Why do we turn on those we care about? | Diversify Your Self Esteem

Diversify Your Self Esteem

Synthesizing ideas from crazy adventures into philosophy, finance, engineering and psychology…

Why do we turn on those we care about?

What causes us to drift from those we care about? 

How about turning on them?

Where does that aggression come from?

How do we get there? It all starts at the beginning: meeting them for the first time. 

Remember that while they are a physical form in reality, the person you ‘know’ is actually a projection in your mind. It is how you have come to view them.

This is not static, it changes with every interaction. Quickly at first, and then slowly over time. 

When you first meet them all they are is an amorphous blob.

You quickly apply all your stereotypes you have internalised about that type of person. You start with the big picture things: A male, tall, [insert race], they’re smiling and laughing, their eyes don’t smile with their lips. Then you work your way down the layers, paying closer and closer attention to detail.

Getting to know them

You’re building a profile. But why?

What’s the purpose of this process?

In an evolutionary sense we needed to be able to quickly profile risk of a new person entering our tribe’s space… Are they a risk or a benevolent contributor to the tribe? Are they apathetic or malevolent?

These big-picture categorisations can be made off of small observations about the person rather quickly. The amorphous blob begins to take a rough form.

As you get a better and better understanding of them you begin to expect to be able to predict, within a reasonable margin of error, how they will behave given a situation and stimulus. 

This is the foundation of trust. 

Building trust

The trust you feel for a person is really your trust in your own model of them, that they will not act out in an unpredictable way.

It’s all going well, you’re forming a high fidelity (close to reality) model of the “person they’re putting forward to you”. The culmination of their life experiences, mental models and biases.

You feel pretty confident you can predict what they’ll do, or at least that when they surprise you it will continue to be beneficial. This is trust.

At the beginning we’re incredibly forgiving. Both of ourselves and our prospective partner. We expect that we will be wrong, by broad strokes.

Not wrong to the degree that they do something we deem unacceptable but rather you expect them to like X type of music but they prefer Y. Or, they unexpectedly like to dance (and are pretty good at it). Or, they speak another language. 

This is interesting, not scary.

This period of discovery is exciting, not fear-inducing because we don’t expect to know them yet. There’s that word again. Expectations.

I’ll leave out how you decide if their behaviours are aligned with what you want from a partner. That is a whole essay on it’s own. 

Getting in deep

You grow closer and closer to them. They are acting consistently and aligned with what you’re looking for. You start to let down your walls, your trust increases in your model you have come to rely on, you think “maybe this time it’s for real”. 

But then, they do something that violates your expectations.

You’re in deep.

Drowning in them.

They are inside your defences. And now you can’t predict them. Things flip from certain to uncertain instantly.

Uncertainty breeds fear. Your expectations have been violated. They’re now a risk. A liability.

How could you be wrong?? You invested so much thought and energy into building this model of them?

But then they diverged from it in a substantive manner. Not something trivial, but something that makes you second guess your whole projection of them in your mind.

The rattlesnake of doubt

If you were wrong about this, what else were you wrong about?

If you were wrong about this, what else were you wrong about?

If you were wrong about this, what else were you wrong about?

If you were wrong about this, what else were you wrong about?

This thought swirls in your mind, forming a maelstrom of doubt.

Now, because the person (rather, your idea of them) only ever lived in your mind, this kind of confusion can shake your faith in them. Make you doubt their trustworthiness as a partner.

You don’t have enough data to be confident that this was just an aberration… so everything is called into doubt.

Uncertainty spells danger. A hardwired association that has kept humanity going for millennia.

This danger triggers your fight or flight response. This is where your Amygdala (responsible for your fear responses) which lives in your Basal Ganglia, an ancient part of the brain, forces you into a primal survival mode.

Getting to safety

You pull away, removing yourself from the danger. The first reflex. Stay Alive – Above all else.

This distance causes the other person to have a similar response to you, why is this happening, what caused it, doubt, doubt, doubt. 

Now we have a feedback loop. Each person pushed to greater and greater extremes by the reactions of the other. Exacerbating the situation with every loop. These extremes are ‘out of character’ and further reaffirm your conclusion that you never really knew them at all.

Mostly because you only knew a part of them, you hadn’t had the time or the opportunity to see them in difficult and trying circumstances.

These trials and tribulations can be a key factor in the longevity of a relationship… things will be difficult at times, and if people behave ‘uncharacteristically’ in those times you really want to have included that in your mental model.

The feedback loop reaches a head. You have pushed each other into realms of enmity instead of the lover paradigm you had previously established.

If you enter into these valleys of despair it is likely you will form a new model, a far more disparaging view of them.

This is game over.

Is this the end?

At this point you move into end-game mode, either accepting your fate with a patient resignation or deciding that this is not your fate and you will move on from them.

This is of course not the only way relationships end, it’s a simplified exploration at what stops a relationship in its tracks in the moderately early days.

It’s the betrayal of trust: Explosive. Not necessarily that they betrayed you, but that their reality betrayed your expectations you had set in your view of them.

Really, you were just wrong. 

Maybe they hid part of themselves, maybe you were blinded by the passion of it all but as the infatuation wears off you start to see where you misjudged them.

At this point, it becomes about how you react. 

You will have been wrong at times, people act differently in the beginning. It’s more conscious, more deliberate. An attempt to impress. It’s when the facade slips that you have a choice.

Your reflexes will tell you to avoid the risk.

But you can choose to reconcile this new behaviour into your view of them. Assuming it is not a really damning trait. Furthermore, people change over time as well. But, given the short time-horizon we’re discussing here, it’s unlikely this will be a large part of it. That’s more what causes people to drift apart over time.

A shot at redemption?

Given you adapt and adjust gradually over time, and with an honest conduit of communication with your partner, you can relearn parts of their character.

As long as these new aspects are reconcilable with what you’re looking for or what you’re willing to live with then you can weather the more urgent reflex to run or fight.

Recognising this process exists doesn’t mean you need to analyse those around you, it isn’t a conscious process. Rather it is that being aware allows you to distance yourself from the reflex. 

To avoid the step that leads to the combustion of what you’re building, unnecessarily.

“You can’t be hurt if you preemptively hurt the other first” is a ‘safe’ way to live, but a lonely one, to be sure. 

Just see if you need to move a pillar instead of demolishing the whole building.

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