Why Do We Act Differently Around Different People?


Sometimes I find myself acting like an entirely different person when I’m around different people. Some of my friends bring out the “tomboy” in me, while I act like a “girly girl” around other friends. And this really confuses me.

I feel dishonest about the person that I really am, and I feel as thought I don’t really know myself. I’m afraid if my friends notice these changes in my behaviour, they’ll think I’m “fake” or “two-faced”. This discourages me from going out, meeting new people, and letting my true personality shine.

If you’re like me and are confused about the person you really are, and if this confusion discourages you from socializing and bonding with people, do not be alarmed. You probably don’t suffer from bipolar or multiple personality disorder or such. In fact, it is normal to have contradictory traits.

You can be outgoing and shy.

You can be patient and impatient.

You can be caring and uncaring.

But then with all these opposing traits, how do we even function? We must seem like a big mess to everyone around us! Well that’s not true.

Think of your traits as a big filing cabinet. Your mind organizes your traits into files. Psychologists call these files schemas.

Schemas are mental structures that guide how we think and what we do.

Each one of us has a number of self-schemas. I personally have a student schema, a daughter schema, a friend schema, a girlfriend schema, employee schema and many more.

You might feel like you have contradictory characteristics because you have multiple schemas.

Your brain needs to pull files out of your mind’s filing cabinet depending on the situation you are facing. This file gives you the information you need in order to deal with that specific situation.

I used to work as a cashier in a very terrible shoe store. There were tens of people coming in everyday, complaining about the low quality of shoes and high prices. Although I was not responsible for the company’s mistakes, the job required me to be patient when a customer was being difficult. My “employee” file included my patient self.

On the contrary, when I’m having arguments with a close friend, and when he/she is hurting my feelings, I react differently than when I did at work. I become impatient, jump in the middle of their sentences and point out their mistakes. My brain pulls out a “disagreement with friends” file that includes my impatient self.

But don’t worry. This doesn’t mean we’re two-faced or anything. In fact, researchers say the more schemas we have, the better!

Why is it Good to Have Multiple Schemas?

Having multiple schemas means that if you lose one, it won’t feel as bad as it would have if you had fewer schemas.

Our romantic-life schema is a BIG one. Many people who spend a lot of time with their partners and pay less attention to their immediate family, work and hobbies become devastated following a break up. They feel a great void in their lives, because they are used to being a boyfriend/girlfriend and nothing else. This is why it’s so important to work on your career, stay in touch with family members, meet new people and participate in physical and artistic activities.

Having multiple schemas means you will be able to deal with new situations better.

If all you have is a ‘student schema’ and an ‘at home schema’, you will not know how to socialize with people you’ve never met before.

If a stranger starts a conversation with you, you will not know how to interact with that individual verbally or physically.

When there’s no “how to interact with a stranger” file, you are left stuttering, looking afraid and confused. Or maybe your mind will pull out your ‘at home’ file, in which you will be too friendly and you end up revealing all the embarrassing events of your day. They will probably be turned off and back away.

Instead of letting these schemas confuse you, use them to your advantage.

Go out and create new schemas. Get an “at gym” schema, an “at art class schema”, an “at a music festival schema”.

Not only will you have more fun, you will explore who you are and discover your capabilities. You will add more files to your “me” cabinet, and get to know yourself more.

When you engage in more activities and put yourself in different situations you will also find a pattern in your behavior. As we grow older and our life experiences increase, we learn more about our identity. Hence we experience less confusion. Also, we will learn how to deal with different situations better.

Please take a minute and share this post with your friends. Chances are, they might be as confused about themselves as we are, and would benefit from reading this post.

Remember that many people feel the way you do, myself included. So don’t be afraid to be your many amazing selves.


14 thoughts on “Why Do We Act Differently Around Different People?

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  4. This was a really good read. I was searching for why I act differently around my wife and my boss, and this came up. Perfect choice Google! Now just to figure out how to adjust my schema’s for a more desirable interactions.


    • Hi Kyle, thanks for your comment! I’m glad you found my article useful.

      I had a social psychology professor who studied attitude change. He always said that to change any problematic thought or behaviour, we need to first become fully aware of it, then deliberately try to change it.
      Since schemas can act automatically, it might be hard to change them at first. It will take a lot of deliberate practice. But eventually the new thoughts or behaviours that you would like to develop will integrate into the schema and become automatic.
      Hope this helps!


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