Bright Side

3 Reasons Why We Are Kinder to Strangers Than to the Ones We Love

Our behavior changes around different people, and we might not always be aware of it. There’s a scientific study that explains hidden mechanisms that basically “control” what we do and say. After 3 decades’ worth of aggression research, psychology professor Deborah South Richardson was able to find out why our behavior varies depending on the people around us, and what prompts changes in our behavior.

We at Bright Side wanted to zero in on this recurring pattern and find out why we act so differently around strangers as compared to our loved ones, and how we can prevent this in the future.

We think our relationship is strong enough to endure it.

We spend a big chunk of our time with random people, acquaintances, or strangers. Whether it is at work or at school, we often have to put on a happy face in front of others and be at our politest behavior, simply because we want to appear kind and cultured in front of others. But when we come home or when we’re in the company of people we’re close to, we loosen up right away.

We feel more comfortable being ourselves with the people we love. But being ourselves means showing every side of our character, including the bad side. And, a study confirms that we are prone to unconsciously releasing our anger toward the people we feel closest to because we believe that our relationship with them is strong enough to endure it. The closer we get to someone, and the more trust we’ve established, the more we feel like we can push the limits of that relationship.

We feel less secure to just be ourselves around new people.

When we meet new people, we don’t really show our true colors. They simply don’t get to see the real version of us until we get to the point where we develop a deeper connection with them. Even if something is bothering us about them, we won’t make a big deal out of it because we’re not relaxed with that person and we don’t know how they will respond.

The same doesn’t go for the people closest to us. On the contrary, when our loved ones do something that we find irritating, we feel more comfortable enough to bring it up. In fact, because we are so close to our family members or significant others, we are more likely to be open about the things we dislike about them. With them, we have developed a kind of relationship that we know won’t get jeopardized, even if we yell and fight with each other on occasion.

We don’t tolerate the negative qualities of the people we spend the most time with.

You don’t suddenly start hating certain characteristics about your roommate, your family members, or your best friend. Even if it feels like it, what’s happening is that you stopped tolerating things that you didn’t like about them in the first place. The more time you spend with someone, the less tolerant you become of their negative quirks.

This doesn’t happen with strangers because you don’t spend enough time with them to develop this intolerance for their personal characteristics. Even if something bothers you about them, you don’t say it because you know you won’t have to spend enough time with them for it to matter.

There are ways we can prevent this kind of behavior.

As you can see, there is a reason why we treat the people that we love less kindly than strangers. Now that we know why we behave the way we do with our loved ones compared to strangers, let’s see what we can do to prevent this kind of behavior in the future:

  • Take a break from your loved ones when needed. If we spend too much time with the people we love, we might find ourselves being less and less tolerant about their quirks. Spending some time away from them will allow us to reflect on the relationship with a fresh perspective and appreciate the good in our loved ones.
  • Spend time with your loved ones in the company of others. When we’re in the company of people who we have a brief and superficial relationship with, we find ourselves behaving more politely and kindly, and this applies to our loved ones as well. That way, we can both observe each other when we are on our best behavior.

By learning why we behave the way we do, hopefully, we’ll be able to control our reactions the next time we want to lash out at our loved ones and appreciate their presence in our lives.

Have you ever treated strangers better than the people you love? Do you know any more strategies that could help people prevent this type of behavior? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Preview photo credit Coco / Pixar