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Here’s what I’ve learned after years of studying how people work, and why it seems like everyone gets along just fine while we’re the only ones who seem to think “I hate people”.
Do you agree with several of the following statements?
- Most people feel shallow and stupid
- Many of those you’ve actually invested time and emotion in have ended up betraying you
- You’ve come to realize that beneath the surface, people actually don’t care about others and lose interest in hanging out when it doesn’t suit them
- You’re fed up with small talk and superficial niceness.
- If you ever come home after a day of having to interact with others and think “I hate people”, this is for you.
Here’s the good news:
It’s common to be fed up with and even hate people. A-type personalities (We who value getting things done over chit-chatting and exchanging pleasantries) are inclined to not like people. (Study)
Researchers call this trait hostility toward the world.
Hostility has value. Someone has to get things done and then it can help to be aggressive.
Ever wondered why people always say the same things about people like Steve Jobs, Angela Merkel, Elon Musk, Theresa May, and Bill Gates?
“Yeah, they’re super successful. But I’ve heard that they’re real jerks”.
Why? They value results over niceness and being agreeable.
(Did you know that less agreeable people tend to be more successful? It’s because they dare to stand up and fight for what’s important to them when others prioritize not stepping on anyone’s toes.)
Here is the bad news:
If you’re like me, you can get fed up with people. But you also want a human connection. Even though some part of you has broken up with the rest of humanity, another part of you still wants to keep in touch with others.
Perhaps you’re still on the lookout for that unicorn – a person who isn’t shallow or stupid.
When hating people isolates us it becomes a problem. Why? Because no matter what we think, we’re social animals. We need human contact.
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors learned the hard way that having a small tribe of friends was the difference between life and death. When the neighboring tribe attacked, you’d better hope you’d have people around that you could trust.
We can’t put the finger on it, but being alone just doesn’t feel right. (Even if we wished we could just press a button to make us OK with not having to meet people.)
If you feel that you hate everyone, or almost everyone, might be a sign that you struggle to trust other people. Maybe you have been betrayed in the past or you have seen how much it has hurt others when they have been betrayed.
Feeling that you hate everyone can be exhausting. Learning to trust other people, even just a little bit, can help you to relax around others and start to build up a support network.
Learning to trust other people can be a slow process. Don’t be tempted to force yourself to override your instincts. That can often be a way for you to self-sabotage, allowing you to say “See, I knew people can’t be trusted”.
Instead, take small risks. Offer small pieces of personal information that don’t feel too uncomfortable. Over time, you may find that your distrust is reduced. A good therapist can help you to work on and overcome your trust issues.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.
People socialize and have friends for egoistic reasons.
- Why do people want friends? To not feel lonely. (An egoistic need)
- Why do people want to meet up with a friend? To have a good time = experience a positive emotion (An egoistic need)
- Why do people want to go do things with their friends? To share an experience. (An egoistic need evolved throughout history)
Now, we shouldn’t forget that you and I are evolved in the exact same way. We ALSO want to have (non-stupid) friends to not feel lonely, to experience positive emotions, and to share experiences.
Yes, people are egoistic. But so are you and I. Egoistic socializing is a system so hardwired that neither we nor anyone else is going to change that any time soon.
Important: We can wish people were different. But it’s not that everyone has a bad attitude. It’s about us humans being wired in a way we can’t unwire. We have to accept this fact about us humans, just like we have to accept that we all have to go to the toilet.
In other words:
If we don’t cater to people’s emotional needs, they won’t enjoy being with us and disappear out of our lives. Not because they’re mean, but because we’re all wired this way. Let me show you what I mean…
Imagine any of these scenarios:
Say that you went through a tough time, and you had a friend you talked with that about. The friend is supportive at first, but then, as the weeks or months pass by, you realize that they don’t really care and were just being polite. They become worse and worse at returning your calls and seem to ignore you.
Before we go into why, here’s another scenario.
Let’s say you’ve been together with your partner to the point where you really trust him or her. You trust that person because they’ve reassured you how much you mean to them. You let your guard down and open up a side of you few ever get to see.
Then suddenly, without warning, the ultimate betrayal: They let you know they’ve met someone else. Or even worse, YOU find out that they’ve met someone else.
WHY ARE PEOPLE LIKE THIS?
Well, there will always be assholes. But if it’s a pattern in our lives, it could be that we’ve been so preoccupied with our own emotional needs that we’ve forgotten about theirs.
Our emotional needs (when it comes to friendships) are:
- Feeling listened to
- Feeling appreciated
- Experiencing similarity (We need to be able to relate and see ourselves in others)
If there’s a pattern in our lives that people disappear, we need to ask ourselves:
- Do we come off as good listeners?
- Do we show we appreciate people?
- Do we build our relationships around similarities and commonalities rather than focus on the differences?
We can talk about hardships with friends, but if it’s the main thing we talk about, they’ll feel drained of energy and (because socializing is an egoistic act) they’ll prefer other friends who make them feel recharged.
Before we go fully misanthropic, we need to keep in mind that you and I work the exact same way.
