On some level, all of us suffer from a lack of self-awareness.
It means that we are blind to certain negative behaviors in ourselves that are obvious to everybody else.
So what can you do?
First, there are telltale signs. If you know what to look for, you can identify these negative behaviors.
Second, there are proven strategies you can apply. For example, you can actively seek out feedback from others.
This article will help with both of these.
27 Signs That Indicate a Lack of Self-Awareness
Research by organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich has shown that 95 percent of people think they are self-aware. But in reality, only 10–15 percent of us are.
This means, at any time, about 80 percent of us are lying to ourselves.
To overcome this, you must learn to spot certain signs which indicate a lack of self-awareness.
1. You Regularly Broach Sensitive Topics
Your team is enjoying happy hour at Applebee’s. At some point, your boss remarks on Peter getting a promotion soon. Before you can stop yourself, you blurt out, “But I thought he was currently job hunting?”
Another night. You are sitting together with your friend and his new girlfriend. The topic of children comes up. She seems keen. Yet, the first thing you say is, “Have you not told her about your vasectomy?”
Regularly broaching sensitive topics is one of the classic signs of lacking self-awareness.
Because you are so out of touch, you don’t consider the impact of your words on your environment. Only belatedly do you realize what damage you have wrecked.
2. You Are Surrounded by Drama
Wherever you go, drama seems to follow.
“The people at work totally exaggerated what I said.”
“Amanda is always scheming behind my back.”
“This guy at the DMV just had it in for me.”
If drama seeks you out like bees to honey, it’s because of you. You are the common denominator here.
Everybody else already realizes that. But you don’t because you lack self-awareness.
3. You Can’t Take Feedback
I don’t take feedback very well.
My first reaction is to get defensive. I’ll start looking for logical holes in their argument to make them look stupid.
When I don’t find any, I’ll resort to pointing out their shortcomings to get back at them.
Only much later, sometimes weeks or months, can I actually consider what they said to me.
This is due to a lack of self-awareness. We are so fixated on our fragile egos that we don’t want to look at the truth.
4. You Have an Inflated Opinion of Yourself
People who lack self-awareness often overestimate their own capabilities.
They think they can a do certain task much faster than anybody else.
They think they are irresistible to others.
They cannot stop talking about how successful they are.
All of this points at a fundamental flaw — you don’t see things as they are. Instead, you fixate on yourself.
5. You Are Downplaying the Accomplishments of Others
Every boaster has a fundamental problem to deal with — there are always other people who have accomplished more.
Therefore, he must put these people down.
Popular rationalizations include:
“She is only successful because of her rich parents.”
“He just got lucky.”
“She cheated her way to the top.”
If you catch yourself using such rationalizations, it’s time to pause and reflect. You might not be aware of what you are doing.
6. You Lack Empathy
The unaware person cannot imagine how others feel.
Their hopes, their pains, their insecurities — nothing registers. Other people are just a backdrop in a painting.
This is not due to ill intent, but to blindness.
It’s the child in us that never grew up. It wants all the attention.
7. You Show Narcissistic Tendencies
You think you were meant to do great things.
You think it’s important for someone to record what you just said.
You assume that everybody is falling for you.
These are telltale signs of a narcissistic personality. You perceive yourself as the center of the universe. Nothing else matters.
But this lack of self-awareness will get you into trouble. The world does not exist to please you. And it will let you know.
8. You Claim All Successes, You Deny All Failures
Whatever went right — you made it happen.
Whatever went wrong — it is someone else’s fault.
In recent history, a prime example of that behavior is Donald Trump. He claimed all successes were thanks to him, even for projects that he was not involved with.
But whenever something went south, his first reaction was to point the finger. Not once did he take responsibility for a mistake.
This hypocrisy stems from lack of self-awareness. Like a child, you just want to shine.
9. You Can’t Stay on Topic
When you ask your friend about how his vacation was, and he gets hung up on his seatmate during the flight, something is amiss.
The inability to answer a question is not some loveable spleen. It means you never consider the questioner.
The consequences are not trivial. In business, people like this will cost you money. In relationships, people like this will cost you time and energy.
