I’m sure we’ve all made mistakes when it comes to ‘sussing out’ other people and their motives…and perhaps these mistakes have cost us dearly.

We are inherently wired up to make a quick decision about a friend or foe at first sight. Our very survival in primitive times could have depended upon this snap decision — to fight or run away!

How accurate can this decision ever be?

Not very nowadays — unless the other person is being obviously aggressive and threatening towards us.

We can have difficulty knowing if what we imagine about them is really something that relates more to us than to them. We may be fooled by a reflection of ourselves when it comes to making a judgement about someone else — about how they look and act, and their imagined motives.

We might also project onto a new acquaintance the things we either dislike and disown in ourselves, or the better qualities we wish we possessed for ourselves.

In this way we then treat the other person as bad and repulsive, or as good and ideal.

If our projection idealises them, as with celebrities, then we want to emulate and be associated with them in any way possible (fan club, social media contact, cosmetic surgery to look like them etc.).

We can also obscure the true nature of another with our own projections from the past. Without awareness we might overlay someone with qualities, attributes and intentions that belong elsewhere with someone else entirely.

It can take the quickest of time for us to set up this projection, or overlay. When we spot a facial feature or expression, when we hear their name or accent, when we see their mannerisms and body posture then our brain whips out something similar from our memory bank and gives us the ‘short-cut’ to knowing this new person. Or so we believe.

The problem lies in this short-cut — which quickly leads up the garden path to stereotyping and pigeon-holing someone in the present day.

This new person may be utterly different from our ‘associated’ and psychologically linked other person (be they from our own past, or even someone we haven’t met in person but know through the media or fictional stories).

There’s even more going on sub-consciously too. We may be attributing character and personality traits onto someone based upon some aspect of them such as their height, beauty and wealth.

We tend to think that tall, rich and beautiful people are automatically treated better, and have a special way of relating with others – and that they have higher expectations than the rest of us.

We bestow upon them qualities that are not necessarily there and we then judge them ‘as-if’ these qualities were real.

We all have deeper layers to our psyche which house our true nature. We keep these layers well hidden, and only share them when our trust is high and our vulnerability is low.

It becomes hard for people to know us — and sometimes for us to know ourselves, and what ‘messages’ we might be putting out about ourselves — which other people then respond to from their own layers of conditioning and acquired beliefs.

To add more to the mix there’s also the matter of masks, roles, and sub-personalities.

We all create ‘false selves’ and masks in childhood as a way of getting by in difficult circumstances.

Masks take many forms — such as the compliant people-pleaser, the victim, the martyr, the sick patient.

Masks help people to hide — as they try hard to avoid scrutiny, negative judgement and ultimately rejection. They represent the belief that ‘I’ll be whatever I have to be to survive around here, to be accepted by you, and to fit in with you’.

We also have sub-personalities which are like splinters from our core psyche — and which were created to help us to cope with earlier emotional and physical trauma. This is not to the extreme of a psychotic personality disorder or multiple personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

Our sub-personalities each have a different focus and energy — and usually voice and mannerisms too — which we use in a given situation (e.g. the bolshy teenager when faced with rules and authority; or the seductress when alcohol releases her inhibitions).

We also take on ‘roles’ to give our life structure and meaning (e.g. caretaker of others or group leader). We can then over-identify with our mask and roles, and lose touch with who we are underneath, and what we are showing to other people.

This affects how they in turn perceive and relate to us. Some of it is our stuff, some of it is their stuff.

As you can see — the more you look the more complex it can become. We don’t have time for deep analysis when making snap judgements to protect our safety and so it’s understandable that we jump to conclusions.

The important thing is to be aware that we may be doing this and to leave some room for extra information to come in, and firm up a more accurate assessment of someone else.

Unless your life is in immediate danger — give yourself time to get to know who the other person really is under the surface layer.

What about you?

Don’t forget… people are doing this to you too and making snap decisions and relating to you ‘as-if’ you were someone else or meant something other than what you’d said or written.

If you have a feeling that this may be happening then courageously ask them:-

Do I remind you of someone else — because I have the feeling and impression that you aren’t relating to the ‘real’ me right now, and you may somehow be inadvertently distorting what I’m trying to say to you.

In other words…is there someone else that I am reminding you of right now?

Their answer might surprise you both!

We can never really ‘know’ anyone — we are in a state of flux. Our opinions change and our beliefs and values are being updated in light of new information and experiences.

We can’t always trust our snap decisions because appearances really are deceptive, and there’s always more than meets the eye!

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR

www.maxineharley.com — Where you’ll find lots of FREE RESOURCES to help you on your own journey to personal awareness and empowerment

www.maxineharleymentoring.com — helping women to understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours…allowing them to FEEL better, so they can BE, DO and HAVE better in their lives.

Originally published at lifelabs.psychologies.co.uk on November 9, 2015.

Originally published at medium.com