We all want friends who we like being around: People who make us feel good. And if we want them to stick around, we need to make sure they feel good being around us too. People don’t flake on everyone, just the ones they don’t enjoy being around.
You’re at a dinner and everyone seems obsessed with talking about meaningless stuff. The weather. Gossip. How nice the food is. You think to yourself: “I can’t be the only sane person here”. So you try changing gear.
You bring up something that’s actually interesting to talk about. Philosophy, world problems, politics, psychology, just anything that isn’t lobotomized. People look uncomfortable, some seem to just stare at you.
“I’m sorry I actually talked about something that made sense!”
WHY ARE PEOPLE LIKE THIS?
When I delved into social psychology, I got a surprise: I learned that small talk has a very specific purpose. (If everyone does something seemingly meaningless, there’s often a hidden meaning behind it.)
Small talk is two humans just making noise with their mouths while a thousand things go on under the surface:
We pick up on the meta-communication of the other person.
- We check if they seem friendly or hostile
- If they seem stressed (maybe that means that they hide something)
- If they seem to be on the same intellectual level
- What their social energy level is
- Their social status level in the group
- If they seem confident or low self-esteem
And much more. All to figure out if this is a person we should befriend or stay away from.
These are things we determine subconsciously while we talk about the weather and how we look forward to those chicken tenders.
When I made friends with extremely socially skilled people in my late twenties, I learned that they viewed small talk in a different way than I did.
This is what they taught me:
You need to talk about insignificant things to make people comfortable to talk about significant things.
Today, I can confirm this:
I have amazing relationships with friends that I talk about deep, interesting things with every day. But when we’d just met, we made small talk (while we tried to figure out if we were a match).
Saying no to small talk = Saying no to new friendships.
So that’s the inner workings of small talk. It gives people time to subconsciously figure each other out.
With that said, we don’t want to get STUCK in it. A few minutes of small talk is usually enough. After that, most people get bored. We have to transition from small talk to the interesting stuff: People’s thoughts, dreams, fascinating concepts, interesting topics.
I talk about how to get past the small talk here.
There’s a saying that boggles my mind:
Half the world’s population has an intelligence below average.
It’s true by definition – somewhere around 4 billion people are below average not just in intelligence, but in any capacity you can measure.
So whenever I see something happening in the world that I can’t explain because it’s too stupid, I have to remind myself that a big chunk of the population just isn’t very smart.
But that’s only half the story. Here’s another fact:
Half the world population’s intelligence is above average.
I’m a smart person. I score high on IQ tests. Yet, I meet people who are so intelligent that they blow me out of the water. These people are proof that we can’t say “People are stupid”, because it doesn’t hold up. Some are, some aren’t.
In fact, it’s stupid to say that people are stupid because it’s a gross simplification.
I’ve learned that we can’t use “People are stupid” as a reason for not socializing. A large chunk of the population is really really smart (smarter than you and I). We can learn to make friends with them and have amazing, enriching relationships.
We shouldn’t let stupid people discourage us from going out and befriending smart people.
When things feel rough for you, being around people who are super happy can be really hard work. This is especially true if you’re suffering from depression or anxiety disorders.
This is partly because we often create a story surrounding how perfect their lives must be.
The thing is that we never know what someone else is going through. Lots of people whose lives look happy and easy from the outside are deeply unhappy in private.
The next time you feel yourself becoming angry at someone for how easy their life is, or even hating them, remember that lots of people emphasize the positives in their lives to look good to others. Remind yourself that you don’t know the full story.
Social media posts, in particular, often create an inaccurately positive impression of other people’s lives. If you are particularly struggling with other peoples’ happiness, consider taking a break from social media for a week or two.
Lots of us get angry at society in general. This can be because of the social rules we feel pressured to follow, the problems we see being ignored, or the way we feel that we’ve been treated unfairly. This can create negative feelings about the world around us and the way that people tolerate these things.
Hating society and social rules doesn’t mean that we hate individual people.
When I was at school, I only had a few friends. There were maybe 1 or 2 of us who really understood each other. At the time, it felt like that meant that I would always struggle to find people I liked and who understood me.
The thing is, there were only about 150 people in my year at school. If I could find one person who shared my beliefs and frustrations in a group of 150, basic math suggests that I should be able to find 112,000 in New York.
I bet that, if you try, you can think of at least a few people you like and respect. There are always people out there who share your worldview and who understand your frustrations.
The next time you feel that you hate society, remind yourself that there are thousands of people who share those feelings and try to find like-minded people.
Here’s the wheel I was stuck in.
Wheel of my thoughts:
Doesn’t bother to make small talk -> Doesn’t form deep connections -> Doesn’t talk with others about meaningful things -> “People are shallow” -> Develops a negative outlook on life -> Existing friends tire of negativity -> People are stupid -> Repeat.
Wheel of thoughts:
Recognizes the value of small talk and becomes good at it -> Learns how to also get past small talk and bond -> Forms new connections -> Caters to the needs of both in a friendship which deepens existing friendships -> Sees proof that there are great people -> Motivated to continue improving socially.
If you want to go deeper into the subject, check out my guides here:
Let me know what you think in the comments!