So if you catch yourself meandering a lot, consider your own lack of self-awareness.
10. You Cannot Change Your Mind
Nobody is always right. I catch myself being wrong on an hourly basis.
The smart thing is to acknowledge when you are wrong, and change your position accordingly.
But the unaware person cannot do that. They must always be right. Their self-worth depends on it.
Therefore, being too fixated on an idea should give you pause. It might hint at a lack of self-awareness.
11. You Always Know the Answer
Whatever questions other people struggle with, you already know the answer.
Climate change? The upcoming recession? How David got fired? Why Diana cannot lose weight?
You got it.
By having all the answers, the unaware person experiences themselves as powerful. If they didn’t, they would have to acknowledge their fallibility. That, they cannot and will not accept.
12. You Cannot Explain Your Why
People who lack self-awareness can rarely explain their reasons for doing something.
Since they don’t understand their inner workings, articulating their values, goals and ideas becomes impossible.
Instead, when making decisions, they rely on their feelings.
But in doing this, you will paint yourself into a corner. You will always go with what makes you feel better now, but ignore long-term consequences.
13. You Come to Regret Decisions
To make the right decisions in life, you need to be able to project into the future. What will matter to me in ten years from now? How will I have changed? What resources will I have available then?
That requires a high-level of self-awareness.
This is why the unaware person so often comes to regret their decisions. All that counts is the moment. Tomorrow never comes — until it does.
14. You Seek Approval
With whatever I do, I try to get attention. I wish to be admired, constantly.
This is why I was such a wonk in college. It’s why I obsessed so much about becoming a BJJ black belt. And it’s one of the driving forces behind this blog.
I just crave the approval.
Letting this tendency take over signals a lack of self-awareness. We are so obsessed with getting patted on the head, we forget about life and the people around us.
15. You Are Forgetful
Memory is one of the foundations of self-awareness.
It helps you understand how you became who you are, and what shaped you along the way.
It also helps you to understand the people close to you. You don’t just have the current point in time as a reference, but also your previous experiences with them to go by.
So, not surprisingly, the unaware person often suffers from a bad memory.
They will forget what you experienced together. They won’t remember what they already told you. They will not recall people they have met before.
16. You Suppress Your Emotions
We all experience a wide range of emotions. But if you lack self-awareness, you just push them down.
This can manifest in different ways:
- Because of unresolved issues, you are more prone to depression and panic attacks
- You are more likely to develop neurotic behaviors and ticks
- You will sometimes explode, seemingly out of the blue
17. You Are a Poor Communicator
When you don’t understand yourself, it becomes very difficult to communicate with others. Unresolved issues and insecurities tend to interfere.
At the same time, you can’t understand where the other person is coming from. You are just as unaware of them as you are of yourself.
This results in a high number of failed interactions. Eventually, the unaware person might avoid all discussions, as they lead nowhere.
18. You Lack Success
The unaware person oftentimes lacks success. This is because they refuse to look at reality as it is.
Rather, they cling to a version of reality that portrays them as the star.
When I was younger, I would oftentimes dream of all the great things I would do. I thought I was smart, and that success was inevitable.
But somehow, that success did not manifest, at least not to the extent that I had imagined.
At some point, I had to admit that this was my fault. I was too prone to switching projects all the time. I craved the variety. And I had a massive fear of missing out.
Only when I realized this did things become a bit better.
If success keeps eluding you, it has nothing to do with bad luck, but a lack of self-awareness.
19. You Are Prone to Emotional Outbursts
The unaware person often suffers from emotional outbursts, like nervous breakdowns, panic attacks, fits of rage, or uncontrollable laughter.
When you understand your inner workings, you cannot manage yourself. If there is tension, it will manifest.
And while these outbursts serve a cathartic function for the unaware person — one minute they are yelling, the next they are jovial again — they destroy relationships.
So pay attention to how often you lose it. It’s another indication that you lack self-awareness.
20. You Can’t Shut Up
“Oh bro! Did you see that? I totally nailed that. High five!”
The unaware person cannot stop blabbering. Their favorite topic — themselves.
