Have you ever met someone and marveled at how they lack so much self-awareness? Most of us know someone like that. Someone who always blames others when things go wrong. Someone who never seems to understand that their behavior has consequences—at times, it is us. Sometimes we get so caught up in our worries and stress that we disconnect from ourselves and forget to check in with others.
You might be thinking, “Of course, I’m self-aware! I’m here, I’m breathing, I know I exist.” That is one level of self-awareness, but there is more. In this article, we will take a closer look at emotional self-awareness. More specifically, we will discuss some of the most common signs that a person lacks self-awareness.
Disclaimer: In this article, we will look at a lack of self-awareness as emotional intelligence and one’s level of growth and maturity. We are not referring to the challenges of those who live with autism, dementia, or any other condition that involves one’s awareness of others, social cues, or memory.
What Exactly Is Self-Awareness?
To be self-aware is to have an idea of who you are. It means understanding your role in your social circle, in the home, and at work or school. It does not mean you have to be defined by that role, but you understand what others expect from you. You know your responsibilities, and you know the importance of personal accountability. Merriam Webster defines self-awareness as an awareness of one’s personality or individuality.
Self-awareness also refers to your awareness that you are a vulnerable human being, as we all are. Self-aware people typically feel empathy and compassion for others because they understand that what makes you ‘you‘ is also what makes another person ‘them‘. It is probably why we often say that people who are obnoxious or inconsiderate of others’ feelings have low self-awareness; otherwise, they would have acted better and been more considerate if they were self-aware.
There is no exact measure of self-awareness, but it is related to emotional intelligence, defined by Cambridge Dictionary as ‘the ability to understand the way people feel and react and use this skill to make good judgments and avoid or solve problems.’ The more emotionally intelligent you are, the more awareness you have of your own emotions and those of others. You know how to communicate your needs, and you know how to read the room. People with low self-awareness usually lack emotional intelligence, which can be seen in their behavior.
Do I Lack Self-Awareness?
We all know someone who lacks self-awareness. You can identify these people by their tendency to always make excuses, blame others for things that were their responsibility, and their inability to read the room. You can also see it beneath their obnoxious behavior and unfair treatment of others.
However, sometimes it is us who lack self-awareness. Sometimes we do not consider the bigger picture and engage in immature, selfish behaviors, demonstrating an obvious lack of self-awareness. Below we have outlined some of the most common signs you might lack emotional self-awareness.
1. You Make One-Sided Jokes
People who lack self-awareness sometimes struggle to read the room. Even if they can, they will likely ignore it. They might playfully joke around at someone else’s expense, and when that other person does not join in and instead asks them to stop, the joker does not get it. They continue to joke because they argue that it is funny and ‘just banter’, but they fail to see that it is only funny if the other person plays along. If not, it can be mean, even nasty.
2. You Engage in Passive-Aggressive Behavior
If we are not attuned to our emotions and learn to identify and accept them, it will be a real challenge to deal with difficult emotions when they come up. One might deny negative emotions like sadness, disappointment, or anger, especially in a relationship, because they do not know how to deal with it or feel like they should not display such emotions. These people tend to please everyone around them. Still, emotions naturally come up, so they find a way. Instead of a confrontation and conversation about a problem, what happens is a display of passive-aggressive behavior, such as silent treatment, backhanded compliments, or intentionally ignoring promises.
3. You Shift Blame
People who lack self-awareness are not personally accountable. They do not consider their roles and responsibilities, and when something goes wrong, they tend to find someone else to blame and often have a self-serving bias. Of course, we should not take on the responsibilities of others, so it is perfectly normal to assert yourself and refuse to take responsibility for something that genuinely was not your business. However, if someone could not fulfill their responsibilities and always blame others or make excuses, most likely their self-awareness is low.
4. You Cannot Take Criticism
People with low self-awareness are likely to have emotional outbursts when someone criticizes them. We all get a little defensive in the face of criticism. However, with high self-awareness and emotional intelligence, we can evaluate criticism as necessary or not, as healthy or not, as constructive or not.
5. You Continue to Engage in Unhealthy Behavior
When we lack self-awareness, we might do things that do not serve us well. We might continue to do them even though we know they are unhealthy.
Have you ever had a friend who keeps behaving in ways that harm their health but does not seem to see the connection between how they behave and how they feel? They binge drink on the weekends, and for days after their mood is low, they feel anxious or depressed, and they struggle to function at full capacity—yet the following weekend, they do it all again and wonder why they feel so bad all the time.
Some of us misuse alcohol or other drugs to mask deeper feelings of discomfort or pain—often the pain of a perceived lack of connection to oneself. That is a deeper issue and requires appropriate support. Still, as a friend, it can be incredibly frustrating when someone we love keeps continuing on this toxic loop.
