Self-reflecting and gaining introspection can simultaneously be enlightening, frightening, and uncomfortable. It entails looking at all parts of ourselves — the parts we’re grateful for and proud of, as well as those parts we wish we didn’t have, are ashamed of, or want to cut off or disregard. It can be challenging to take a deep dive and face all of our parts because of the array of feelings it can evoke, such as hopelessness, fear, and disappointment.

I have patients who admit they avoided self-reflecting because they were riddled with shame due to recognizing that they’re repeating patterns of behavior they observed in their parents. Others have avoided speaking about certain topics because they’re fearful that they’ll have insights that will compel them to have to make some hard or uncomfortable decisions that they’ve been avoiding. And others are highly defended against parts of themselves (e.g., the propensity to shut down or distance) because of fear of giving up adaptations from childhood that helped them cope during that developmental period, but are counterproductive and not serving them well during adulthood.

Why Self-Reflection Is Critical for Relationships

Engaging in introspection to gain self-awareness is an asset when you’re engaging in an any interpersonal relationship, be it a friendship or a deeper intimate connection. The ability to have reciprocity, take personal responsibility, apologize, and make efforts to change or edit behavior contributes to longevity and satisfaction in a relationship. When self-reflection is low, there is an increased risk of avoidance, defensiveness, protectiveness, distancing, and isolating. Such distancing behaviors are known to negatively impact connection, intimacy, and effective communication in relationships.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself to Initiate Introspection

  1. Assess the different parts of yourself. Which parts are you proud of? Which are you disappointed, frustrated, or ashamed of? By noticing your various parts, naming them, and recognizing what they induce in you, you can work toward healing and integrating more self-love and self-compassion.
  2. What are the negative core beliefs and narratives you tell yourself? We each carry intrinsic negative core beliefs and narratives that we tell ourselves, such as “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not loveable/likeable,” etc. They impact our perceptions about ourselves and others and directly inhibit our behavior in social interactions.
  3. What intrinsic insecurities fuel you? Getting to know the insecurities that represent the portal to your reactivity is key to self-understanding. I always remind my patients that no one makes us feel any way, that no one triggers us; we get triggered — and if you’re having a reaction, it’s an indication of places that need healing. For example, if someone refers to you as “lazy,” there’s a difference between having a negative reaction to that person because of them saying something unkind, and questioning, perseverating, or having angst over perceiving yourself as being lazy.
  4. How well do you handle constructive criticism and feedback pertaining to you? A willingness to listen to, hear, accept and contemplate constructive criticism and feedback is essential in any relationship. When someone lets us know that they’re feeling hurt, the propensity is for us is to preliminarily defend ourselves. Processing the message and understanding it from another’s point of view and leaving space for empathy and compassion, rather than trying to explain to them why their feelings shouldn’t hurt is a relationally connected act and is essential for attunement in relationships.
  5. How do you perceive and experience your own imperfections, mistakes and failures? This will impact how readily you accept or reject other’s imperfections, mistakes and failures. Evaluate the level of judgment and condemnation you have toward yourself; it’s typically indicative of how you may approach others. It can get in the way of your thoughts, feelings and actions toward them and influence your receptivity toward others witnessing your humanness and vulnerability which is required in deeply connected intimate relationships.
  6. When a misunderstanding, disagreement or argument arises, do you think about and take responsibility for your part in it? Do you readily question your role, recognize how you may have contributed to the interaction or dynamic, and apologize when indicated? Do you also contemplate what may have been triggered internally and your level of reactivity, and assess if they’re suggestive of a repeated dynamic or pattern of behavior? These insights allow for better understanding about the other person, yourself, and ways to effectively and meaningfully move forward.
  7. How flexible are you in your thinking, perceptions, and judgements? The ability to be open and curious aids your ability to see others’ points of view and consider varied ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. Instead of having preconceived notions — predicting and making accusations regarding someone’s intentions and behavior — you may opt to remain inquisitive and ask them questions about it. This promotes your ability to be more expansive and approach relationships more non-judgmentally, empathically, and compassionately.

Gaining introspection is not solely your responsibility. It also requires others you’re interacting with to see their part in the dynamic. I often hear from patients who are dissatisfied, stating that much of the time they’re “giving in,” being the “bigger person,” and having to take initiative for pointing out each person’s respective part in it all. They inevitably find themselves frustrated, exasperated, and exhausted. It can be challenging when others are on a different emotional frequency. It sometimes requires recalibrating how we see and want to be in those relationships.

Take the time and effort to self-reflect and gain introspection. The path to self-discovery is a direct entry to the deeper, more meaningful relationships that you want and most certainly deserve.

To increase your willingness to self-reflect, participate in an Enhancing Your Personal Power Guided Meditation led by me. Blog as published in Psychology Today.