Which is ironic, because they know so little about themselves. What they feel. What they truly want.
“Did you hear what she said the other day? She totally bombed that meeting. I mean, how pathetic is she, right?”
The other thing they cannot stop is commenting on other people. The unaware person loves to gossip.
Which, again, is ironic, as they have no grasp on what makes other people tick.
Talkativeness is not some loveable idiosyncrasy. If you cannot shut up, it means you have no conscious filters. Language will give away the unaware person every time.
21. You Never Admit Mistakes
I know someone who is completely unable to admit any mistakes.
He might say, “I will send this letter to the IRS,” which then never gets sent. Now there are fines to pay.
He will gladly pay the fines, and not even complain.
But he will also claim that you were supposed to take care of it.
The evidence does not matter. You could play a recording of him agreeing to send the letter — he would simply deny that it is his voice.
In his world, he makes no mistakes.
Obviously, this signals massive lack of self-awareness.
22. You Don’t Like to Read
Being unaware and a dislike for reading almost always go hand in hand.
Reading forces you to slip into someone else’s clothes, to look at the world through their eyes.
For the unaware person, that’s torture. They are suddenly confronted with an alternative view of reality, one that threatens the house of cards they have built for themselves.
Consequently, they shun reading like they would the devil.
23. You Avoid Hard Decisions
I will oftentimes put off making hard decisions for as long as I can, due to lack of self-awareness.
For example, I might defer ridding myself of an annoying client, even though it’s clear they will keep creating problems for me.
But I only see the immediate repercussions. The difficult conversation. The loss in revenue.
The inability to make hard decisions is typical for unaware people, as they cannot prioritize reason over emotions.
24. You Suffer From Victim Mentality
You are unemployed? It’s all these immigrants stealing our jobs.
You hate your job? It’s the rich making you do such demeaning work.
You are lonely? It’s these women not appreciating what a great guy you are.
There is always someone else to blame for your bad luck.
Such a victim mentality signals a lack of self-awareness. In our delusion, we expect the world to accommodate us. But the world (rightfully) does not care.
25. You Have Some Kind of Addiction
When reality keeps thwarting your fantasies, pain ensues.
So we self-medicate — drugs, booze, social media, fast food. Choose your poison.
This intensifies the problem. These substances will make you feel better in the moment. But by ignoring the root cause, you allow reality and fantasy to drift further and further apart.
The unaware person doesn’t care.
26. You Think in Terms of “Us vs. Them”
A lack of self-awareness lends itself to groupthink.
After all, you are floating. You don’t know your values. You lack direction. Your emotions dictate your actions.
So, at the first chance, you join a movement.
Inside the herd, there is clarity. We all hate immigrants. Vaccinations are poison. These old white men don’t respect my pronouns.
Everybody who is not part of the herd is now considered an enemy. Thus, a lack of self-awareness leads to an “us vs. them” dynamic.
27. You Are Not Interested in the Past
Let’s say you grew up ultra religious.
Any type of sexuality was condemned, you were only allowed to read certain books, and your friends all came from church.
Now you suffer from depression, neuroses, and sexual insecurities.
But to overcome this, you would have to admit that your parents cared more about an ideology than they did about you. And you would have to confront them about it.
That is too high a price to pay for many people. So they choose to ignore the past and remain blind.
How To Develop Self-Awareness
We are all born with zero self-awareness. All the self-awareness we possess, we have acquired along the way.
That means it’s a skill that can be learned. If you currently suffer from a lack of self-awareness, there are things you can do to change that.
Here are a few pointers to get you started.
1. Start Observing
Observing is the prerequisite for self-awareness. You must first become good at understanding others before you can start to understand yourself.
It is how we learn, through pattern recognition. Behaviors that we consistently observe become tangible.
Make a point to closely watch people everywhere — on the subway, at work, waiting in line, sitting at a café.
Become a social scientist hunting for evidence. That girl’s artificial laughter. That guy not really answering his wife’s question. Your boss trying to blame others for his mistake.
With time, observing others will spill over into observing yourself. You will recognize the same patterns that you see in others.
