You Look Very Familiar To Me...

I was a freshman in college when I first became fascinated by psychology and human behavior. I even remember the day it happened. I was in a Psych 101 class when Professor Brock put an image of three married couples up on the screen in the front of the room. It was weird because the pairs looked exactly alike. More like brothers and sisters than husbands and wives. When she advanced to the next slide, she showed the same couples 30-40 years earlier. The similarities were gone, meaning they didn’t look so much alike when they first got married. She asked us what happened. What would cause two people to look so similar after decades of living together?

We all had our opinions. Most thinking the transformations must have something to do with eating the same foods or living a similar lifestyle. The truth never occurred to us. That, in a very subtle and indistinct manner, they actually did resemble one another all along.  In fact, it was those similarities that actually formed their initial attractions.

Even though we were stupid, 18 year-old college kids, we should have known better than to think living under the same roof with someone could alter your genetic makeup and physical appearance. Professor Brock had to point out the obvious to us. Because we are attracted to ourselves, we find anyone with features similar to ours equally attractive. The third slide presented on the screen that morning made the point even clearer when we saw pictures of people with their pets and how often they too look alike.

From the first moment we see our own reflection, our brain has a decision to make. Does it accept what it sees as its standard for beauty or does it reject it in horror? Since the latter can have some serious psychological and emotional consequences to one’s self image and self esteem, most of our brains adopt the former. That doesn’t mean we don’t spend the rest of our lives looking into mirrors wishing we could change something. But for the most part, we like what we see.

Liking ourselves is not limited to the way we look. It extends to our values and beliefs, to our heritage and culture, to our political and social views, to our interests, our associations, and our relationships. Everything that forms our identity and makes us who we are.

Just as we are drawn to the similarities we see in the faces of our spouses, partners, and pets, we are also attracted to the identities of others when they resemble our own. It’s one of the ways loyal relationships get built. We see something in others that looks familiar to us and a bond is formed. But that also means the reverse is true. When others see a part of their identity in you, they will feel more connected. Maybe you are both Italian, or grew up in the same state, or like canning tomatoes, or have the same kind of dog. Maybe those simple, subtle connections are just the tip of the identities you share. Like the married couples who started out not looking much alike. The similarities are there, and over time can become more pronounced as the differences fade away.

The point is don’t be afraid to show bits and pieces of who you are to the people who are important to your career. You never know which ones will form the connections that could last a lifetime.

James Kane