creating accurate mental maps of others and ourselves


Every single one of us possesses the ability to map others, to make predictions about how a person will feel or react to our own behavior.

And every single one of us utilizes that map to guide our own choices to attempt to move us toward the outcome we are seeking.

The key to getting ahead of people who manipulate in the most insidious ways is the ability to see a person’s behavior fully without attaching stories about inherent goodness or worth to it.

Sometimes our intentions are pro-social- “I know it will make my friend happy to complement their new haircut”

And sometimes they are not- “I know that making a comment about this person’s work in this tone will make them second guess themselves while making my intentions seem benevolent.”

And some people may tend more towards pro- or anti-social than others.

When we create a mental assessment of someone as inherently good, kind, honest, and having benevolent intentions, any behavior that doesn’t match that map is going to throw us into crisis.

This is a phenomenon that David Schnarch calls “spaghetti brain.”

It is the incongruence between our narrative of a person and the reality of them. It is an incomplete and inaccurate map of them.

When we base our investment in another on the belief that they are inherently good, rather than inherently human, not only does it create an unstable foundation for a relationship that can weather imperfection, difference, and conflict, it also renders us vulnerable to more insidious forms of manipulation.

An immensely powerful tool to begin to map others with greater clarity is to take a step back from a person and ask yourself these questions:

• What does this person want me to believe about them?

•What about the way they are behaving and the words they are saying tells me this?

• What map does this person have of me and how might that map be informing the way they’re choosing to interact?

• What behaviors have they demonstrated, or what things have they said that don’t match my current map of them? How is this person trying to move me into or out of a position to suit them?

These are not questions you can begin to honestly or neutrally investigate if you feel beholden to maintaining a solely positive map of a person, or if you believe that acknowledging unkind intentions means you must now regard the person as irredeemably bad or unsafe.

In fact, these are questions that you can and should turn towards yourself so you can begin to construct a more accurate map of your own behavior and intentions.

And utilizing them to better understand yourself as well as the other can guide you in safely navigating difficult situations with your integrity intact. This practice opens up a perspective on interpersonal dynamics that grant you greater freedom, flexibility, and autonomy.