2. Ask For Feedback
The best way to tackle your lack of self-awareness is to ask others. Where you are blind to yourself, the people around you picked up on your blind spots a long time ago.
Unfortunately, the social convention is to not tell others what you truly think about them. At best, we give them a very mitigated version of the truth. At worst, we just exchange niceties.
So in order to get helpful feedback, you must first let people know that you want to bypass that convention. Ask them to tell you how they see you, your shortcomings, without any sugarcoating.
For this to work, you must assure them you won’t hold it against them. And then you must really not do so. Otherwise, you won’t get any honest feedback from this person ever again.
3. Process the Feedback
Hearing about your shortcomings from somebody else is not easy. No matter how mature you think yourself, there is always a bit of an emotional sting.
To soften that, write down what the other person said right away. Then just let it sit for a while. This way, the initial hurt starts to dissipate.
Once time has worked its magic, revisit the feedback.
Start to analyze:
- Does their criticism ring true? What specifically?
- Have other people told you similar things?
- What triggers this behavior? Are there factors like specific people, places, or situations that bring it out?
- If you display certain signs of unaware behavior, why is that? Could there be a hidden cause, maybe some childhood trauma that manifests itself this way?
Now try to spot that behavior in real life. For example, if you were told that you are very approval seeking, this is your cue. Whenever you catch yourself bragging to others, take a note on your phone, so you won’t forget about the incident.
Then later, revisit the situation in writing:
- How did it come about?
- What do you imagine the people around you felt when you had to tell them about that new client you closed or your most recent sexual conquest?
- Why did you feel the strong urge to do so in the first place?
- Most importantly, how could you have behaved instead?
Journaling is one of the most effective tools to combat a lack of self-awareness. By reflecting about your life in writing, you are creating more awareness — about what is going on, how your life’s trajectory is moving, and how you are perceived by others.
4. Name It
Journaling is a highly effective method to develop more self-awareness, but it is not that flexible. You need writing materials. You need some time. You need a quiet environment. And you need to be willing.
But even without any of these, you can still work on your self-awareness, using an exercise that I call “Name it.”
It’s very simple. Throughout the day, at random moments, ask yourself:
- What behavior am I displaying?
- Why am I doing that?
- How does that make me feel?
By asking yourself these three simple questions again and again, you condition yourself to become a mirror of yourself.
5. Talk to Strangers
I mentioned earlier how it is difficult to get honest feedback from others, as social convention tells us to be “nice.”
But there is an easy way to circumvent that — talk to strangers.
Strangers are less likely to butter you up, since they have no stake in you. You are just some random person that approached them.
It does not matter how you start the conversation. You could give a compliment. Ask for directions. Comment on the music at the bar. Put out your hand and say, “Nice to meet you.”
Even if they do not flat out reject you, they will let you feel what they think of you. It’s in their tone, their eye contact, their body language.
You can even ask them afterwards what they thought about your approach. Explain to them that you are struggling with self-awareness and want to get some feedback. Were you too presumptuous? Too timid? Too focused on yourself?
If you can stomach the feedback, this is a fast track to learning about yourself.
6. Start Reading Fiction
Reading is another powerful tool to develop more self-awareness.
When you read, you are forced to see the world through somebody else’s eyes.
This makes you realize how other people are different from you, how they subscribe to other values, suffer from different insecurities, and strive for different goals.
Interestingly, through experiencing these differences, we start to develop a better sense of who we are, where we stand, and what motivates us. We define ourselves by what we are not.
What differentiates reading from observing people in real life is that in real life, we cannot look inside somebody’s head. We can only go by their outwards behavior to deduce their inner workings.
Reading eliminates this detour. We get direct access. We can amass the inner workings of hundreds and thousands of minds we meet in books. And the more we do so, the clearer the outlines of our self become.
7. Try Coaching/Therapy
The ultimate feedback loop I know of is coaching/therapy.
Just like talking to strangers, your coach or therapist has no emotional stake in you. They are not trying to become your friend or to please you.
But unlike strangers, coaches and therapists specialize in identifying your blind spots. Their whole business is detecting signs of unawareness in you, and then asking, “Why?”
