9 signs someone is deeply self-aware, according to psychology

What does it look like when someone is really self-aware? A lot of people talk about self-awareness and inner work, but how does it manifest? What does it look like?

Read on to find out where self-awareness and psychology intersect, and how you can encourage these important traits within yourself.

1) They’re in touch with their inner experience   

Self-aware people make a regular practice of tuning inward – noticing difficult thoughts, impulses, and emotions that arise within, without excessive judgment. By patiently tracking inner experiences over time, clarity about unconscious patterns emerges. 

As a Focusing guide, (a technique developed by psychologists Eugene Gendlin and Carl Rogers) I practice, and teach people, how to get in touch with their bodies and feel the feelings and emotions that lie there. 

If you’ve never tried a somatic practice like this you’ll be amazed at how your bodily feelings can be so different to the emotions your mind is aware of.

Reconciling the two can lead to insight, peace, and clarity, as well as greater self-compassion.

2) They understand where their patterns originated

Through honest self-inquiry, self-aware people trace their core emotional patterns back to their roots. They see how past pain and conditioning continue to shape how they interpret situations now. When they overreact to something minor, they connect the dots to major unresolved grief from early life or previous events.

This is helpful for everyone, and especially so for people struggling with things like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Dr Gabor Mate is a psychologist who helps people to understand what they bring from the past into the present, and how to work with it to let it go.

This is very helpful because it means that:

3) They can consciously change their reactions

With awareness comes choice. Once a self-aware person understands, for example, their road rage springs from feeling powerless when young, they can relax and let any minor traffic annoyances roll away. 

How can they do this? Because the past loses its stranglehold as buttons stop controlling them so much.

However, there is an additional secret to making this work:

For example, when a cruel comment from a boss triggers a cascade of shame and inadequacy from childhood, a self-aware person can pause and recognize “Okay, here is that familiar feeling of not being good enough arising again.” 

By witnessing the reaction first, before believing those emotions reflect the totality of reality, they gain the power to choose to respond consciously rather than reacting automatically.

And that leads to my next point:

4) They notice their reactions before they react

Rather than automatically flying off the handle when challenging things happen, self-aware people have cultivated enough awareness to pause and create space between the trigger and their response. There’s now an inner witness that notices when anger, anxiety, or hurt are about to arise.

Why is this important? Have you ever just felt so angry or upset about something and wished that it would go away? You know that the event will pass and you want to let the emotion pass too. Sooner rather than later. But by the time you notice it, you’re already swept away in the current of your anger or frustration.

When people see things before they arise it allows them to have more power to consciously choose their reactions. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s important, vital even, to feel things like anger. These emotions can be protective and show us that we need to change something. 

However, being able to notice the reaction first, allows us agency over how and even whether to experience the emotion (and to alter our behavior if necessary). Emotions become a helpful tool instead of an overriding force.

5) They see how language constructs reality  

Self-aware people recognize how ideas, words, labels, and stories filter perception. When the inner critic declares “You’re such a failure,” they take it with a grain of salt rather than allowing language to warp their sense of self and possibility.

And there’s another level to this. In the 2005 positive psychology classic “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by Stephen Hayes and Spencer Smith, the authors identify how language is often at the root of suffering. Through a process of radical acceptance, they show us how we can minimize this suffering.

6) They connect with the present moment   

man free 9 signs someone is deeply self-aware, according to psychology

One of the techniques discussed in the book above is mindfulness, first brought to the West by Jon Kabbat Zin. This can be achieved through regular meditation sessions – observing experiences arise and pass. One technique described in “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” is called ‘Leaves on a Stream’ which encourages us to visualize thoughts floating by without grabbing them.

This helps us not to get overly attached to the past or the present.

Other techniques include breathwork and body scanning. There are many free mindfulness meditations online to help you with this.

But wait, there’s more. The book also encourages us to bring mindfulness into daily activities, whether that’s standing in a queue or walking to work. This could be as simple as noting the feeling of the street beneath your feet or noticing the wind on your cheeks. Appreciating the beauty of a flower or the patina of an old building.

Self-aware people purposefully hone their capacity to tune into the here-and-now experience using all senses. Staying grounded in what’s actually happening helps calm mental noise.

7) They separate fact from interpretation  

This one is a favorite of mine that I first became aware of while volunteering in a Buddhist cafe at a festival. I was feeling upset about what I perceived was going on – someone ignoring me. A co-worker asked me, are you sure that is what is happening? What are the facts and what is the story? 

The facts were that I had not heard from my friend for a while and that he had seemed angry when we last spoke. The ‘story’ was that this was somehow related to me, that I had upset him – but I had no evidence of that other than my fears and insecurities.

To give you a more tangible example, self-aware people distinguish between “My heart rate has elevated” (objective fact) and anxious sentences that follow like “I must be having a heart attack!” or “I can’t handle this!” (fear-based subjective interpretations). They question the assumption that reactions accurately reflect reality.

When we do this, it allows us to take things much less personally, and sort out what is really going on versus our projections.

8) They recognize emotions aren’t forever  

Just because someone feels intense rage, hurt, or grief sometimes doesn’t mean life will always be that way. The mature self-aware person realizes storms of emotion are temporary rather than permanent realities. Feelings come and go while the essence remains untouched.  

This too shall pass” is a famous Persian saying.

Although not a psychologist, Eckhart Tolle is a well-respected author who was once crushed by his overwhelming emotions. This led him on a path to realize that not only were his emotions temporary, but that he was not his emotions. And this then enabled him (and others who’ve studied his work), to reinterpret their emotions.

Pro tip: If you want to know more about what Eckhart Tolle has to say, I recommend watching a video first as I found that more rewarding than reading his books.

9) They see through limiting self-talk and talk to themselves

Whereas less conscious people rigidly cling to narrow self-concepts such as being “inferior,” “stupid,” or “incapable,” the self-aware recognize these self-appraisals as changeable. They use their freedom from attachments to these labels for a happier life.  

Many people, including psychologists such as Christa Smith, have stressed the importance of naming negative voices, sometimes known as the inner critic. 

So, self-aware people might recognize that part of them that always sees the worst outcome or gets in a tizzy when they get stressed, and say ‘Ah, that’s Negative Nancy’, or ‘Hello Angry Amy’. This is best done with compassion and love, because those parts of us are there for a reason. We can choose to acknowledge those parts and send them compassion, without getting consumed by them.

As psychologists James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber mention in their book ‘Your Symphony of Selves’, people who can talk to different parts of themselves, tend to fare a lot better with their mental health. Especially if they talk to them in the third person – eg giving them a name, or saying ‘you’ when talking to these parts.

Might sound crazy but it will help keep you sane!

Picture of Louisa Lopez

Louisa Lopez

Louisa is writer, wellbeing coach, and world traveler, with a Masters in Social Anthropology. She is fascinated by people, psychology, spirituality and exploring psychedelics for personal growth and healing. She’s passionate about helping people and has been giving empowering advice professionally for over 10 years using the tarot. Louisa loves magical adventures and can often be found on a remote jungle island with her dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter: @StormJewel

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