As an infant scans his mother’s face he absorbs clues to who he is; as adults we continue to search for our reflections in others’ eyes. While the parent-child bond is not necessarily destiny, it does take quite a bit to alter self-concepts forged in childhood, whether good or bad. People rely on others’ impressions to nurture their views about themselves, says William Swann, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. His research shows that people with negative self-concepts goad others to evaluate them harshly, especially if they suspect the person likes them—they would rather be right than be admired.
If you don’t mind, read that last sentence again for me. Does this explain assholes? I’ve been puzzling this out for years and years, and this is the best explanation I have heard. Another way to say it, without putting words in the mouth of the author, is that because people who have negative self-concepts may also value being true to themselves, “being right” and being awful is being a real person, and being admired is “selling out”. It’s a matter of pride to show resistance to mass pressure. I can understand non-assholes having a tough time understanding that someone’s idea of a better choice is to be a worser person, but that’s the topsy-turvy logic of someone who feels like their existence is not a benefit to the world, and yet still has a shred of integrity.
In order to change such a mentality, one would need to admit how wrong one got it, come back to human and face the fact that they’re not so smart after all. In effect, they’d have to take back all they’ve said and done in the name of showing their contempt for themselves and for the lack of understanding they’ve received from others. They’d have to abandon the sinister vines they’ve wholeheartedly nurtured in the garden of pride and defense.
When we talk of someone’s idea of conviction and standing their own ground, it is hard to give up and change, no matter who you are, or in which direction.