“Why can you not admit mistakes?”
“Why are you so determined to gain approval?”
“Why can you not stop blaming others?”
Coaching/therapy are intimidating processes to people who lack self-awareness. They fear the pain caused from hearing the truth about themselves. That is why they chose unawareness in the first place.
But it’s the fastest way out of this hole. Only when you leave these blind spots behind can you truly become effective, be it in your business or your relationships.
8. Bridge the Gap
Thinking about yourself is not the same as acting differently.
To bridge the gap, you must move from asking, “Why?” to asking, “What?”
“Why does my team not follow my lead?” must become, “What do I need to do to become more inspiring?”
“Why do I suffer from money problems?” must become, “What is my plan to improve my financial standing?”
“Why do I constantly get rejected by romantic interests?” must become, “What do I need to do to become more attractive?”
Asking “Why?” is important. But if you stop at why, nothing is won. You might understand your reasons, but you are still the same person.
Only when you start applying, i.e., checking your ideas against reality, will you truly become more self-aware.
Introspection is useless if it does not lead to action.
9. Manage Your Mental Bandwidth
You must understand that self-awareness fluctuates. It’s not some hill you climb once, and that’s that.
Rather, your self-awareness directly correlates to your available mental bandwidth. If you always have too much to do, you will miss important things, both about yourself and the people around you.
It’s like sinking underwater. Looking up, you can still see the sun and some outlines, but only vaguely.
Therefore, you must come up with strategies to manage mental overload. Only then will you have the capacities to observe yourself and others in full detail.
10. Be Patient
Overcoming a lack of self-awareness takes a lot of time. We are talking years. And ultimately, the process is never finished. There are always more layers to discover, more things to understand about yourself.
So don’t stress yourself out about it. Be patient. Enjoy the process as much as you can, knowing it will take you to new personal heights. Because the more self-aware you become, the better you can navigate reality.
Success and self-awareness go hand in hand.
How To Deal With a Lack of Self-Awareness in Others
At work or in relationships, you might be confronted with some very unaware people. These are the best strategies to deal with that.
1. Take Them As They Are
Don’t try to “make” people more aware. It’s a loosing proposition. You can’t change people. On the contrary, you will just make them resent you.
But while you cannot control their behavior, you can control your own attitude towards them.
Take them as they are. Only expect behaviors in line with their past behavior. This way, they won’t be able to upset you.
Interactions will become more productive for everybody. You won’t feel disappointed. And they won’t feel scolded.
2. Control the Damage
People who lack self-awareness tend to create messes.
Again, don’t blame them. Instead, proactively control the damage.
Block their access to sensitive matters and projects. Only assign them tasks that they can actually do.
In business, don’t promote them to an important position. If you elevate their status, they can do even more damage.
If the damage they wreck is too great, consider letting them go. But spend more time on hiring a better candidate next time.
3. Set Boundaries
To deal with somebody who suffers from a lack of self-awareness, you must set clear boundaries to protect your peace.
For example, tell your freelance graphic designer that she gets three strikes for turning in a project late. After that, she is out.
Similarly, tell your relative that you won’t listen to certain war stories for the 100th time. Otherwise, you will leave the room.
In many cases, these boundaries will still not be respected. That is okay. You did your part. Now you won’t have to feel bad about shutting the other person down.
4. Manage Your Exposure
The easiest way to not go insane from unaware people is to manage your exposure. You make time for people depending on their level of self-awareness.
I have three categories for that. There are:
- 2-minute people
- 20-minute people
- 2-hour people
I will spend a maximum of 2 minutes with some people, and only to get something done. Otherwise, their lack of self-awareness will ruin my day.
Other people I can spend 20 minutes with, and get something out of it. But after that, I call it quits. Because then the negatives will start to take over.
2-hour people are those I truly enjoy. Their level of self-awareness surpasses my own. When talking to them, I almost only ever gain.
It might sound inhumane, but when you put people in categories like that, you can manage them (and your own frustration) much better.
5. Change Your Environment
Sometimes, you can find yourself in an environment that systemically promotes unaware behavior.
