When Your Friend Lacks Self-Awareness

Friends Who Are Clueless

Friends who lack self awareness are a challenge to deal with. Robert Daly/Getty Images

Got a friend who just can’t seem to get why you’re upset? When friends behave poorly and then genuinely wonder what happened, they may lack self-awareness, which is the ability to view your own actions objectively.

Interacting with folks who lack self-awareness is a challenge, because you’ll have to explain what it is they did even though it might be something fairly obvious. Even then, a friend who can’t understand the concept that he or she is responsible for the things they say and do may try and turn things back around, refusing to believe they’re actually the ones at fault.

Accept and Forgive First

While you might wonder how a clueless person gets through life, it’s not your job as a friend to make them over into a different person. You can try pointing out their faults but if you go too far, you’ll be the one viewed as a bad friend.

Unless your friend has done or said something truly awful, forgive them and overlook their cluelessness. They may never change, but you can enjoy their friendship even if they don’t understand how they come off at times.

Be Honest But Gentle When Telling Them the Truth

If you spend enough time with a clueless friend, you will need to tell them that they are the problem. Perhaps this will come up because they’ll behave poorly and then ask you what’s wrong, or treat you with a lack of respect and then be confused as to why you’re upset.

When it comes time to spell it out for them, use facts and not emotions. Tell them why they hurt your feelings, but don’t get dramatic about it because then your friend will only see your emotions rather than their negative actions.

You could say something like:

“When you criticize my choice in boyfriends over and over and then at the same time tell me you support me, that doesn't ring true. I can appreciate your opinions, but if you’re going to get negative on me when I date someone, own those feelings so we can have a genuine conversation about it afterward.”
“Telling me what a good friend I am to you when you told our other friend that I’m a loser shows a lack of self-awareness. Only you know why you said that about me, but try and see it from my perspective. If you were me right now, would you believe you?”

Keep your emotions in check, otherwise this will be a back and forth argument, with both sides shouting their opinions but no one listening or getting anything resolved. (Here’s more about being gently honest.)

Point Out Things In the Moment

Clueless people aren't going to get it the first couple times you bring something up. They’ll probably think it’s you and not them because that’s been their go-to personality stance.

A good strategy to use is showing a clueless person what they do right in the moment, so it’s fresh in their mind and they can understand it better.

For instance, when they make a snarky comment about your clothes or hair, tell them right in the moment that you don’t appreciate it. Or if they blow up at you over something small, then recover and pretend that nothing is wrong, let them know that you don’t like dealing with their bad temper.

But be warned that anytime you point out the bad behavior of another, they may take offense (and learn nothing from it) or turn the tables and point out things about you they don’t like. The best bet is to only point things out when your friend lacks self-awareness and asks you for examples on how they can do better as a friend.

What If They Never Get It?

A lifetime of clueless-ness won’t be fixed by one friend, so while you might want your friend to change, they can only improve if they make the effort to be more self-aware. If they have issues with you because of their clueless behavior, chances are they've had issues with other friends as well.

In the meantime, you may need to either accept them for who they are or leave the friendship behind. Only you know what’s right for your particular situation. While some friends are loveable and mean well, others are clueless and mean spirited. You don’t want a friend who will treat you poorly, verbally abuse you, or show you a lack of respect.