By Simcha Van Bel-Du Plooy

As relationships are a two-way process, it is important to recognise that both ‘self-awareness’ and ‘awareness of others’ are the elements that enable successful social-emotional interactions.

What does self-awareness involve?

  • Think: Being aware of your thoughts and understanding the difference between facts and opinions is a key foundation phase in the development of effective interactions. Recognising when something is a fact (or an opinion) can assist in more rational problem solving, particularly in social situations, where perspective taking is essential. Breaking down the language you use can be very helpful in identifying rational and irrational emotive responses in the interactions that you engage in. Challenging absolutist language such a “I am….”  “I always…”. “She/he never…” can also assist in enhancing awareness. Reflective writing or journaling is a useful technique that can be integrated into one’s life to enhance self-awareness of thought processes.
  • Feel: Be aware, allow, and manage your feelings. Emotional Control is as important as emotional understanding. Accepting the emotion (frustration/ anger/ sadness/ jealousy/ fear) and accessing the language to label it are an important step. This does not always come naturally and sometimes there may be several emotions inter-playing the process. Listening to other’s labels and reaching out to a support network including friends/ family and/ or therapists can be beneficial. Once labelled, learning how to understand it and manage it in a socially appropriate manner plays a key role in building social-emotional awareness. Being able to stop-think and self-regulate one’s emotions (through breathing/ critical thinking/ physical exercise) are crucial to successful relationships.
  • Resilience: Find your inner strength to persevere and be Resilient. As the Japanese saying goes: ‘fall seven times and stand up eight’. Sometimes things don’t go as expected. Resilience refers to the human ability to recover from a setback. The job that you expected to get but didn’t, the rejection from University or the break-up are all setbacks that can leave an individual feeling de-motivated. Self-awareness and recognition of one’s support system, as well as perspective-taking play a key role in supporting the development of resilience. Managing one’s thoughts and self-motivating during times of difficulty can aid perseverance and resilience, factors which support positive social experiences.

What does awareness of others involve?

  • EmpathiseThis is the acceptance and affirmation of other’s emotions in the absence of any judgement. It is not easy but being permissive of an emotion that another adult/ or child is experiencing (even if you disagree with it) builds strong social-emotional bonds. Demonstrating genuine empathy is also self-rewarding as it plays a relational role in the building of trust and closer connections that involve acceptance and security.
  • Active listening: This skill can be inter-linked with self-awareness as it involves the ability to listen openly to alternative perspectives. It involves stepping out of your mind, thoughts, ideas and being able to hear another person’s views – without needing to judge or provide an opinion.
  • Communicate and collaborate: This involves working with others in ideas-sharing and open discussion as a learning method to gain more insight into your own behaviours as well as other people’s responses to you. A useful tool is Johari’s Window, which is a technique that was created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham to aid people with better understanding their relationships with others and themselves. The ‘you’ that you see is not necessarily the ‘you’ that other people see. This leads to insight not only about yourself, but also about others. When, however, you are faced with a difference in opinion, you may feel challenged and lean towards negotiation.