Mistaking Interest for Regard
Mistaking interest for regard is all too common in relationships these days. Over the years, I’ve witnessed a certain pattern countless times. A relationship begins with quite a bang. One party gets completely bowled over by the attention the other person shows in them. They’re flattered by all the attention. And the mere fact that someone wants displays so much entusiasm at the mere sight of them is nearly intoxicating.
Too bad taking interest in someone is not the same things as having any positive regard for them. But sadly, mistaking interest for regard is all too common. And that’s one of the main reasons I (and my co-author) wrote How Did We End Up Here? Mistaking interest for regard is how folks enter a relationship with high hopes only to eventually find themselves abused and/or exploited in some way.
Healthy relationships depend on character. Unfortunately, we live in an age marked by varying degrees of character disturbance and dysfunction. You have to possess the right character attributes to afford a relationship partner proper regard. (Displaying that regard is the most accurate definition of genuine love.) And you have to be of mature character yourself to have a chance at properly discerning a potential partner’s capacity for such regard. (Even then, some disturbed characters are so good at the art of impression management that they can fool even the most discriminating folks.)
You have to be capable of genuine intimacy is to properly nurture a healthy relationship. (See: Intimacy Capacity Defines Character.) And to be capable of true intimacy you have to have a well-developed capacity for empathy. Of course, it takes two folks with fairly well-developed capacities in these areas to forge a truly loving relationship. But all too often these days folks with very different capacities get together. And sometimes, in their own character immaturity, one partner may forsake better judgment for the fantasy that with enough love and enough time their empathy and intimacy-deficient partner will change. But while such change is always (to varying degrees) possible, it has to be ardently desired by the character-impaired party. And most dysfunctional characters lack the necessary desire.
A Certain “Radar” for Exploitation Opportunity
Most disturbed characters are neither ignorant nor stupid. They know how important it is to most folks to feel valued and validated. And they know that some folks have greater needs in that regard than others. In fact, the users and abusers among us have a sort of “radar” for the kind of person who is so unsure of themselves that they look outward for validation.
You can see that the formula for exploitation is actually quite simple: make the needy person feel special, shower them with attention, show lots of interest, knock them over with what seems all measure of positive regard. Then, once you know you have their heart, you can reveal what little true regard you actually have for that heart. By then, they’ll have invested much in the relationship and it will be hard for them to let go, despite how you may have treated them. (See also: Emotional Dependency Versus Mutual Regard.)
Some disturbed characters are actually good readers of other’s needs. They might know, for example, that what you need most is affirmation from others. So, they praise or flatter you often. They might know you need to feel wanted and to belong. So, you confuse the fervor they show that later turns out to be nothing more than a desire to possess. Mistaking interest for regard is insidious. The fervor someone shows has nothing to do with how much they value you as a person. But it can easily seem so. However, the truth is that they likely see something in you they know to be valuable and that they simply want to possess it. And that makes the whole relationship about what benefits them right from the start.
Some disturbed characters are also abusive predators. They scope out and enter relationships for the primary purpose of exploitation. Then there are the emotional predators. They prey on your emotions. Such predators understand that you feel and feel deeply. And lacking in caring themselvew, they know they can capitalize on your good nature if they just act like they think the world of you. (See: Abuse Victims Mistake Interest for Regard.) As I’ve written about before, it’s all part of the game of manipulation and impression management And I’ll be talking more about impression management in the upcoming posts. And you can learn about it in depth in both Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing.)