Self-awareness is a powerful tool. It is an essential aspect of personal growth and understanding oneself. For neurodivergent individuals, developing self-awareness holds even greater significance. Neurodivergence encompasses a diverse range of neurological conditions, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more, which can impact how a person perceives and interacts with the world. In this article, we explore the process of becoming more self-aware and how it can benefit individuals in navigating their lives more effectively.
Before delving into the significance of self-awareness, it is incredibly useful to understand how your brain tends to work. Each of our brains provides us with unique strengths and challenges, and neurodivergence can affect cognitive functions, communication, social interactions, and sensory perceptions. By recognizing our way of being, individuals can embrace their differences and better understand how it influences their experiences and perspectives.
Self-awareness begins with self-reflection - the process of examining one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors objectively. Taking time to reflect on experiences, triggers, and responses helps individuals identify patterns and gain insight into their emotional and cognitive reactions.
Embracing your unique traits is important. Many neurodivergent traits are assets, offering unique ways of processing information and solving problems. Learning about and embracing these strengths can boost self-esteem and provide a foundation for building self-awareness.
While celebrating strengths, acknowledging challenges is equally important. By being honest about areas of difficulty, individuals can seek support, develop coping strategies, and find adaptive solutions to navigate life more effectively. Self-awareness isn't solely about internal reflection. Seeking feedback from trusted friends, family, or professionals can provide valuable insights into blind spots and hidden strengths. It can also foster better communication and understanding in relationships. This can be a tricky one, finding someone who’s opinion you trust and value, but the search is worth it. I personally have learned that feedback from anyone is a gift, whether you accept what is being said of you, or understand it as a perception, both types of feedback are equally important, and neither should be ignored.
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and grounding techniques, can be beneficial for individuals to stay present, manage anxiety, and develop a deeper connection with their thoughts and emotions. I don’t personally enjoy traditional mindfulness practices, as my mind tends to race around, however, I find exercise, listening to loud music, and reflecting on things I’m grateful for (sometimes all at the same time), are hugely beneficial for me to stay grounded.
Keeping a journal, even for a short while, can aid individuals in tracking their emotional and cognitive experiences over time. Writing things down allows for self-analysis and the identification of growth areas. Try things and search out what works for you.
Sensory processing challenges are common among neurodivergent individuals. Being aware of triggers and practicing self-care when overwhelmed can help regulate emotions and prevent burnout. It is valuable to learn how to explain to others about the sensory experiences that won’t allow you to be at your best, it will encourage understanding, even if not immediately. If you would like to, you can practice these explanations with a trusted person to get the words you need and find the best way to explain your experience and needs.
Self-awareness is an ongoing journey, and growth comes with both successes and setbacks. Embracing the process and accepting oneself with compassion is key to developing a stronger sense of self-awareness. Over the years, the feedback I have received has always been useful, but noticing myself and self-reflection have been the most useful way for me to understand myself better and to grow as an individual, a mum, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an employee, and a leader.
As well as listening to feedback and noticing how other people respond to me day to day, I also like to learn through reading. Below are some of the books that I have found most useful in my journey towards self-awareness over the years, it’s not an exhaustive list and I think that the journey will never end, but these have all in some way contributed to my understanding of myself and of others to date.
The Chimp Paradox, by Prof. Steve Peters – Provided me with lessons in understanding the natural responses of my mind and the power there is to control one’s own emotions.
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu – Enjoyed by both me and my 14-year-old Son. Although this is a book about the strategies of war, it encourages you to analyze your character and not to sabotage yourself and to be strategic about where you put your energies.
Neurotribes (the legacy of autism), by Steve Silberman –This book chronicles autism research over the years and the author ‘maps out a path towards a more humane world for people with learning differences.’ It’s a long one and may be of interest to those who are interested in neurodiversity and ‘how to think smarter about people who think differently’.
The things you can see only when you slow down, by Haemin Sunim – A favorite I still dip into often and have given copies as gifts to friends. It offers wise words and affirmations about ‘How to be calm in a busy world’.
The rules of work, by Richard Templar – I read this early in my career and always remember its believable usefulness. I reflect now, over 20 years later, and I have to say it's accurate!
Self-awareness is a powerful tool that enables you to better understand your unique strengths and challenges. By embracing how your mind works, practicing self-reflection, seeking feedback, and learning, individuals can lead more fulfilling and empowered lives. Ultimately, self-awareness serves as a foundation for personal growth, allowing individuals to navigate an often busy and sometimes confusing world with more confidence and authenticity.