Self-awareness within nursing is necessary in order to become the best practitioner possible. Self-awareness considers the idea that of ‘being conscious’ in order to understand ‘ourselves’ (Burnard 1986, Rawlinson 1990 cited in Jack, Smith 2007). This means that nurses need to understand themselves, their personality, their strengths and their weaknesses. According to Goleman (2005) being self-aware allows a person therefore a nurse to stay in control of their emotions rather than allowing those in the caring profession to be overwhelmed. As well as giving nurses control, patients will be better cared for since the nurses can control their emotions and feel detached. Similarly self-awareness helps to maintain professional behaviour in difficult situations. Patients will not feel like a burden and moral amongst colleagues will stay positive (Jack, Smith 2007). Self-awareness is split into different sections according to Smith (2007) which is outlined below.
Firstly, it is important that nurses are aware how they are communicating with patients which in turn impacts on the care patients receive. Egan (1998) suggested a model SOLER for monitoring non-verbal communication: “sit squarely; open posture; lean forward; eye contact; relaxed and unhurried appearance” (Egan 1998 cited in Jack, Smith 2007). This would help with building trust with patients and allow patients to feel comfortable to discuss sensitive issues (Jack, Smith 2007). More importantly if a nurse is self-aware, they would be able to actively and consciously display this behaviour. If a nurse is having a difficult day or are suffering with personal issues, through self-awareness, they’ll be able to use Egan’s model to stay and communicate positively with patients.
Furthermore, self-awareness does not just benefit the patients and how patients feel. Self-awareness impacts on our own personal wellbeing (Jack, Smith 2007). When facing difficult situations such as patients nearing the end of their life, nurses are likely to feel stressed or anxious. However if we are aware of our emotions, we can address this instantly and apply techniques like anchoring (visualizing in our minds a time or place that brings us calm e.g. the seaside) (McLeod 2003). As a nurse’s career and practice develops, they are more likely to understand which situations causes anxiety and overwhelming emotions. Consequently, as nurses we can plan for detachment and use techniques such as anchoring to stay in control. This self-awareness will in turn prevent adverse effects of stress on our own lives.
Having explored why self-awareness is important, it is necessary that we find ways of developing our self-awareness. Burnard (1998) described self-awareness as a never-ending journey while Luft (1969) proposed the model Johari Window. This explores the idea of several layers of self-awareness- open, blind, hidden, unknown. What should be of interest from this model is the blind area (what others know about us that we don’t know) and the unknown (things we and others have not discovered about ourselves). It is only by identifying these areas with the help of others that we can become aware of areas within ourselves that need developing and thus improve both our wellbeing, our practice and most importantly patient care. Sometimes, accepting criticisms from others can be painful yet it’s necessary to enable us to move forward. At this point, Kubler-Ross’s Change Curve inspired by Kotler’s five stages of grief can be applied to the process of accepting changes where after the initial shock and anger, we can accept the change needed within ourselves (Lock 2020).
Finally, using a method to actively reflect is necessary to allow nurses to understand themselves but also to make positive changes for the future (Jack, Smith 2007). Most importantly, it allows nurses to see the impact of their behaviours and actions on others. An added benefit is that reflecting can be cathartic (Boud et al 1985). It allows nurses to process difficult emotions associated with working closely with patients who are suffering intensely. Having released their emotions in a reflective activity refreshes nurses to enable them to deal with the next patient. The most common way of reflecting is to use a diary entry and for nurses to use these entries as part of their portfolio. It would be an idea for nurses to write a diary entry at the end of each day detailing their activities, the positives, criticisms and ways to improve in the future. However it can also be spontaneous and creative (Boud 1985). It is a personal record and the nurse should therefore feel free in the way they express themselves whether it is a drawing or a paragraph (Boud 1985). By keeping a record, it allows nurses to become self-aware in how they can develop their practice for both their own well-being and their patients.
To conclude, the nursing profession puts patient well-being at the centre. However for nurses to effectively do this, they need to have self-awareness of both their emotions so they self-regulate their emotions in the presence of the patients and for their own well-being. Reflecting by keeping a diary entry would be a way of ensuring self-awareness is a regular activity.
- Boud D, Keogh R, Walker D (1985) Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. Kogan Page, London.
- Burnard P (1986) Integrated self-awareness training: a holistic model. Nurse Education Today. 6, 5, 219-222.
- Egan G (1998) The Skilled Helper. A Problem Management Approach to Helping. Sixth edition. Brooks Cole, Pacific Grove CA.
- Goleman D (1995) Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. Bloomsbury, London.
- Lock (2020) Kubler-Ross Change Curve available at https://daniellock.com/kubler-ross-change-curve/ accessed on 18/04/2020
- Luft J (1969) Of Human Interaction. National Press, Palo Alto CA.
- McLeod A (2003) Performance Coaching: The Handbook for Managers, HR Professionals and Coaches. Crown House, Carmarthen
- Rawlinson JW (1990) Selfawareness: conceptual influences, contribution to nursing, and approaches to attainment. Nurse Education Today. 10, 2, 111-117
- Rungapadiachy DM (1999) Interpersonal Communication and Psychology for Health Care Professionals. Elsevier, Edinburgh.
- Jack K, Smith, A (2007) Promoting self-awareness in nurses to improve nursing practice Nursing Standard. 21, 32, 47-52.