It’s common to feel lost after a divorce. But there’s a clear way to find yourself again – and that’s through developing self-awareness. This is a crucial step on the road to recovery.
Coming out of any significant romantic relationship can not only leave you feeling sad, scared and confused, you might also feel a complete stranger to yourself.
As super-upsetting as this can be, it’s actually understandable. Our sense of ourselves is commonly misplaced or fused with our ex-partner. This is especially true if you and your partner did everything together or your relationship was the centre from which all other activities emanated.
But it can also be true simply because we might have believed that our partner or the relationship itself, gave us a sense of self or self-worth. We might have seen ourselves as part of a whole and now be worried that, without them, we’ll never be whole again.
Breakups can be opportunities for self-awareness
The flipside of this, of course, is that a major breakup also gives us the perfect opportunity to reassess who we are, what we want and how we can truly show up in the world as our best selves – the very things that may have got lost while we were building our relationship.
Of course, this kind of self-awareness can be a difficult step for many. Mainly because it involves examining our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and understanding the part we play in making or breaking a relationship. But most importantly, it can help us heal from the pain of the breakup and ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past when we’re finally ready for a new commitment.
Before we go any further, though, let’s define what Self-Awareness is.
Self-awareness is a psychological state that enables you to clearly and objectively recognise your personality traits, behaviours and feelings. At its most basic level, it’s the difference between knowing what it is about you that makes you react to a certain situation in a particular way to being completely clueless as to why you think, feel and react in that way.
Though self-awareness involves consciously understanding your moods and mindset, it doesn’t mean you’re fully focused on every thought or response you have to situations throughout the day.
However, the more self-aware you are, the more likely you are to perceive when you’re behaving or thinking in ways that do or don’t correlate with the kind of person you know yourself to be. In this way, self-awareness also relates to your values and the standards you set for yourself.
How self-awareness helps heal
But why is self-awareness so important to help us heal after a breakup?
In my work as a life coach, I’ve seen a common thread among the women I’ve helped after divorce. Almost all of these women were preoccupied with what their partners had done to them or how they had been treated. Although talking about their situation helped them express their feelings, it did not help them move on in any way. The reason? They kept their focus on their partners rather than on themselves.
In this way, they were still connecting their sense of who they were with who their partners made them feel they were. Only by transferring the focus to themselves, did they really begin the process of moving on and being the ones actually in control of how they were feeling.
An example of both situations might be blaming your partner’s quick temper for the constant arguments that dominated your relationship or claiming that you couldn’t see eye-to-eye on anything.
Becoming more self-aware might reveal that your life values were deeply different to your partner’s. Feeling uncomfortable with compromising those values might have been the reason that you got ready to rumble (your partner’s reasons are entirely their own). But now that you’re aware of this, you know that having similar values is a relationship deal-breaker for you.
This recognition of why you behave or react in a particular situation and how you can then use that knowledge to improve your future relationships, is why self-awareness is so fundamental to healing.
How to become more self-aware?
OK, so the next step is working on how to become more self-aware. Truthfully, self-awareness is a long-term and tough practice, but here are four ways you can start to develop the skill:
#1: Spend time in reflection
One of the most effective ways to gain self-awareness is to simply carve out space and time for yourself to think and reflect every day.
You may want to avoid being alone with your feelings, fearing that reflecting on your past relationship will only make you morose. But the point is not to just rehash old situations in your mind but rather to pay attention to how you felt in those situations and why you think you felt that way.
Having a pen and notepad, or even keeping a “Self-Awareness Journal” can help you in formulating your thoughts and writing out your feelings.
#2: Think about your values & standards
When we’re in the throes of a relationship, particularly one that’s not very healthy, it can be easy to let standards slip. For example, name-calling may have become part and parcel of your arguments even though it’s a behaviour you don’t like or approve of in yourself. Look at the ways you responded to situations in your relationship and see if they correlate with your core values and standards.
(If you’re not sure of your core values, do this exercise here).
#3: Ask others’ opinions
It’s easy to think that everyone sees us as we see ourselves. But that’s not always the case. Often how we behave in public can be different to how we behave privately or think we behave. One of the reasons for this is that we can modify our behaviours to fit with social norms without even realising it. But we can also just be completely oblivious to our sharp manner or how our shyness is perceived, or whether people think we’re argumentative or too accommodating.
Studies have shown that people who seek feedback from “loving critics” – in other words, those who genuinely care about them and have their best interests at heart as well as being willing to tell them the truth in a way that’s helpful and not hurtful, greatly improve their external self-awareness.
So think of some true friends and kind family members whom you trust to help you get a better handle on how you come across to others. Then take that information and ruminate on whether there are areas of self-improvement that you could address.
#4: Be kind to yourself
This last step might be one of the hardest for some, but to really understand who you are you need to know what you like and want in your life.
Think about ways you can take care of yourself and feed your own sense of comfort and joy. Do you want to travel more? Read more books? Learn a language?
It could be something as simple as making your home cosy with lighted candles in the evening after work. Maybe you never did that in your relationship because your partner didn’t like the smell or was worried about candle safety. Or it could be something as momentous as realizing that you want to study for a degree or completely change your career path.
The point of all of this is to figure out the activities and beliefs that matter most to you. We are all evolving and growing, and we’ll continue to make mistakes. But the more self-awareness we have, the easier it’ll be to pick ourselves up, leave the past behind, and create a more positive and truthful future for ourselves.
Photo by Nuta Sorokina