Human beings form strong emotional attachments to people. This trait can be good because it often helps us develop loving and loyal relationships. Such relationships are the foundation of a flourishing human life.
On the other hand, sometimes we develop such strong attachments to other people, that we begin to lose our sense of self. We base our identity in some way on being friends with, loving, supporting, or helping others. This type of attachment behavior happens in all strong relationships to some degree, but when it becomes a consistent and reoccurring pattern, it can develop to an extreme and imbalanced degree. When it does, it develops into something I call a My Guy Bias.
A bias is a strong inclination that we develop for or against something, often based on faulty reasoning, to the extent that it causes us to overlook contrary evidence. When we develop a My Guy Bias, we develop such a strong, positive inclination for someone that it causes us to overlook evidence that the person we love is misbehaving; or needs to be confronted about their bad behavior; or is hurting us or other people.
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Both males and females can develop a My Guy Bias with any person in their life—male or female. And we can develop this bias with friends, family members, partners, acquaintances, or political and religious leaders. We can also develop a My Guy Bias with organizations we belong to or work for. When we develop a My Guy Bias, we increasingly lose our ability to maintain our identity separate from another person, group, or organization, we love or admire.
When this happens, we become increasingly involved in supporting, maintaining, soothing, helping, and excusing the person or organization we are attached to, as well as in accepting and promoting their view of life.
And because our sense of identity is so tightly interwoven with that other person or group, it is really difficult for us to hear any criticism of them, to look at their shortcomings, or to believe that they could be acting inappropriately. (I am going to use the pronoun them in this person to note that the guy in My Guy Bias can be a male, female, group, or organization.)
After all, if our identity is tied up in this person, any criticism of them feels like a criticism of us, or it threatens the anchor of our identity.
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Thus, the more we suffer from My Guy Bias, the greater lengths to which we will go to excuse the person we love or admire, and the more we will lash out anyone who raises concerns about them.
When we develop a My Guy Bias, we decide a person is “our Guy” in the sense that we self-identify with them and lose our own objectivity. In essence, their thoughts and behavior become our own thoughts and behavior. This makes it really difficult for us to recognize when they are behaving badly. We may recognize theoretically that they could be wrong, but we don’t demonstrate this knowledge in our practical actions.
A My Guy Bias becomes even more of a problem when the person we are attached to is very invested in being right and being admired by everyone. People like this have a very hard time being open and transparent; taking constructive criticism; and being honest about their faults.
Such situations are especially dangerous because a person can base their identity on being right and admired by everyone. And the people that love this person can base their identity in the person being right or admirable. This inevitably leads to bad behavior being overlooked or rationalized, and this almost always results in the people involved, as well as associated people, being hurt.
Any person with which we have a relationship long-term is going to behave badly sometimes. People (and organizations filled with them)–no matter how great they are–are human and make mistakes and have lapses in judgment—even big ones.
For the sake of our own moral and personal well-being, we must be able to recognize and address bad behavior, even when it comes from people we like and who have good intentions. We should have clear standards in mind for how moral and fair people act, and we must be willing to hold the people we love to these standards.
If we do not, we will likely find ourselves excusing the behavior of people we love, even though we would criticize this behavior in people we don’t love. This is a dangerous situation to be in. The more we become blind to the inappropriate behavior of people and leaders we love, the more likely we are to become caught up in immoral behavior that we later look back on and think, “How did I ever think that was a good idea? How did I not see that was wrong?”
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Now, if you are like me at this point in the post, you are probably thinking of a list of people you want to send this post to because you believe they have a My Guy Bias. I get that. One of the reasons I am writing this post is because I see a lot of My Guy Bias in our current political conflict. So, I certainly have some people that I think need to consider this issue.
But it is important that we realize that the person we have the most control over is our self. We should also realize that we have the potential to develop a My Guy Bias, just like anyone else. The more we work to overcome My Guy Biases in our own life, the more we strengthen other people’s ability to do the same. So, I recommend you work on yourself first (I will, too) and then, if you need to, send this post to someone you think needs to read it.
I have been working on addressing My Guy Bias in my own life, and I am writing this post to share some of the ideas and tools that have helped me.
Here are some steps you can take to help you develop a resistance to developing a My Guy Bias:
One: Work on building your sense of your own personal worthiness. The more we feel bad about our self, have a low sense of self-worth, and lack a clear sense of purpose, the more likely we are to anchor our identity in another person. You can read more about building your own sense of worthiness here, here, and here.
Two: Gain a clear understanding of when people are mistreating you or other people and develop a clear plan for addressing such mistreatment. You deserve to be treated respectfully in all situations. So does everyone else. You can read about this here, here, and here.
Three: Become aware of your dark side because everyone has one. Having a dark side doesn’t mean you are a horrible person. The dark side of us is the deeply painful places we have in us that develop as a result of instances of overwhelming fear, bullying, betrayals, or other harmful situations that we suffer before we have the emotional resources to deal with them. We all have a dark side, and most of us are unaware of our dark side until some life crisis occurs that brings it to our attention. We are often afraid to deal with our dark side.
