Is it True You Can Never Truly Know Someone?

October 1, 2019
People fail you sometimes. The people closest to you aren't always who you think they are. In a way, it can feel like you have no choice but to accept you can never truly know someone.

In some situations, you may have decided that it’s simply not possible to truly know someone. This could either happen because they act in an unexpected way (whether good or bad) or because they disappoint you. It might make you think that you should assume nothing when it comes to other people. But is that really true?

English poet John Donne once said that “No man is an island, entire of itself”. What he meant is that we’re all part of a planet. However, as much as we’d like it to be this way, the people close to you don’t always act as you expect or want them to.

Predictability feels good to most people. If you expect something from someone, you’ll hope they’ll do it. You want to be able to assume that your partner, family, or friends will respond to specific circumstances in specific ways and that you’ll always be able to count on them.

Human beings aren’t born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them but life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

-Gabriel García Márquez-

A couple sitting together on a beach.

Is it true that you can never truly know someone?

The simple truth is that you can never truly know someone. At least not deeply, and not with enough certainty that you can really put yourself in their mental universe and predict with total accuracy what they will or won’t do.

But accepting that fact doesn’t have to be cause for concern. Nobody has total control over their world. That applies to both things and people.

People can change (and sometimes need to)

One of the reasons why you can never truly know someone is that we all have the capacity to change. We’re all able to take on new life goals, move forward, mature, and even change some of our personality traits. But this is a controversial idea because many people think personality is fixed in adulthood.

  • However, if you accept this idea, it can help you avoid going from one disappointment to another. People change because your life experiences can change you and because life sometimes puts you in situations where you have to rethink things and maybe even re-build yourself.
  • Studies like the one conducted by Dr. Nathan W. Hudson at the University of Michigan yielded interesting results. Many of us don’t feel completely satisfied with our personalities. Thus, many people want to polish their true selves. That involves working through insecurities, strengthening your identity, and changing certain traits to feel more fulfilled.

This process of change can often involve leaving behind certain people or disappointing those close to you. When you set out on the path to self-fulfillment, you’re inevitably going to surprise a person or two with your decisions. You may even surprise yourself!

A tree with two faces pointing out of it, one covered in leaves, the other just branches.

You can never truly know someone because you only see them the way you want to see them

It’s common to hear people complaining about the fact that they can never truly know someone. This usually happens during periods of bitterness and frustration at unmet expectations. But the truth is that we all make mistakes, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. At some point, we all disappoint those who love us or act in a way they didn’t expect.

But that’s not the only thing you have to consider here. In some cases, you can never truly know someone because you won’t make any room for an image other than the one you’ve already sketched in your mind. You may simply push away anything you don’t want to see.

Some people actually end up building an image of absolute, unrealistic perfection. They assume far too many things. This leads them to idealize the other person and subject them to this exaggerated image of how they want to see this beloved person.

Conclusion

Lewis R. Goldberg, a renowned expert in the field of human character, says that personality isn’t always a reliable, rigid place to look if you want to predict how someone will act in their life. There are other small aspects you don’t notice, unseen variables that are out of your control, that make this impossible.

So yes, it’s true: you can never truly know someone, no matter how close you are. The best option you have is to trust them. You simply have to accept the uncertainty.

As we all know, nothing is certain in this world. The best thing you can do is to enjoy the present and accept that life is synonymous with change, uncertainty, and surprises.

  • Nathan W. Hudson, Brent W. Roberts (2014) Goals to change personality traits: Concurrent links between personality traits, daily behavior, and goals to change oneself. Journal of Research in Personality. 76 (2), 1–16.  doi https://experts.illinois.edu/en/publications/goals-to-change-personality-traits-concurrent-links-between-perso