Personal Insight – Why is it important for every human being to develop this ability?  

The development of personal insight is vital for human beings as it is enables us to evaluate ourselves within the social world in which we live.  It assists us to develop a positive sense of self and to get along well with others.  It assists us to gauge whether our behaviour is helpful in relationships with self and others or whether our actions might be causing more challenges than necessary. 

 Insight helps us evaluate our personality. Do we like ourselves and feel we are making positive contributions in the world?  Are there parts of our personality we would like to change or develop to help us become a person we admire or live to our highest potential. 

Personal insight helps us determine what we like and don’t like, what makes us comfortable or causes us to feel unsafe, what we are passionate about, whether we are happy and satisfied in our life, what would need to change to create a greater sense of wellbeing.

 Most of us have experienced being criticised by others at some time in our lives. Well developed personal insight helps us to honestly evaluate whether a person’s feedback about us is accurate or not.  If we can see they have a point we may decide we need to work on this issue.  However, there are times when other people’s criticisms have more to do with them than us.  If our own sense of identity is well developed we are able to recognise this and choose not to let the other person’s angst have a negative impact on us.

Our physical body uses its senses to provide us with insight.  We receive signals we call feelings and this helps us assess our environment.  If we touch a fire our body sends a signal that the heat hurts and the resulting insight is not to do that again. If we have a fight with a loved one our body tenses or feels heavy and our insight tells us we don’t like this so we try something different to avoid this in future. 

 Our physical feelings tell us other information such as when we are hungry, tired, need to exercise or rest.  Our body also tells us when our physical boundaries have been breached if someone has crossed into our personal space making us uncomfortable.  Have you ever felt someone walk into your space and your body instinctively wants to move away?

 Many of us, as children, have been taught to ignore the natural signals of our body in favour of external directions and feedback from others.  For example, when you were at school learning about maths and all you wanted was go for a run outside. When you felt full at dinner ,and regardless, your parents told you to eat everything on your plate or when you didn’t want to give Aunty June a hug but were told not to be rude if you expressed reluctance.  The result is often that we have become disconnected from our body’s insights and the vital information it has to share for our health and wellbeing.

 If you want to enjoy wonderful relationships with yourself and other people, if it is important to you to get the most out of life then personal insight is one of the most valuable skills you can develop.  It will help you achieve these things so long as you are also prepared to be honest with yourself and are willing to make changes.


Doesn’t everybody have Personal Insight – aren’t we born with it?

Well, not necessarily.  As a counsellor I have met many people who have a great deal of personal insight and just need some help sorting through it.  I have met equally as many people who have not spend much time developing personal insight and as a result know very little about themselves and have trouble identifying sources of the unhappiness they are experiencing in their lives and how to change things.

 Have you ever met a person who rarely takes responsibility for things that happen in their lives? It is always something or someone else’s fault, they see themselves as the victim in most situations? Do you know people who seem to be stuck repeating the same patterns of behaviour and don’t seem able to break out of these?  What about those who have been in an unhappy situation for a long time and just can’t see what they could do to move forward?  These are people whose personal insight is likely to be fairly limited. 

There are some cases where personal insight is diminished for reasons beyond their control such as someone who has an intellectual disability, a mental illness, an acquired brain injury or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Dementia.  These people need additional help from others.  Other self imposed measures that can limit insight include use of drugs or alcohol. 

The level of personal insight we have is on a continuum, some have very little while other’s can over analyse their lives.  For some people it does seem to come naturally, others need to work at developing this ability just like with any skill.  Some people learn to walk or talk quicker than others, some are natural musicians, others have a mind for science.  Also, like every other skill, most of us are able to strengthen our abilities if we put in the time. 


What are the indicators of well developed Personal Insight?


  • Do you spend regular time focussing your attention on what is happening inside your body, noticing how it’s different parts are feeling?
  • Do you Spend regular time focussing on your own thoughts about yourself, your life, relationships and the world around you?
  • When an event happens in your life, do you think about what caused it? What parts you, others or the environment might have played to contribute?
  • In conflict situations do you ask yourself how this happened, what part you played and what you might do differently next time? Do you think about what you could do to try to repair the relationship?
  • Are you aware of your ways of relating to other people in different situations, your patterns of behaviour or habits and the impact of these?
  • If you are feeling unhappy with some aspect of your life do you think about why you feel this way, contributing factors, things you could change? Whether you need to move on and if so? How would you go about that?
  • When you experience emotions do you allowing yourself to really feel it, to explore the true cause, ask yourself what you need to care for yourself and help you feel better or do you just push emotions away and get on with your day?
  • Are you aware of how you enjoy spending your time? What you like to do or don’t like? Your strengths and areas to work on?
  • Do you recognise early signs in your body that tell you that your comfort level has changed? Do you know how your body feels when it is getting tired, stressed, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, angry? Have you worked out strategies to help you cope when these feelings come upon you? Have you developed self soothing techniques? 


Personal Insight is about:


  • Asking yourself questions about you, your life and your relationships.
  • Learning as much as you can about the kind of person you are and what you need to help you feel safe, healthy and happy.
  • Discovering patterns of behaviour you follow in particular situations or relationships and evaluating whether these are helpful or unhelpful.
  • Determining when changes are needed inside yourself or with circumstances outside of you.
  • Figuring out what contributions you are able to make to the world, the skills and gifts you have to offer and how you could develop these.
  • Recognising life circumstances that have helped strengthen you and those that have been hurtful and still impact on you today.
  • Processing hurtful experiences in ways that help you let go and heal you heart, mind and body.
  • Recognising how your body has been holding onto hurt, the impact this has on your physical health and what will help you to heal.


If you do some, many or all of these things on a reasonably regular basis then your personal insight is likely to be well developed.  If you don’t spend much time on any of these and the majority of your attention is spent on your job, busy daily chores, moving from one crisis or drama to the next or caring for or helping other people with their lives.  Perhaps you tend to be the kind of person who is passionate or single minded about in your interests like sports, facebook/twitter/instogram etc, watching tv or playing video games.  If this is the case, time spent developing insight is not likely to be a priority.  This could become a problem over time, you may find you begin to develop health concerns, relationship problems and other issues as life is likely to be out of balance. 

 You do not need to spend every waking moment being insightful but a few minutes each day and making time when something specific has happened that has taken you out of your comfort zone, would be of great benefit to everyone.

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