Relationship Tips

4 Surefire Signs That a Person Lacks Self-Awareness—And Why That’s a Big Issue in Relationships

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Self-awareness is one of those concepts that seems to get more esoteric the more you think about it. To some extent, it could even read as redundant: Of course, we’re all aware of ourselves. But, in fact, according to organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, PhD, author of Insight and years-long researcher of the trait, true self-awareness is rarer than you’d think, encompassing “the will and skill to understand who we are and how other people see us,” she says. Because both elements are essential to forming meaningful connections, classic signs of low self-awareness often turn up as relationship roadblocks.

If you consider what it might look like to lack either piece of that self-awareness puzzle, it's easy to see how that could trigger a relational disconnect. “A person could have the clearest understanding of themselves possible and yet have absolutely no idea how they’re coming across,” says Dr. Eurich, “or, on the flip side, they could be so focused on how they’re seen by others that they don’t really know what they want or who they are on the inside.” And in both cases, the gap in self-knowledge leaves ample room for misunderstandings.

For that reason, self-awareness is one of the key pillars that psychologist Abby Medcalf, PhD, emphasizes in her relationships-focused practice. “I can teach people all the greatest relationship tools—like how to be a good communicator or be empathetic—but if they can’t notice when they’re communicating poorly, for example, then it won’t do them any good,” she says.

“What self-awareness does is allow you to see your natural [shortcomings] and how those might impact others around you.” —psychologist Abby Medcalf, PhD

In other words, you can’t fix what you don’t realize is broken. “What self-awareness does is allow you to see your natural [shortcomings] and how those might impact others around you,” says Dr. Medcalf. Without that understanding, a person is likely to “overestimate their strengths and underestimate what stands in their way,” she adds.

Below, experts share the key signs of low self-awareness in action and how they’re bound to jeopardize a connection.

Here are 4 telltale signs that a person may have low self-awareness, according to mental-health experts

1. They’re regularly defensive

When a person isn’t self-aware, they’re often unable to recognize the ways in which they might have faltered. So, when those instances are called out by a partner or friend—perhaps they were acting overly controlling or said something unintentionally hurtful—the person lacking self-awareness tends to respond as if they’re being attacked. “That might look like someone saying, ‘Oh, I was just trying to do X, or I was just trying to help,’ rather than, ‘Oops, sorry, I overstepped my bounds,’” says Dr. Medcalf.

In other scenarios, that defensiveness could even translate to blaming others for any negative circumstances, says life and divorce coach Karen Finn, PhD: “A person without self-awareness tends to have difficulty accepting any responsibility for the repercussions of their actions.”

2. You can’t fully trust them

A person who’s not aware of how they’re being perceived by others is more likely to be unpredictable, says Dr. Eurich. And unpredictability can quickly breed distrust. “It’s tough to connect with someone and to trust someone who lacks self-awareness because you often can’t tell if they’re just out for themselves, or if they even know what they’re hoping to achieve,” she says.

In that vein, it’s also common to feel like you need to omit or withhold information from someone who lacks self-awareness because you don’t feel as though they have the wherewithal to handle it well, says Dr. Medcalf. “It’s sort of like, ‘If you don’t even know that you tend to do X or Y thing, then how can I trust you with this information that makes me vulnerable?’” she says. “And as soon as you start keeping those secrets, you start to get into relationship trouble.”

3. They’re arrogant

Given that an over-estimation of self-worth is one of the key signs of low self-awareness, arrogance often follows closely behind. “People with low self-awareness tend to need that reminder of, ‘I am not the center of the universe,’” says Dr. Eurich. In practice, that world-revolves-around-me arrogance can show up as an inflated sense of their own contributions and performance or a tendency to take full credit for any successes while explaining away their failures, Dr. Eurich adds.

4. They lack sympathy or empathy

A person without self-awareness will struggle to put themselves in the shoes of other people. “Because they’re unaware of their emotions, they’re often not able to see how their behaviors might be contributing to a situation at hand,” says Dr. Finn.

The key point here is the fact that they don’t realize or recognize their role in a problem; unlike manipulative people, those who lack self-awareness are not deliberately hurtful. “The most un-self-aware people just have absolutely no idea the carnage they might be creating around them,” says Dr. Eurich.

On a less intense note, it also follows that these folks just won’t be able to read the room in a group setting. “They’re the person you’re kicking under the table because they won’t stop talking about themselves, or they’re broaching a sensitive topic that they can’t tell is making people uncomfortable,” says Dr. Eurich. And it’s not hard to see why: How could they be truly attuned to the feelings of others in a group if they aren’t even fully aware of their own?

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