of bad luck in spite of her loving (read: people-pleasing) ways.”

  • Are you always the fixer/healer/helper?
  • Are you always a hop, skip, and a jump away from your next conflict or drama?
  • Do you always feel victimised?
  • Do you tend to feel blindsided or ‘duped’?
  • Are you being a child in a child-to-parent dynamic even though you haven’t been a child for a long time?
  • Do you do the child-to-adult dynamic where you make other people more powerful by adopting a ‘lesser’ or submissive position? This includes giving others authority, assuming they know best, avoiding responsibility etc.

Your thinking and actions are catering to your ‘role’ which you need to redefine or even just shake off so that you’re just you with flexibility instead of having to have a ‘set role’.

There is a Payoff to adopting this role – what is it? Identify the downside of this role – this gives you compelling reasons for change. It’s the benefit. It also directs you to identify what you could be doing instead that would reflect who you are.

8. Work On Your Inner Critic

See the Pattern Breaker class on this.

9. Dealing With Negative Thoughts That Pop Up

Remember that just because you think something doesn’t mean that it’s true. Get to know and disarm your negative thoughts instead of letting them roll around in your head without interruption.

I say negative thoughts aloud a few times – I often end up laughing or jumping to my defence.

“Is this true?” NO

Then when I go “But…” I respond with “But what?” and then add “I am…”

If something is true, I ask “Well what are you going to do about it?” which focuses me on thinking about how to respond instead of thinking, Woe is me.

Also, try an elastic band on your wrist which you twang each time negativity pops in – it’ll soon ease up especially when you realise how you have a negative bias that day or how much time you’re spending in your unconscious when you could be in your present and acting.

10. Which actions can you do in your life that represent confident actions?

While I’m a much more positive thinker than I used to be, the reality is that I experience a myriad of emotions. We all do. It’s called being human. I’m not my thoughts though so I find that doing things that are confident behaviours gives me evidence of confidence – acknowledgement and helping to internalise accomplishments and achievements. The more assertive actions you do in your life (facing issues, saying NO, asking questions, standing up for you even if you’re cowering inside) is the more that you get the message that you’re someone that you can count on and that while you’re not as assertive as others, you will step up when it’s needed.

11. What have you done aside from work and exams that give you an insight into your qualities and characteristics?

There must be more to you than work and education which of course represent some of your accomplishments and achievements but are not everything there is know about you.

What are basic good things that you’ve done no matter how small? You’ll likely see a theme to this.

Think about hobbies, interests, stuff you’ve done to improve your growth and/or knowledge, things you’ve done to help others etc.

12. What can you do?

Corresponding with lots of students, I was surprised at how many of you focus on what you can’t do or forget about wonderful talents, qualities and characteristics that you have. One student is gifted musically, artistically, in photography – does she use these talents? Nope, too busy chasing after some guy. It’s also easy to focus on what you can’t do, but you’re not a hopeless case, so you’re clearly able to do some things. You can.

One thing that students on the Build Your Self-Esteem and No Contact courses have found useful is doing Stop, Start, Continue sheets – you could do them for types of situation or a person.

13. Keep a Feelings Diary

If you really want to get a deep understanding of you, keep a Feelings Diary so that you can become acquainted with your moods on a day-to-basis. When you know how you feel and why it’s a lot harder to get swept up in other people’s agendas or to lose sight of what your needs are. You will also find that you are more conscious because you have to sit with you and learn how to listen to how you feel, how your body feels when you’re happy or struggling, and what types of events and situations impact you. I’ve been helping readers keep Feelings Diaries for nearly 7 years and do not underestimate how powerful these are – they have saved many a person from continuing on with a relationship that was actually a repeat of an old pattern. I’ve had people say “I didn’t realise that I was in the same situation until I started to read the diary – I realised that this is exactly how I felt with my ex!” Download your Feelings Diary Guide. If you are doing No Contact or are struggling against the urge to do something that would actually be very unhealthy for you, try the Day Tracker Sheets from the NC course – I’ve heard some hilarious stories from people who realised that they do some funny stuff when they’re tired, hungry, and unoccupied!

14. Work out where you need to ‘step up’ – boundaries

Think of situations in your life that have been unacceptable – what is the active response that you would need in this situation? For instance, when someone lies to you, how will you deal with it? What will you say even if it’s to you? What will you do? What will you think that can support you and keep you grounded in reality?

Based on previous experiences, which situations do you now recognise as being unacceptable?

  • What makes you feel uncomfortable?
  • What makes you feel like you’re in danger?
  • What makes you feel uncared for and unloved?
  • What makes you feel disrespected?

Based on the values identified in #3 and the needs identified in #1 and #2, what boundaries do you need in order to help you to live inside your own values and to have your needs met?

If someone is doing something that runs counter to what you need, don’t bust your own boundaries by letting it continue.

What you’re identifying here are your boundaries, and you need to work out what your assertive response will be when presented with anything that crosses your boundaries or flags up incompatibility with your values and needs.

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