What does it mean to “get to know” someone? Hell, most of the time we hardly know ourselves, and we live in our own skin! Human beings are social animals, yet we seem to have lost the ability to truly know others, with the inevitable results: huge divorce rates, disposable relationships, and a pervasive depression and anxiety that runs through every segment of modern Western society (as witnessed by the fact that legal psychotropic pharmaceuticals are now the second-largest drug category, and closing fast on the #1 slot).
So, is there a way to understand others in a profound way, and in a reasonable time frame, i.e. how does one become an effective “personality detective”? You may be surprised to learn that it is not only possible, but relatively simple: The skill required actually means doing less than you are actually doing! Like most of the important skills in life though, knowing is often easier than doing, especially when the doing is the opposite of what we have done most of our lives. It means breaking a habit that on the surface seems intuitively right – but it is actually an illusion driven by the Ego.
The first step is to understand how the Ego functions. As I’ve written before in “Blame – the most crippling defense”, the Ego is that part of our Psyche (conscious and unconscious) dedicated to ensuring our physical survival and well-being. As such, the Ego is primarily concerned with getting more than its fair share of the pie….in fact, it want the whole pie. The Ego is loaded with functions to prevent it from feeling weaker than others. These are the defense mechanisms of blame, denial, rationalization, projection, anger, etc.; all of which the Ego uses to protect its often-delusional self-image of being powerful and invincible. For the Ego there are only three types of people: Enemies (to be protected from), Victims (to be taken advantage of), and Allies (to be used in achieving its survival goals – usually with some kind of trade-off). Sounds cruel and Darwinian doesn’t it? It is. The Ego is highly developed at protecting itself in relationships. Ultimately, it only wants to work with allies who will help it achieve its own life-objectives, but it is very wary of potential enemies. So, in most interpersonal encounters the Ego tries to hide its true self from others to avoid becoming a victim, while looking for both victims and allies through which to reach its objectives.
Now, imagine trying to answer the question, “is there a way to understand others?” in that context of dealing with someone else’s Ego – always posturing, defending itself, trying to present a psychological “machismo” that is always on the lookout for making its pie bigger, by taking some of yours! And in the meantime…your Ego is trying to do the same!!
So, if you want to really understand the type of person you are dealing with you have to get past the egoic “facade” in order to glimpse other elements of that person’s Psyche that constitute the overall personality. Is he/she honest? Reliable? Faithful? Compassionate? These are the elements that you need to understand before getting involved with that person.
Next: Part 2 – How does the Psyche reveal its true self?