Von Bruce

Wellness Blog

How Well Do You Know Yourself?

Explore self-knowledge and the benefits of a thoroughly examined life

Self-knowledge can be defined as possessing accurate information about yourself (Morin & Racy, 2021), including information about your

  • Personality traits
  • Disposition
  • Mental and emotional states
  • Needs
  • Goals
  • Preferences
  • Physical characteristics
  • Motivations
  • Abilities
  • Relationships

That is, our self-concepts (what we believe about our goals, preferences, motivations, etc.) might not always align with how we behave.

Self-knowledge comes from a variety of sources such as our own experience of ourselves, other people’s experiences of us, and the consequences of the ways in which we relate to the world (Higgins, 1996). Because we are not always aware of our behaviors and are often inclined to ignore information about ourselves that contradicts the self-image we hold, it is important to seek evidence from external sources (Wilson & Dunn, 2004).

Self-knowledge is essential for living an authentic and meaningful life. After all, how can you be authentically yourself if you don’t know who that is?

Cultivating self-knowledge helps us gain clarity on who we are and how we can live our best lives. That is, when you attain a comprehensive and accurate representation of your true self, you are better able to make decisions that serve your goals and desires and avoid experiences that diminish your ability to flourish. For example, self-knowledge facilitates selecting compatible friends or intimate partners, choosing education or career opportunities that fit your preferences, goals, and abilities, and identifying the optimal place to live (Morin & Racy, 2021). 

In addition to facilitating a rich, meaningful life, self-knowledge provides many other benefits. These benefits include:

  • Increased ability to recognize and understand our feelings
  • Improved ability to predict future feelings, behaviors, and preferences
  • Improved relationships with others
  • Greater satisfaction with life
  • Increased well-being
  • Greater self-acceptance
  • Improved emotion regulation

What Contributes to Self-Knowledge?

Self-knowledge necessarily arises from both internal and external sources. That is, we gain self-knowledge through reflection and introspection as well as through feedback from others. Reflection and introspection can help us learn about many aspects of ourselves, but it is a limited method of gaining self-knowledge for several reasons including willful suppression, unconscious repression, and inaccessibility of information (Wilson & Dunn, 2004). Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Self-Knowledge Block: Willful Suppression

One common reason for lacking accurate knowledge about certain aspects of ourselves is simply not wanting to accept that information. In other words, we are often motivated to keep some thoughts out of our minds because they are unpleasant, anxiety-provoking, or conflict with our existing self-image.

Self-Knowledge Block: Repression

Repression is like suppression but does not include a deliberate, conscious effort to suppress certain thoughts. Rather, repression is commonly a nonconscious defense mechanism whereby distressing, often traumatic, information is blocked from consciousness. Even when successfully blocked from consciousness, these distressing thoughts still linger in the mind and can influence behaviors and emotions.

Self-Knowledge Block: Inaccessibility of Information

Our brains always process an enormous amount of information and only a limited amount of this information makes it into conscious awareness. For example, right now the presence of clothing is activating touch receptors in your skin, which are sending messages to your brain indicating that you have clothes on. However, to save on conscious processing power, this information is typically tuned out by the brain because it isn’t useful. Just imagine how frustrating constant conscious awareness of the feeling of your shirt on your back would be.

Developing Self-Knowledge

Developing self-knowledge may not be as simple as we might hope, but there are a few strategies we can employ to get to know ourselves better.

Introspection

Taking time to reflect on our inner world of thoughts, feelings, and desires is an important part of developing self-knowledge.

Behavior Tracking

Tracking our habits and behaviors, such as our habits or progress toward our goals, can help us view our behaviors objectively which is useful for identifying whether our beliefs about our behaviors align with what we do. Additionally, because behaviors can be driven by nonconscious processes that are not immediately accessible to conscious awareness, it is helpful to track our behaviors to identify patterns that we might want to change. 

Journaling

Writing out your thoughts and feelings is a great way to improve self-knowledge. Daily journaling can help us organize our thoughts, engage in self-analysis, and gain a greater understanding of our motivations. Journaling can also help us identify recurring patterns of behavior that may or may not be aligned with our goals and values.

Ask for feedback

As mentioned previously, external sources of information are critical for the development of self-knowledge. We can gain greater insight into what we are like when we are with others by asking trusted friends and mentors for their perspectives on our personalities and other personal characteristics.

In Summary

Self-knowledge is not quite as easy to come by as we might expect. Developing self-knowledge requires effort, intention, and a willingness to accept our flaws, but it is worth the effort. With greater self-knowledge comes greater satisfaction with our lives.

References

  • Higgins, E. T. (1996). The "self digest": Self-knowledge serving self-regulatory functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1062–1083.
  • Morin, A., & Racy, F. (2021). Dynamic self-processes. In The Handbook of Personality Dynamics and Processes (pp. 365-386). Academic Press.
  • Wilson, T. D., & Dunn, E. W. (2004). Self-knowledge: Its limits, value, and potential for improvement. Annual review of psychology, 55(1), 493-518.​