12 truths you need to learn about people (open your eyes!)

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We are bad at understanding people—what makes them tick, why they do the things they do, and why they treat us in certain ways.

And by “we”, I mean individuals. You. Me. The person next door.

Collectively speaking, science may have a reasonable (though far from perfect) grasp of behavior and thought processes based on years of study, but even an individual scientist lacks the knowledge to “get” people on a wider scale.

To help you fill in some of the blanks, I’ve compiled 12 truths about people that can tell us a lot about how we might interact with them.

1. They are not YOU.

If I may start with an obvious statement: other people are not you.

They are not the same as you, not entirely.

No matter how much you might have in common with someone, there is a great deal more that you don’t have in common.

This is important because we often expect other people to act how we would act in a given situation.

But they probably won’t. At the very least, they won’t do things exactly how we would.

This is one of the core reasons for conflict among people, even those who claim to love and care for each other.

There’s a phrase that is very appropriate here: stop expecting you from other people.

2. They are all different.

The natural upshot of truth #1 is that every person is different.

And by every person, I mean every person.

Which means you’re in for some trouble if you treat everyone as if they were alike.

There are countless ways people are unique from each other, and those differences need to be respected and accounted for.

Of course, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, but you need to be adaptable in what you say, how you say it, and how you behave.

3. They are a result of their experiences.

Okay, I hear you—genetics also play a huge role in what a person is like.

But you can’t deny that the things that have happened in a person’s life shape who they are to a large extent too.

Their upbringing, their relationships with friends and lovers, their education (sometimes their indoctrination), the risks they have taken, their successes and failures, their hard times, their good times, their exposure to the harsh realities of life.

All these things and more affect the person standing opposite you.

And you won’t know even a tiny fraction of it.

So, please, don’t think you “know someone” because, trust me, you don’t. Not fully. Not even close.

4. They have their own problems.

No one is problem-free.

Even a Buddhist monk will face challenges of sorts.

But unlike those peacefully mindful monks, most people think about their problems…a lot.

I do. It’s human nature to think about the things you’ll face and the actions you might need to take.

It’s always worth bearing this in mind when interacting with people. They are dealing with their own crap, and this may reflect in how they behave.

What’s more, because most people are so consumed by their own lives and problems, they rarely give you a second thought (unless you are a part of the problem).

I don’t mean this in a bad way. What I mean is, most people are too wrapped up in their own thoughts that they think about you, what you look like, and what you might be doing far less than you think they do.

5. They don’t always have your best interests at heart.

Self-preservation is the name of the game.

Most people, most of the time, act to protect themselves from harm or further their own interests.

I’m not suggesting that everyone is selfish in the stereotypical “selfish person” kind of way, but you need to assess a person’s actions against the reality that they are NOT likely to do something that makes their life more difficult unless they have good reason to.

And you ought not to expect other people to stand up for you, do what’s best for you, or give of themselves to help you.

That’s not to say they won’t do those things, but you shouldn’t expect them to.

There is a difference.

6. They act on emotions while trying to justify their actions logically.

Okay, so this is a fairly broad statement. I’m sure people make some decisions from a completely logical and emotionless perspective.

But many of the most mundane of decisions will have an emotional element.

Who do you buy car insurance from? Many people choose a company they have heard of—this is an emotion disguised as logic. The fact that you know the company makes you feel safer about giving them your money.

And when it comes to most other decisions, emotions play a much bigger role.

Often, a person will make a decision based largely on what “feels right” to them at the time.

Then, they will justify this decision to themselves and others using logic.

7. They find it hard to change purposefully.

From firsthand experience, I know how hard it is to decide to change in a particular way and then follow through on that change.

Behaviors are ingrained.

Habits are hard to break.

We’re juggling a million other things in our lives.

So, despite our best intentions, many of us fail to change in the ways we set out to.

That doesn’t mean we don’t change at all. Quite the opposite. We change all the time.

Sometimes we change fast. Sometimes we change slowly. But we change a lot over our lifetimes.

But if someone you know is trying to change and grow in a certain way, support and encourage them, yes, but accept and understand that they may not succeed.

This is especially important if your continued presence in their life depends on their ability to change their ways. News flash: there is a good chance they won’t.

8. They are just trying to get through to tomorrow.

Life is rarely straightforward.

Much of the time, you and I are simply trying to get through our days without major catastrophe.

We have a list of things that we need to do today, and we do our best to get those things done so that tomorrow’s list doesn’t become unmanageable.

Add a bunch of worries into the mix and most people will have thoughts flying around their heads at all times.

This means that when you and they interact, they may not have the mental capacity to be their most attentive or amenable selves.

Knowing this can make you more understanding and accepting of their behaviors and the attitude they give off.

9. They all have insecurities.

It’s almost unheard of for a person to be so utterly confident and assured that they don’t feel insecure about anything.

Virtually all people harbor multiple insecurities, and these can greatly influence how they behave.

I sometimes feel insecure about how I come across when talking to other people. I play some conversations back over in my head to identify anything I might have said that was odd or offensive.

You and everyone else you know will have little worries and insecurities too. They might even be big insecurities.

You might never know what other people are insecure about, but know that you are not alone in feeling this way.

10. They judge others (whether they like to admit it or not).

I’m not here to judge you…

…well, okay, I am, because we all do it. We all judge others, though we often deny it.

That could be judging how someone looks or the way they dress, it could be judging their lifestyle choices, it could even be judging their personality.

And when I say “judge,” I don’t necessarily mean it in a negative way. Most of the time, we judge unconsciously because we observe something as being different from us.

We all have unconscious biases, and it’s true that these can influence how we treat others.

Accepting this in ourselves and in others can help us to recognize when judgment occurs and adopt a more understanding approach to the people we interact with.

11. They project their thoughts and feelings onto others.

If you haven’t heard of projection before, here’s a quick explanation:

Projection is when a person unconsciously pushes their feelings onto someone else because those feelings go against something they believe or feel consciously.

In other words, you tell yourself that someone else is feeling those things rather than you.

Perhaps, for example, you unconsciously know you are to blame for something, but you do not want to consciously accept it. So, you project that blame onto someone else and make it all their fault.

People project all sorts of feelings, and they do it a lot. Way more than you or I think we do.

Again, knowing this helps us to better understand a person’s behavior and cut them a little more slack when they are acting up (without allowing ourselves to be mistreated, it should be said).

12. They never reveal everything.

It doesn’t matter how well you think you know someone, you are only privy to a small percentage of their thoughts, their life, their impulses.

To be honest, we should be thankful for that. You are fully aware of what goes down in your own head and life—would you really want to know all that about other people?

Would you want to know their random, sometimes intrusive thoughts? Would you like to hear about every little pain they experience or emotion they feel?

No, I’m sure you wouldn’t.

And because you don’t know everything about someone, it’s a good idea not to make assumptions.

I’m not saying that’s an easy thing to do. After all, when we judge others, we are effectively making assumptions about them.


These aren’t the only truths about people, but they are some of the most important.

Recognizing these things about the people in your life and those you interact with can go a long way to creating a little more compassion and understanding.

It can also help you to adjust your own thinking to accommodate the various nuances of human behavior.

About The Author

Steve Phillips-Waller is the founder and editor of A Conscious Rethink. He has written extensively on the topics of life, relationships, and mental health for more than 8 years.