If you work in multi-level marketing, you are bound to meet some very deluded people. It’s the same if you join the Proud Boys, the Antifa, or a religious group.
First, remove yourself from these environments. With a systemic lack of self-awareness, there is no point in mitigating. You can’t win.
Second, find better environments and better people. Apply for a new job in a more grounded industry. Find friends with the ability to think critically.
Third, question your own choices. How did I end up here? What choices could I have made differently?
6. Laugh About It
We will never completely escape unaware behavior — not in ourselves, not in others.
So instead of getting worked up all the time, learn to laugh about it.
Next time you have a bad interaction with an unaware person, imagine it was a sitcom. Watch yourself as though you were on a screen. Add a laughing track to everything being sad.
Once you master this, life really becomes more enjoyable.
7. Send The Right Messenger
There are those rare instances, when an unaware person wants to be helped. But before you jump to the rescue, ask yourself first — am I the right messenger?
For someone to accept feedback, they must trust the person giving the feedback. They must be convinced this person has their best interest at heart.
So think about your relationship with the person you are about to help. Are you really that close? Have you tried to help them in the past? How well was that help received?
If any red flags pop up, try to find a better messenger. You will do the other person more good this way.
8. Do It Right
If you do decide to help someone with their lack of self-awareness, pay attention to these best practices:
- Don’t get your hopes up. The help you provide might not change anything. Embrace this as the most likely scenario. This way, you won’t feel disappointed when things don’t work out.
- Anticipate the consequences. Giving feedback comes with risk. You might damage the relationship. You might get fired. Your employee might quit. Assess these risks beforehand.
- Pay attention to power differences. Helping your boss with his self-awareness problem is more risky than helping an underling. Likewise, helping your parents to become more self-aware comes with more repercussions than helping a stranger.
- Talk to them in person. Writing an email or a letter is great for conveying ideas, but not for showing compassion. They must be able to see your face and hear your voice.
- Wait for the pain. People are most likely to change a behavior if they are suffering. So wait for them to mess up again before you approach them. Then, they will be more open to your help.
- Show imperfection. When you can demonstrate that you suffer from similar problems, you are more likely to get through to the person you are helping. Nobody likes a know-it-all.
Definition: What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to perceive yourself as you really are.
There are two types of self-awareness: internal and external self-awareness.
Internal self-awareness is about self-observation. You spot your own values, passions, strengths and weaknesses, as if you were a neutral bystander.
External self-awareness is about social perception. You try to view yourself as others see you, e.g., your co-workers or your friends.
Interestingly, internal and external self-awareness do not correlate. You can be high in one, and low in the other.
If you only develop internal self-awareness, you’ll be clear on who you are and what you want, but you might misjudge your relationships. This will compromise your effectiveness.
If you only develop external self-awareness, you’ll become the ultimate people pleaser, but in the process, you might lose yourself.
So to become truly self-aware, you need to develop both.
It’s also important to note that both introverts and extroverts suffer from a lack of self-awareness.
The only difference — introverts indulge in their delusions silently, while extroverts voice them aloud. Therefore, the latter are more noticeable.
Why Self-Awareness is Important
Ultimately, self-awareness is a function of truth – being true with yourself and being true with the world.
That is why self-awareness is the foundation of all success.
If you see yourself as you truly are, you can make the right decisions. You will choose the right job, the right partner, the right place to live.
But if you suffer from a lack of self-awareness, you will pile up bad decisions, as your data points are all wrong.
This comes with severe consequences:
- You will annoy others by not answering their questions.
- You will surround yourself with the wrong people.
- You will end up in the same type of dysfunctional relationship again and again.
- You will alienate people — co-workers, friends, and family — by never admitting mistakes.
- As a leader, your team will come to disrespect you.
- You will suffer from bouts of depression without being able to name the reasons.
- You will regularly question your choices.
A lack of self-awareness is the ultimate handicap in life.
But the more you increase your self-awareness, the more effective you will become. You will make better choices. You will communicate clearly. You will attract higher-quality people into your life.
It’s a lot of work. But it’s well worth it.