The Problem With People Who Like Themselves

Photo by Andre Mouton


The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. In social psychology, this effect is sometimes called the familiarity principle… In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often someone sees a person, the more pleasing and likeable they find that person.

~Zajonc’s Mere-Exposure Effect, Wikipedia

Humans are hardwired to grow in fondness of people they spend time with – so perhaps this could work for yourself?

I wrote this, because I see our culture becoming increasingly optimized for infinite distraction. When I talk to people, it seems there’s always a new show, a new sports update, a new gadget, trend, or viral post jostling for our attention. Which, to me, begs the question: why?

A Hunch: It’s to Sell You More Stuff

People who don’t know themselves are more easily manipulated – they have no core against which they can judge the consistency of one course of action over the other. Better yet, people who don’t like themselves can be nudged into projecting their inner feelings of insecurity and need for validation onto physical objects and status symbols, instead of their worth being self-evident.

“I’d be a better person, if only I had _____________…”

Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations (and nephew of one Sigmund Freud) discovered in the 1920’s that it’s much easier to make a buck by appealing to emotion over logic. This is because emotions – subconscious physiological reactions to stimuli, that occur within our bodies – are processed much faster than logic. It’s a baked-in human neurological trait that was exploited to sell everything from cigarettes, to laundry detergent, and then used to horrific effect by Goebbels and the Nazis 20 years later.

We’re all able to rationalize even the most extreme and self-destructive behaviors purely on the basis of our feelings, when those behaviors are suggested by someone else.

“Don’t be lame. C’mon, have just one more drink.”

“It’s fine, just take it. You deserve it, and no-one will notice, anyway.”

“They’re coming for you, you need to strike first, before they do.”

It’s much harder for someone to prod us into action at the conclusion of an extended logical thought process, where we’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons, culminating in an informed decision aimed at creating the best outcome for ourselves. If this weren’t the case, all cars would look exactly the same regardless of brand (hell, “brands” wouldn’t even exist), and fashion would never be the global industry it is today.

This is not to say that logic should always overrule emotions – quite the opposite, in fact. What I’m trying to say is that each of us must wrest back conscious control of our own emotions, from a culture that continually attempts to hijack them, through distraction and manipulation.

The Benefits of a Little More Solitude

If we’re all able to exercise more conscious control over our emotions – not repression, or projection, but merely a calmer observation and acknowledgment of their presence, along with a conscious decision of how we wish to act upon them – we’ll be less prone to mass manipulation at the societal level by individuals and organizations with bad agendas.

Temet Nosce - "Know Thyself"
“You know what [Temet Nosce] means? It’s Latin. It means ‘Know Thyself'” ~Oracle, The Matrix

All of which brings me back to the benefits of occasional, intentional solitude: People who spend time with themselves get to know themselves. People who know themselves, can’t help but like themselves more. And people who befriend themselves are more difficult to manipulate into doing self-destructive things.

Remember this.

And maybe take a walk without your phone, sometime?


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