My Blind Spot - The Difference between Self-Awareness and External Perception

iPersonic continuously deals with the question of one’s own personality and identity and how we see others and ourselves. This represents the intriguing question as to how much and to what extent we are even capable of truly assessing ourselves. Where do we see ourselves as we actually are and how others perceive us? And where may we possibly even be incapable to see ourselves as we really are?

Psychology has for a long time been aware of the discrepancy between self-awareness (representing how we see and describe ourselves) and external perception (representing how others see and would describe us). Maybe you yourself have at one time or the other experienced that someone perceived you totally differently than you would have expected. Or the other way around: you met someone and created an image for yourself that totally differed from the self-awareness of that person. In dealing with others all of us tend to play certain “roles” and in that way create an image of ourselves that only partially reflects our own personality. All of us have certain aspects as for instance habits or preferences and antipathies of which we not even may be aware. There may even be aspects to our personality we take great care to hide from others – because we feel awkward or are embarrassed about them or else because we simply feel that they are nobody’s business.
The so-called Johari-Window is one way to illustrate the difference between self-awareness and external perception. It represents a graphic model illustrating conscious and unwitting personality– and behavioral characteristics developed by the U.S. social psychologists Joseph (Jo) and Harry (hari) Ingham. The Johari window looks like this:


The “Arena“ represents that part of our personality and our behavior which we are fully aware of. The part of ourselves we display openly and without hesitation when in the company of others or how we would describe ourselves if asked.

The section “Façade” covers everything we hide from others because we believe that it should remain private. It includes secret wishes, for instance or thoughts we don’t feel like sharing. Understandably the extent of this area varies and depends on the company we happen to be keeping at the time. When we are with our partner or possibly our best friends it may be very small because we share more of ourselves with people we trust than with those with whom we may not be all that close. Regardless, with every person there is always something left over that is private and he/she alone knows about him/herself (and that is just fine!).

The area “Unknown” covers everything in our subconscious and therefore is not immediately accessible but still has a considerable impact on our thoughts and behavior: unconscious fears, repressed conflicts, traumata, urges, instincts and much more. According to Sigmund Freud this part covers 80 – 90% of everything determining our everyday behavior. Even if we don’t want to go all that far, everyone knows that there are many situations when rational and conscious thinking and behavior play a very secondary role and that another part of us somehow takes over. The process of falling in love is an excellent example – or have you ever totally rationally and judiciously chosen your partner? We are unaware of our subconscious just as it is not obvious to others (well, the consequences sometimes are). We will never be able to get to the bottom of it ourselves, it would take considerable therapeutic reflections to come even close.

The last Quadrant, the “Blind Spot” is different. Although we can’t spot it on our own (just as we can’t see our face without a mirror), others can see it quite well and are able to tell us (acting as our mirror, so to speak). Even though we are not aware of it, the “Blind Spot” harbors habits, preferences, dislikes, prejudices and the like, all things that are clearly apparent to those with whom we deal. At best their reports will provide us with information about ourselves, in that way reducing our “Blind Spot” and therefore helping us to work on ourselves. If there is something in my “Blind Spot” I would like to change, others have to make me aware of it first. Alternatively others may discover competencies and skills in it of which I did not think to be capable.

To develop one‘s personality it is therefore important to deal with those two quadrants one is unable to define on one’s own: The “Unknown” (difficult but with the aid of certain psychotherapeutic procedures quite possible) and the “Blind Spot”. For this it is vital for us to be able to accept feedback rather than react defensively or fearfully but deal with it engaged and openly.
Naturally this is easier for some than for others. Therefore it is always a good idea to keep asking for honest feedback regarding certain aspects of one’s own personality. That reduces the own “Blind Spot” and allows for changes and growth.

If you like, you may want to begin by taking a look at your very own competencies under this aspect (for this, also please read the contribution “Discover your Strengths”). First, create a list of your capabilities you are able to discover within yourself, sort them according to “very pronounced”, „pronounced” and “present” into three areas. Take plenty of time – you should not be satisfied with less than ten to fifteen capabilities! Then ask your best friend to create the same list for you (naturally without first showing him/her yours). Afterwards go ahead and compare where and to which extent you agree regarding your competencies and where you felt differently. Where did he/she think you were capable of doing something that was not even on or at least at the far end of your list? And conversely: where did you see yourself as being more competent than your friend saw you? This experiment will provide you with important clues about your development potential and also, where you may be overstating your own capabilities!