9 signs you have exceptional character, according to psychology

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How much character do you have?

It’s not an easy question to answer. In fact, even defining what character is can be difficult. Sometimes, with concepts like character, all you can really say is that you know when you see it.

As therapist LaMeita Smith points out in this article, having character is not at all the same thing as having lots of personality.

Personality refers to the way we are and the way we behave. Character, which helps to shape our personality, refers to our core beliefs, values, and morals.

In other words, having a lot of character means being true to your own sense of right and wrong, and not being easily swayed by others.

Now, you may not think of yourself as a person with a lot of character. After all, sometimes it’s easier to see ourselves from the outside than it is to understand from within.

But psychology has some interesting things to say about people with a lot of character. And if you notice these signs in yourself, it’s probably because you have exceptional character.

1) You have integrity

 “Integrity is, simply put, doing the right thing even when nobody is watching,” writes psychologist Jessica Koehler. “Upholding integrity speaks to an individual’s inner strength and values and serves as a moral compass guiding their actions.”

So it’s not hard to see why integrity is a key component of character.

Integrity means that you hold yourself responsible for your actions, and that instead of relying on others to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, you act out of your own moral convictions.

Interestingly, research suggests that people with a high level of integrity also enjoy greater self-esteem and emotional stability than others who lack this character trait.

In other words, not only can having a high level of integrity make you a better person. It can also make you a happier one.

 2) You have empathy

 To some extent, all morality relies on empathy.

After all, empathy is the ability to put yourself in other people’s positions and understand their emotions and thought processes.

That makes empathy key to treating people well.

“Considerable evidence supports the idea that empathic concern motivates helping directed toward reducing the empathy-inducing need,” writes psychologist and researcher C. Daniel Batson in a landmark study of empathy.

In other words, being more empathetic toward others is likely to make you more willing to help them.

The more willing and able you are to understand the emotional lives of other people, the more you feel compelled to help. And nothing speaks more highly of your character than that you go out of your way to help those around you live a better life.

3) You are self-aware

Character can indeed make you a more moral person. But often, the way it does that is by making you more self-aware.

People with a lot of character generally know themselves very well. They have the moral courage to take a searching inventory of their own thought processes, even the ones they may not be particularly proud of.

Because they are willing to do this, they become exceptionally self-aware.

And when you are self-aware, you become more emotionally intelligent, too.

“Self-awareness and emotional intelligence (EQ) go hand in hand,” writes psychologist Kendra Cherry. “EQ refers to a person’s ability to perceive their own emotions as well as the emotions of other people. Someone with a high EQ is able to effectively respond to emotions with empathy and compassion.”

To put it simply, self-awareness is part and parcel of being a better person. So it’s no wonder that this is a clear sign of someone with lots of character.

4) You are resilient

 Character isn’t just about helping others. It also means being able and willing to help yourself, even in tough times.

That’s why resilience is often considered a key component of character.

Check out this study of doctors which found that those with resilience also scored high in persistence, cooperativeness, and self-directedness. It was also found that people with a tendency to try and avoid harm were less resilient than others.

Basically, people with resilience are persistent, cooperative, and self-motivated, but they aren’t afraid to do what they need to do according to their own values.

If that sounds like I’m describing some of the defining traits of a person with a lot of character, that’s because I am.

5) You are nonjudgmental

We all judge each other sometimes. But people with a high level of character know that ultimately, judging others reflects strongly on ourselves.

Thanks to their high level of self-awareness and empathy, people with character know that judging others is harmful. We can never really know what is going on in other people’s lives, and what may seem foolish or selfish to us may have a perfectly valid explanation for them.

“[Being] judgmental has to do with being overly critical in an unhelpful way, and it is this separate meaning that allows us to get to the heart of the issue,” writes psychologist Gregg Henriques.

“When evaluating someone else’s actions or personality, it is crucial that you understand where they are coming from; their perspective, history, and the experiences that went into the current situation.”

Judgmental people rarely do that. Instead, they judge everyone by their own standards, and are willing to make judgments even based on incomplete information.

When you have a lot of character, you don’t do that. Instead, you understand that everyone is fighting their own battle, and that it’s better not to judge.

That doesn’t mean that people with a lot of character don’t have opinions. In fact, they usually have very strong opinions.

But they also know that until you’ve walked a mile in someone shoes, you don’t really know why they are the way they are.

6) You’re generous

Maybe it’s not surprising that people with a lot of character often show it by their generosity.

After all, when you appreciate the struggles other people are going through, it’s hard not to want to help. And as we discussed earlier, having a high level of empathy makes you more likely to want to help other people, which often shows itself in the form of generosity.

Maybe you donate regularly to charity or volunteer your time. Maybe you like to help your friends and family with problems they are facing. Maybe you are always the first person at work to offer to help others who are struggling.

There are almost endless ways that generosity can show itself. But when it does, it’s often a sign of someone with exceptional character.

7) You’re humble

By now, you might be getting the impression that people with character are just better than most people. And while that may be true, you’ll never hear them say it.

That’s because having character also often shows itself by being humble.

But it’s important to remember that being humble doesn’t mean always being self-deprecating. And it definitely doesn’t mean lacking self-esteem.

“Humility has nothing to do with meekness or weakness. And neither does it mean being self-effacing or submissive,” says executive coach and writer Anna Katharina Schaffner. “Crucially, it also involves seeing ourselves accurately – not thinking of ourselves more highly (or, for that matter, lowly) than is appropriate.”

People with character know that they are just that – people. That means they have strengths and weaknesses, prejudices and blind spots.

This helps to keep them from becoming arrogant about all the good characteristics they do possess.

8) You are uncompromising when it comes to your morals

If it sounds so far like people with a lot of character are nice people, that is generally true. However, another important sign of character is that you won’t give in to others when it really matters to you.

That means maintaining your own moral code. A code made of your own values, not necessarily ones that have been given to you by other people.

It takes real character to stand up for your morals when they are in opposition to the society around you. Think about historic figures like Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, who stood up for what they believed under enormous pressure to simply give up.

There’s a reason why we still celebrate these figures today.

You don’t have to change the world to have character, however. All you need is to have a moral code that you refuse to violate, even if it would make things easier for you.

9) You are morally courageous

Speaking of some of the great moral figures of history, let’s talk a little bit about moral courage.

Moral courage means being brave enough to stand up for your beliefs, even under opposition.

After all, you can have all the nice ideas in the world, but if you don’t have the courage to put them into action, they are worthless.

If you are ready to work and even suffer for what you believe in because you know it’s the right thing to do, it’s a good sign you have exceptional character.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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