We all find ourselves being self-reflective from time-to time. It is, in many ways, an automatic process we may find ourselves engaging in throughout everyday life, such as following a social encounter, or experiencing a challenge at work.
It is also something that is encouraged during many mental health interventions in order to make active progress. But what exactly is involved in ‘self-reflection’? And what is the difference between doing this in a healthy and unhealthy way?
What is ‘self-reflection’?
Personal self-reflection can be described as checking in on oneself emotionally, and analysing how we feel in order to make sense of how we are, and why we feel the way we do.
We may briefly consider on a surface level why we feel, think, or behave the way we do. It can be considered an everyday, self-preserving task, which are particularly triggered by salient events. Other times, it is used as a more active, mental exercise in order to investigate who we are, the progress of our personal growth, or used for trickier problem solving.
Some self-reflective questions that you could ask yourself may include:
- How do I feel? Why do I feel that way? How often do I feel like this?
- What do I think about myself? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?
- What do I like? What do I dislike? What to I look for in other people?
- What are my values? What is important to me? What is less important?
To analyse an experience, you may ask yourself:
- How did I contribute to that situation?
- What did I do well? What would I do differently?
- How did I react to others? How did they react to me?
- How did I feel before, during and after? How much of my feelings can I attribute to the situation?
What are the benefits?
When done in a healthy, balanced way, self-reflection can have many benefits.
- Healthier mental wellbeing. Being reflective and self-aware means that you can acknowledge both your strengths and weaknesses, naturally leading to a realistic self-view and healthy self-esteem.
- Helps us establish clear and efficient goal-setting. Actively reflecting can be a successful way of keeping track of your progress, be it professional or personal.
- Perceived self-control. Negative thoughts and feelings can seem even more daunting and more difficult to change if you do not believe you have the ability or know-how to change them. Being more aware as to why we feel or think a certain way may allow us to feel more in control to change.
- Aids problem solving skills. Self-reflecting provides the opportunity to actively problem-solve.
The negative side of self-reflection
There is a negative side to self-reflection, which can link to certain mental health issues. Researchers have found that to gain the most out of self-reflection, it needs to be done in a balanced way. For example, self-reflecting excessively can lead to a decline in mental wellbeing. Here are a few examples of how negative self-reflection can impact us:
- Styles of overthinking
1) Many people may confuse healthy self-reflection with rumination. Rumination is characterised by continuously thinking about the same negative thoughts over and over, struggling to find resolution (see our blog on rumination here). Ruminating is not a healthy form of self-reflecting as it is stuck on the negative, and without engaging in successful problem solving.
2) Worrying is another style of overthinking similar to self-reflecting. Instead, worrying involves dwelling on the future that causes us stress and anxiety. Again this is not a helpful process as it is not objective and can make the anxiety worse.
- The impact on our self-esteem
When self-reflecting with the goal to improve ourselves in some way, it can be easy to slip into evaluating ourselves only in a negative light. Although it can be useful to reflect on our faults, it is not helpful to focus on them continuously, as this can have a negative impact on our general self-esteem.
Both rumination, excessive worrying and low self-esteem can lead to depressive and anxious episodes.
How to self-reflect in a healthy way
It can be easy for self-reflecting to turn into overthinking, ruminating or worrying. So here are a few techniques that can aid healthy self-reflection:
- Meditating/breathing exercises beforehand. It can be tricky to attempt to self-reflect well when you have a very busy mind. Doing a couple of breathing exercises can help ground you, and make subsequent reflecting easier and more successful.
- Journaling. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what you think, and how you feel about something until you’ve written it down . Writing/journaling helps us think about situations chronologically, clearly and objectively. You can buy journals that are designed for self-reflection and offer useful prompts.
- Keep it balanced! Consider the self-reflection example questions above. You may notice how they are not really focused on the positive or negative, but look at both. Noticing what we do well, as well as areas of improvement, is also important when it comes to making progress.
- Talk to someone you trust. To avoid going in circles, getting another perspective can be really helpful, and lead you to draw fairer (and sometimes more realistic) conclusions. This is particularly helpful when reflecting on experiences. For example, if you have made a small mistake at work, you may worry that the mistake is bigger than it really is. So, in this case, speaking to a colleague to confirm this would be helpful.
In a mental health setting
Self-reflection and self-awareness is a big part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and counselling. During CBT especially, therapists encourage those they work with to be self-reflective throughout the sessions. This is particularly important when establishing the thoughts and behaviours that maintain difficult emotions, in order to then challenge them. Counselling is similar, as it requires you to reflect on past events and experiences to understand your emotions and thought processes.
If you believe you require professional help, feel free to contact us. We provide fast access to CBT and counselling treatment for some of the issues raised above. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108, or by emailing email@example.com.