In general, the way you see others is a projection of how you see yourself.
We tend to love in others what we love in ourselves, and hate in others what we can’t see in ourselves. In fact, other people’s behavior is a great litmus test for our own self-awareness. We are typically most irritated by someone when their behaviors mirror a micro-habit of our own, especially one we struggle to overcome or even deny experiencing at all.
However, there’s another part of this equation that will help you understand why you react to some people so strongly — and with such irrationality.
The way you see others is the way you see yourself, but it is also a reflection of how they see themselves.
This is because of something called a metaperception, which is the way we imagine other people see us. When someone has very low self-worth, they think that other people see them as undeserving. That metaperception influences how they behave. In your presence, they start acting in a way that aligns with that idea.
This is the reason why some people always seem to magnetize drama to themselves, why others can’t sustain long-term relationships with virtually anyone, or why everyone seems to have the same negative assessment of one person in particular. It’s because the way we imagine people see us impacts the way that we behave around them, and over time, molds into our essential self-image, permeating every interaction in our lives.
Normally, people have various metaperceptions based on who they are around. If they are with someone who they believe loves them, they act in a way that’s aligned with being wanted, loved, and engaged. But when people have a really shattered self-image, their metaperceptions conflate and they start to think that the entire world sees them in one, singular, negative light.
This is what creates the consistencies in their patterns.
The problem is that they don’t think they’re good enough, but that idea came from the belief that other people don’t think so either.
My grandmother, who was a beloved elementary school teacher for nearly half a century before she retired, told me something she used to practice with her students: she explained that if she thought that they would succeed, they would do significantly better in class. In fact, if she truly sought out the best in them, their behavior would seem to adapt to reflect her belief in them.
She was, essentially, building an initial metaperception, which our earliest teachers, caregivers and parents tend to do. If we believe that someone thinks we are smart and bound to be successful, the thousands of micro-behaviors we engage in throughout the day, and especially when we are in their presence, add up to make that potential far more likely to become reality. (Over the years, research has backed this up.)
It works in the opposite way, too.
If you’ve ever been around a person who you dislike for a reason you can’t quite put your finger on, especially if you have a predetermined judgment about them, you’ll find that their behaviors tend to start fitting into your mold of them. Their intentions are always bad, their presence is always unwelcome, and their impact in your life is wholly negative, even if absolutely none of those things have to be true.
The more you start responding to someone in this way, the more it affirms their preexisting self-perception or builds a new one. Over time, these interactions play on one another, and what we believe is true about a person begins to become true about them.
It’s common to hear many people say that the most attractive trait in a partner is confidence. The belief that they are deserving of desirability tends to make them most desired, regardless of their actual, physical appearance or the quality of their character.
You will often notice that the way you treat yourself sets a standard for how other people are allowed to treat you. “You teach people how to treat you” is the typical advice given, because people pick up cues from your micro-behaviors about what is or isn’t allowed in your presence.
Overall, the way we see ourselves influences how the world sees us.
Not the opposite way around.
If you sense that you have strong, negative reactions to people who tend to also have a lot of negative things going on in their life, it’s probably not a coincidence.
There’s a common denominator here, and it’s not you.
However, where your own self-work can come into play is how aggressively you respond, and then what you do with that information later. For example, you might come across someone who is frustrating and stuck in a victim-mindset. Recognizing that this is not the type of person you want to associate with, you disconnect.
However, other people tend to have a stronger staying power over us. Thoughts about them culminate and seem to activate our deepest emotions. Our anger seems displaced, but there’s enough evidence to validate it, so we hold steady to our assessments of them.
If we were truly thinking rationally, we would simply withdraw our attention from someone who was not adding anything productive. However, when we find it almost impossible to completely move on from someone to whom we have a strong emotional reaction, there’s often a reason, or rather, a recognition at play.
The real trigger is when the way someone sees themself mirrors the way that we see ourselves. When that occurs, the behaviors they engage in resonate deeply within us. We recognize our own worst impulses, and then we begin to react from there.
At this point, we can engage in our usual self-work.
By helping ourselves do less of what it is that enrages us about others, we use our experience with them as a net positive in our lives. Instead of sitting around and mulling over all the reasons why we should judge them, we can instead work on two things: first, adapting our own behaviors to be more productive, and second, rectifying our image of them so that we aren’t falling into a metaperception trap.
The way we see others is often a reflection of how they see themselves.
Therefore, the way we see ourselves will set the foundation for what we are able to achieve with other people.
We have a choice about whether we’re going to be irrationally hateful and resentful, or if we’re going to rebuild our self-image from a place of understanding, logic, rationality, and free will.
The choice is ours.