This fear is understandable. However, the more we fail to deal with it, the more we are likely to develop problems like a My Guy Bias. Thus, facing and dealing with our dark side is important for addressing this problem. You can read more about this here.
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Four: Honestly reflect on this question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how able are you to recognize bad behavior in people you love and to talk to them about it, even if they get mad at you? (1 = not good at at all; 10 = very good).
If you cannot identify any faults in people or leaders you love, or if you are afraid to talk to them or others about it because you believe they will get mad at you (or that other people will), consider working on steps one through three above. You may find it helpful to ask a friend or a therapist to help you with this.
If you don’t know how to rate yourself, consider asking a trusted friend, especially one whom you feel has the ability to be objective about people, to help you and be as honest with you as they can be about the issue.
Five: Recognize that you are valuable in yourself and have a purpose that goes beyond your relationships to other people. Of course your relationships are important, but your purpose is not just to help or support or defend other people. Your overarching purpose is to bring more of your unique light into the world. You can read more about this here.
Six: Honestly reflect on this question: How often do I permit, excuse, or rationalize behavior in people and leaders I love that I would criticize in people or leaders I don’t love? You can read more about this here and here. If you are having problems honestly answering this question, I recommend ask a friend who holds different personal or political opinions than you to help you answer it.
If you realize that you struggle with this, consider working on steps one through three above. You may find it helpful to work with a friend or a therapist on this.
Seven: Honestly reflect on this question: How able am I to listen objectively to people who offer evidence-based criticism of people and leaders I love?
If you realize that this is really hard for you, consider working on steps one through three above. You may also find it helpful to work with a friend or a therapist on this.
Eight: Recognize that some people and leaders with certain character traits encourage us, consciously or unconsciously, to develop a My Guy Bias. People often do this because it fills an emotional need of theirs. Of course, we all have emotional needs, and emotional needs are not in themselves problem. They become a problem when, in our pursuit to fill our own emotional needs, we encourage people to act in ways harmful to themselves and others.
Here are character traits of people or leaders that encourage others to develop a My Guy Bias. You will notice that all of us possess some of the character traits below. But the more of these traits people possess and act on regularly, the more destructive these problems become:
A need for people to admire, agree with, and congratulate them.
An inability to hear personal criticism.
An inability to acknowledge their faults.
An inability to accept mistakes, failures, or losing.
A need to be better or more special than everyone else.
An inability to consistently consider people’s needs and goals as important as their own.
A lack of clear moral standards or clear standards of justice and fairness.
A habit of only treating well people they like.
A tendency to view the world in terms of winners and losers.
An inability to consistently treat well people who criticize them and disagree with them.
An inability to consistently put people’s needs or desires above their own for any length of time.
An inability to engage in constructive conflict and work through relationship problems.
An inability to acknowledge or work on their dark side.
A tendency to encourage people to show uncritical support of loved-ones or leaders.
A tendency to discourage conflict, honest dialogue, and self-reflection in personal relationships, organizations, or politics.
As you can imagine, someone who regularly shows and acts on these character traits has a strong need to surround themselves with people who will praise them and show them undying devotion. They also need these people to hate or dislike the people they hate. These are factors that strongly encourage other people to develop a My Guy Bias.
Take some time to think about the people, leaders, and organizations you have the strongest attachment to. Do any of them regularly demonstrate these characteristics? If you are having problems answering this question objectively, consider asking an objective friend or therapist to help you.
If you believe that someone you love consistently shows these character traits, they are very likely encouraging you to develop a My Guy Bias, whether they know it or not. Please understand that no matter how wonderful this person is in other respects, when they encourage you to develop a My Guy Bias, they undermine your sense of self; your moral reasoning; and your ability to think clearly. This is damaging to you in both small and large ways.
Therefore, consider talking with this person about the issue; minimizing your contact with them; or taking some other clear step to address the problem.
Do you encourage My Guy Biases? And by the way, you may have realized in reading this post that you encourage My Guy Biases in some way. If so, please know that you are still a valuable person with intrinsic worth who has so much to give to the world. If you find that you regularly demonstrate the characteristics of someone who encourages My Guy Biases, it is likely that these tendencies come from unhealed pain you have–your dark side.
I myself have unwittingly encouraged a My Guy Bias in the past in certain situations. (I have also suffered My Guy Biases.) In retrospect, I realize that I did it because of fear and a need to control things. As I have worked with my own dark side, the less likely I have become to engage in My Guy Bias.
Please know that you can overcome this tendency and that the more you do so, the better able you will be to develop flourishing and loving relationships. Please consider talking to a friend or therapist about this.
Note: The term My Guy Bias is my original term, but it grows out of some of the concepts I have studied in the works of the Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire. You can read more about him here.
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