Understanding yourself

The ability to reflect on your own habits, biases and limitations, is an excellent tool for self-development.  Photo by Pepe Reyes on Unsplash
It’s considered wise to know yourself, but not a lot of thought is put into what this means in practice.

There are a few ways of ‘knowing yourself’, and it might be worth looking at some of the main ones.


One type of self-knowledge is an awareness of the patterns you repeat.

For example, you may find yourself repeatedly starting the same kind of romantic relationship, with the same kind of unsuitable person, and it always ends in tears.  Knowing yourself might involve realising (a) that you do this, and (b) why you do this.

Most of us are excellent at observing OTHER people’s patterns, but terrible at observing our own.  This is because we are in love with ourselves, and fail to see our own habits and faults.  We cannot bear to think that we are so simple as to be repeating the same mistakes, time and time again.  But we are that simple.  We need to get used to observing that.

Counselling can help in learning to observe our own patterns.  We have little hope of eradicating the worst of them, if we cannot even observe ourselves in the first place.


Another type of self-knowledge is awareness of the ways in which we show unfair bias.  We are attracted to some things, repelled by others, and indifferent to the rest.  These are all arbitrary, but we fall into thinking that our views are the only correct ones.

It is very difficult to see clearly the way that we operate with prejudice.  Generally, this prejudice is self-obsessed.  We are born into one body, and so we see life from the point of view of that one body.  We like the beings that are similar to us.  We like the politics that defends people like us.  We reject the beings and politics that we are unfamiliar with.  We join gangs (we call them parties, clubs, families, groups… but they are all gangs).  We are subtly mean to other gangs.

Again, most of us can see prejudice in others (especially when it disadvantages us!).  But is is a difficult skill to catch ourselves out with our own prejudices.  Many of us are blind to those, because we can’t afford to see ourselves as the biased, foolish, selfish people we often are.


The final type of self-knowledge I want to mention, is knowing the limits of your own capacities.  I am covering this because it is a common problem-causer with counselling clients.  So many problems stem from our inability to judge life by our own limitations.

Here are a few examples.  We take on too many activities in a week, and crumble half way through.  We take on unsuitable relationships, and get frustrated half way through.  We take on jobs for money, but they take away too much energy and balance, and we end up destroyed.  We take on self-improvement projects, start with drastic programs, and give them up early because they are too much.

Those who learn to work with their own capacity are like good parents to themselves.  Just as we manage a child’s burdens so that the child can cope, so we can manage our own burdens so that we can cope.  The trouble is, we take on too much.  We need to learn to be our own healthy personal assistant, and sculpt life according to our limitations.


Just for today, work on being honest with yourself about yourself.  In particular:

  • Notice when you are repeating your same old patterns, especially when they hurt yourself or others
  • Notice when you are thinking from your own personal biases and prejudices, especially when they disadvantage others
  • Notice when you are taking on too much, especially when it stops you functioning well and happily


Knowing yourself is an underpractised art.

Three skills to develop are:

  • Understanding your own repeated patterns
  • Understanding your own biases
  • Understanding your own limitations
If you can understand these, then you can develop personal humility, as you can see your own selfish perspective.  This positions you well to develop yourself, as you can move to the next step, which is acting on this self-knowledge to become more adaptable.  This is a great route to personal freedom.

Also, if you want to become less selfish, observing your own patterns, biases and limitations is a great first step to becoming more selfless and kind.