If you are behaving this way, there may be people in your life who are trying to advise you, but if your self-awareness is low, then their message might not get through. If it is your friend, tell them that drinking and partying are fine, but if it makes them feel anxious and depressed, it is wise to take a break and address some of those deeper issues. A more self-aware person would hold back on going out so much and spend more time investigating and dealing with their complicated feelings.
How to Develop Self-Awareness
If you have realized that you lack self-awareness now, the good news is that you can change. You can learn to be more attuned to your wants and needs and the emotions of others. It takes practice, but the rewards are more than worth it. The more you practice and develop self-awareness, the more you will improve the quality of your relationships. You will also earn more respect and appreciation from others because you will become more personally accountable, understanding, and empathic.
1. Accept Your Feelings
The first step is to start accepting your feelings. We often label emotions as good or bad, but they are all valid and have something to teach us. Sure, it is uncomfortable to feel angry, sad, or disappointed, but you do not have to label them as good or bad. If you label them in such a manner, you will likely feel worse and increase your aversion to difficult emotions.
However, if you take time to pause, breathe, allow them to sit there, and be curious about what they want to tell you, you can learn an awful lot about yourself.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.“C.G. Jung
2. Practice Honesty
Passive-aggressive behavior is a hallmark sign of low self-awareness. A fear of conflict and a sense of uncertainty about oneself usually causes it, but it does no good to your relationships and can eventually lead to their downfall.
Try to move away from negative people or passive-aggressive behavior the next time you feel negative emotions toward another person. Instead, practice being honest with them. That does not mean insulting them or calling them out all the time. It means letting another person know how their behavior is affecting you. It does not even mean that he or she should change their behavior—it is not what you are trying to achieve.
All you want to achieve here is to let the other person know how you feel. How they choose to respond and address your honesty will let you know more about their level of self-awareness and how they view their relationship overall.
The Benefits of Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is not just about knowing that you exist. It is about being in touch with your inner self—the part of you that perceives your emotions, beliefs, joys, and fears. That is why the term can sometimes be used interchangeably with emotional intelligence—the more self-aware, the more space and acceptance you can give to your emotions.
Why is self-awareness important? It is important because the more you own your experience and reality, the better you can navigate life. You are more likely to see relationships as a partnership and not a transaction. You will be more familiar with the fact that feelings and emotions change over time, so you can apply that knowledge during times of conflict as a means of managing your expectations and practicing forgiveness of yourself and others.
How to Deal With Someone Who is Lacking Self-Awareness
Having to deal with people who lack self-awareness can be frustrating. It may be a friend, partner, family member, or coworker—inconsiderate behavior, a tendency to avoid responsibility, and shifting blame can be exhausting. The good news is that there are some tips and tricks for dealing with these people.
1. Stay Grounded
Dealing with such people can make you lose your mind. You might want to yell or scream at them for their behavior but doing so rarely helps. You get yourself into a knot and barely impact the other person. As such, the first and most important thing to do when someone with low self-awareness is getting to you is to stay grounded. See their lack of self-awareness as their problem, not yours. You might want to help them see the bigger picture, but do not do it if it will detriment your mental health and emotional well-being.
2. Set Boundaries
The person in question might not understand why you need to set boundaries, but that is not your problem. If someone treats you unfairly, always blames you, and never takes responsibility, it is well within your right to set some boundaries. That might look like limiting your interactions with them, and sometimes it seems like cutting them out of your life altogether. It can be a shame when that person is close to you, but if they have begun to wear away your time and energy, then it is best to move on. Moreover, those boundaries you set might be the spark that ignites a journey of personal growth for that person.
3. Check Yourself
It is easy to judge others for a perceived lack of self-awareness, but sometimes we are the issue. For example, how do you respond to criticism? It is natural to defend yourself when someone criticizes you, but it is unnecessary to get defensive if that criticism is not a personal attack but constructive feedback. If you can remember a time in your personal life when someone offered objective feedback, but you took it as an attack, that was a time you lacked self-awareness.
4. Ask Them Thoughtful Questions
It is not your job to increase someone else’s self-awareness. However, knowing the problems caused by a lack of self-awareness and how increasing it can lead to a higher quality of life, your empathy, and your desire to help others might make you want to act.
If you want to help someone become more self-aware, ask them thoughtful questions. If they complain and blame a work situation on necessity, ask them how their coworkers might feel about that situation. You can also ask them how they think things should be different and what they want to see. If you live your life as an example of mindful self-awareness, or, at least try to, it will show, and you might spark some long-awaited self-reflection in the other person.