In almost any area of life—from business to dating to politics—the ability to assess someone’s level of self-awareness is crucial.
Because without self-awareness, it’s unlikely that a person will have much emotional maturity. And the dangers of dating, hiring, or electing someone without much emotional maturity should be obvious enough.
If you want to develop an eye for spotting signs of low self-awareness, train yourself to look for these six signs.
1. Never admitting mistakes
The unwillingness to admit mistakes is often a sign of deep insecurity.
When someone can’t acknowledge even small mistakes, it suggests that they feel tremendous fear and inadequacy. Unfortunately, the same fear of external inspection also makes them afraid of self-reflection.
It’s hard to be self-aware if you’re unwilling to be vulnerable.
On the other hand, the willingness to admit to mistakes suggests mental toughness and emotional maturity. It suggests that you have the insight to understand that while mistakes are part of us, they don’t define us.
To become more self-aware, then, requires the courage to be vulnerable on purpose. After all, how can you see within if you’re not willing to open up?
2. Criticizing others
Here’s the thing about criticizing other people: It feels good. At least in the moment…
- When someone criticizes someone else for saying something dumb, they’re implying that they’re smart. Which feels good.
- When they criticize someone’s taste in style or aesthetics, they’re implying that they’re sophisticated. Which feels good.
But what does it say about someone if they have such a strong need to feel better about themselves that they have to criticize other people to do it?
When you’re constantly trying to feel good about yourself there’s no time left to learn about yourself.
But the real tragedy of hypercriticalness is its opportunity cost: All that time and energy spent trying to boost self-esteem often comes at the cost of being able to do the hard work of learning more about oneself and self-reflecting.
3. Avoiding hard decisions
Being chronically indecisive usually means a lack of confidence and fear of being judged or making a mistake.
But how does that relate to self-awareness exactly?
Well, people who are self-aware tend to do a lot of psychological experimenting. Instead of just blindly accepting the thought that others will think I’m foolish if I speak up and voice my opinion, they test it out.
Self-aware people use data, not theories, to choose their actions.
On the other hand, when people lack self-awareness it often means that they simply accept whatever their mind tells them:
- He’ll get angry if you suggest a rom-com… Better just go with his suggestion for a movie.
- I just don’t feel very motivated. I’ll work on it tomorrow.
When people chronically avoid hard decisions by being passive or procrastinating, for example, it’s often a sign that they aren’t willing to really look at their own mind objectively.
And if they can’t do that, they become a slave to whatever passing thought or feeling happens to be present.
4. Being vague about their feelings
It may seem like a small thing, but the habit of describing feelings in overly vague or intellectual ways is often a subtle avoidance mechanism.
- Saying I’m just upset feels less scary than saying I feel sad.
- Saying I’m just stressed feels easier than saying I’m really angry right now, actually.
But here’s the thing…
When you avoid talking about your feelings plainly, you teach your brain that they are dangerous.
If someone is constantly running away from something—even their own feelings—it shouldn’t be surprising when their mind interprets that thing as dangerous.
On the other hand, self-aware people understand that just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad.
Which means, they’re much more likely to use plain language rather than overly intellectual or vague terms to describe how they feel.
5. Worrying about the future
Worry is problem-solving that’s applied to something in the future that either isn’t a problem or is a problem that can’t be solved by you at the moment. In other words, worry is unproductive thinking about the future.
And the problem with unproductive thinking is that it leads to all side effect and no benefit.
Worrying generates loads of anxiety and stress but never actually solves anything.
So why do so many people do it chronically? Why worry when the cost is so great and the benefit so small?
In short, because people lack self-awareness. They likely haven’t taken the time to genuinely reflect on what worry is and how it works (or doesn’t work) in our lives. Their mind just starts worrying and they go along with it, without pausing to investigate it and look at it questioningly and curiously.
Easier said than done, of course. But the more willing someone is to really look at and learn about their worry, the more likely they will be to let it go.
6. Ruminating on the past
Just like worry is unproductive thinking about the future, rumination is unproductive thinking about the past.
When people spend too much time ruminating and dwelling on past mistakes, losses, or failures, it can lead to tremendous emotional suffering with no upside at all.
Without a high degree of self-awareness, it’s easy to fall into spirals of rumination, though, because in the moment, it feels good.
Thinking gives the illusions of control.
And when people don’t have the self-awareness and emotional maturity to face up to the uncontrollability of the past, ruminating on it makes them feel—temporarily—like they do have some control.
When people lack self-awareness about their tendency to want control things even when it’s impossible, it frequently leads to the habit of rumination and all the emotional side effects that go with it—excessive shame, guilt, sadness, self-criticalness, and regret.
Reflect on past mistakes and losses. Accept them. But don’t ruminate on them.
All You Need to Know
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with people who have low self-awareness. And all of us, of course, have room for improvement in the areas listed above.
But if someone habitually exhibits many of the signs above to an extreme degree, you might want to think carefully before committing to any kind of serious relationship with them or handing over any significant degree of power and authority.