6 Signs of Low Self-Awareness

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.

7 Comments

Add Yours

I was confused about whether I lack self-awareness or not. Therefore, searching for the exact solutions but could not find the right one. All of a sudden, I came across this article that provides me everything that I need to know. It tells about the signs of low self-awareness. I can now determine my level of self-awareness. Thanks to the author for sharing such an educative post!

I would almost concur with your reply, but I would say this article has presented me with a bit more questions than answers. With issues such as this, I find them to be very difficult to define and irritating in general. Self-awareness is a task I’ve been trying to complete for what seems like years now, and I have been running in circles for so long because I never directly research what’s been troubling me.

I would suggest something that has brought me clarity of mind and helped to determine the most important topics to focus my attention on – mindfulness. The more you dig into mindfulness practices (or meditations) the less you feel that you lack something. It’s very satisfying to know that everything you looking for is already here. And meditation provided me with the tools and right mindset to feel less confused. I personally use the app – Waking up, but any option should do it.

There’s nothing education about this if it’s not based on a real scientific study. Do you have any source for this information or is just your opinion and/or personal experience in life?

In my own religious tradition I see examples of teaching on all 6 of the above points:
1. OT: the entire Old Testament consists of biographies of individuals and groups, saved when they confessed their sins and lost when they didn’t.
NT: rejection of the pharisee who boasted in his prayers, acceptance of the sinner who begged for mercy. Basis of baptism is admitting sin. Instruction to ‘confess your sins to one another’.
Church: formalised as RC confession, and typically included in prayers of confession in all Christian traditions.
2. OT: God’s rebuke to Job’s friends. Psalm 1 ‘Blessed is the man who…does not…or sit with those who mock.’
NT: Best known is ‘First take the log out of your own eye, then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’
Church: efforts to encourage personal, solitary prayer?
3. OT: Again biographies such as Eli and various Kings’ failure to root out corruption illustrate this. Proverbs includes exhortations too. Repeated calls to REMEMBER what God has DONE in the past. The 10 commandments starts not with a rule, but with a factual reminder of what God has already done.
NT: This was the failing of the church in Laodecia. ‘If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out’ etc. Taste and see that the Lord is good. ‘Tell John what you see: the lame are healed’ etc. The characteristics to look for in selecting elders and deacons.
Church: basing faith on scripture rather than mysticism.
4. OT: the Psalms!
NT: Christ and Paul were typically quite blunt about their feelings.
Church: those which drop the psalms, whether sung, chanted, read, tend to go off the rails and fizzle out fairly quickly. Plenty 20th century examples.
5. OT: Repeatedly discouraged as a lack of faith in God’s goodness.
NT: ‘You cannot change the colour of one hair’/’add a day to your life’. ‘Consider the flowers of the field’.
Church: the Faith Mission movement.
6. OT: Lot and his family leaving Sodom. God’s reaction when the Israelites complained that they’d have been better off staying in Egypt. God’s instruction when David wept over Absalom. And when Samuel wept over Saul.
NT: ‘Run the race, letting go of what is behind’. ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back, is fit to be my disciple’.
Church: ‘Shake the dust off your sandals and move on’.

(I suspect that any time tried religious tradition will have similar teachings, whatever their supernatural beliefs. As their teachings also represent the accumulated ‘wisdom of the tribe’ of their followers.)

They DO match my personal experience and observations.

3, 4, 5 & 6 are discouraged by counseling and mental health advice often.

Would be interesting to see psychology studies.

Leave a Reply