Why is it so important to develop a strong sense of self and cultivate a solid self-identity? A major component of loving yourself is knowing yourself, which is tough to accomplish if you don’t have a strong sense of self. 

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, you need to love yourself before you can love someone else, I would be set for life! Whenever I used to hear this, I’d typically roll my eyes and think nothing of it. Another cliché expression. However, as I have gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I have grown to understand the importance of self-love and by association, self-identity. 

As a clinical counselor, the concept of one’s sense of self comes into play quite frequently in therapy. As counselors, through virtual or in-person sessions, we can help our clients develop a strong sense of self.

While I believe the journey towards greater self-love and having a strong sense of self is something that will ebb and flow throughout your lifetime, I do think knowing what you stand for, what your values are, and what you see as a priority can make or break a relationship with yourself and others. 

What is Sense of Self (and What Does it Mean to Develop a Strong Sense of Self?)

So, what does it mean to have a strong “sense of self” or strong self-identity, and why is it so important?

Your sense of self tends to be poor if you don’t know yourself very well. Your sense of self is a culmination of attributes and characteristics that you perceive define you. This includes your personality traits, likes and dislikes, your various values and priorities, as well as what you define as your core values.

List of core values

All of these aspects of yourself contribute to your self-image, self-identity, and what makes you, you! Most of us don’t spend too much time really thinking about this stuff on a day-to-day basis, and many of us don’t take the time to truly get to know ourselves. However, your self-identity and your ability to develop a strong sense of self greatly affects your life and your relationships. 

You Need to Get to Know Yourself Well, in Order to Develop a Healthy and Strong Relationship with Yourself

A strong relationship with yourself usually supports a strong relationship with others. A less defined relationship with yourself or a poor sense of self could lead to unhappiness or losing yourself in a relationship. 

When I look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly of my past dating life – one thing is for certain: the bad was not just about the other person, but most of the time, more to do with me and my lack of understanding who I was. In other words, a poor sense of self was impacting my relationships, and I needed to learn how to develop a strong sense of self.

I’m married now, but had years of bad luck in dating before this now successful relationship. I would gravitate towards anyone who would pay me any attention. In my early adulthood, I was insecure and lost. I’d simply latch onto anything and anyone who would give me a false sense of identity and therefore, a false sense of security. 

If there’s one thing I wish I was told earlier in my dating life, it’s this: don’t go into a relationship unless you know you will still love yourself if it ends. It took me a long time to understand what that meant.

Why is it So Important to Have a Strong Sense of Self? 

Your own identity and sense of self fuels your perception of worth and value. If you don’t have a strong sense of self, your worth and value will become dependent on external factors and other people. With a poor sense of self, you are no longer in control of your worth. A poor sense of self also often leads to poor boundaries with others. 

Lacking a clearly defined sense of self makes it hard to know exactly what we want out of life or out of a relationship. Without a strong sense of self, we can often be  indecisive and easily influenced by others rather than being influenced by our own values and moral code. As a consequence, one with a lack of self-identity could drift through life at the hands of others’ decisions rather than their own.

How to Develop a Strong Sense of Self

So, how does one even start to work on achieving a stronger sense of self? Get out your journal and a pen, because you can get to know yourself quite well just by writing facts about yourself down on paper. Below are some examples of key questions you can ask yourself (and answer in your journal) to improve your self-identity, get to know yourself, and master how to develop a strong sense of self:

Woman writing in her self-discovery journal

Journal Prompts for Self-Discovery

  • What are some of my core values? (Examples: honesty, vulnerability, openness, generosity, adventure, freedom, courage.)
  • What types of things truly bring me happiness? (Are you happiest curled up at home, wrapped in blankets with a good book? Or dancing salsa with your friends at a bar? Are you happiest when you travel, or when you’re spending time with family?)
  • Am I good at setting boundaries? (Do you tend to firmly state what you’re comfortable with, or do you say yes to please others?)
  • What are my likes and dislikes? (Make a list and get to know yourself!)
  • What’s an example of my ideal day? (Write details about an imaginary day or weekend that you’d find incredible.)
  • What are my most common emotions? (Reflect on whether you typically feel anxious, ashamed, excited, etc.)
  • What are 5 ordinary things that bring me joy?
  • What is my ideal type of vacation? (Write details about your dream getaway and why.)

All of the above journal prompts for self-discovery can help you develop a strong sense of self and get to know yourself better, which will lead to better relationships. 

You can also book a session with a registered clinical counselor, and let them know your goals of improving your self-identity. 

Do You Spend Enough Time Alone to Figure Out Your Self-Identity?

Enjoying spending time with yourself is key to learning how to develop a strong sense of self. Get to know yourself, enjoy alone time, and schedule alone time. If you don’t like being alone with yourself, why would others? Take time to experiment with different hobbies. Who knows, maybe you are a sick crossstitcher! Read more books, all different genres, figure out what stimulates you and what you like. Consider meditation and mindfulness, and definitely start a self-discovery journal. You will be surprised what comes out when you just start writing for no other purpose than getting to know yourself. When we learn to love spending time on our own, we become less dependent on the need for others and more independent in relationships.  

Improving Your Sense of Self: Final Thoughts

Gaining a strong sense of self takes time, and it’s likely not achievable by just reading articles or “self-help books”. We often have to dive a bit deeper, spend the time alone with our journal and our thoughts, overcome certain traumas, and be challenged by a professional therapist in order to truly develop an understanding of ourselves, thus culminating a healthy sense of self-worth and self-love. Speaking to a qualified professional such as a counselor or therapist can be a great first step to take on your journey to self discovery. 

A loose sense of self is often linked to toxic relationships, low mood, low self-esteem, anxiety, indecisiveness, unhappiness in relationships, and a persistent sense of dissatisfaction in life. Even if you don’t identify as someone with mental health issues, therapy is still a great place to start self discovery.
At the end of the day, understanding how to develop a strong sense of self is not easy, as our sense of self can shift and change throughout our lifetime. Is it natural to have doubts about who we really are at our core, and who we want to be. It is never too late (or too early) to drop the mask and start the process of honest self exploration.

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