Learn Yourself
The Laws of Human Nature

Learn Yourself

Master human strategist and bestselling writer Robert Greene takes an uncharacteristic detour into empathy.

Everyone has to deal with destructive personality types. They come in many forms: narcissistic bosses, manipulative friends, envious co-workers and passive-aggressive family members. This study of human nature by bestselling author and modern-day Machiavelli Robert Greene provides a guide to anticipating, understanding and handling negative behaviors, in yourself and others.

Greene suggests that the secret to exerting influence – Greene’s career specialty – is mastering your emotions and cultivating a positive attitude toward others and toward your own work ethic. Given his oeuvre, he shows surprising compassion, and urges you to be kind and empathetic. Greene has always been a superlative mass-market explainer of complex concepts – distilling Machiavelli, for example, in his wildly popular The 48 Laws of Power. In many ways, this is Greene’s more than competent explaining of Jung’s writings – or Joseph Campbell’s – for an audience who may never have heard of either.

Master Your Emotions

Everyone has biased beliefs that generate emotional, irrational reactions. To gain mastery over your emotions, become aware of biases that stem from the pleasure principle – the desire to avoid pain and maximize pleasure. 

As long as there are humans, the irrational will find its voices and means of spreading.Robert Greene

Your biases could include a variety of cognitive errors. With confirmation bias, you look for facts that support what you already believe. With conviction bias, you defend an idea you want to believe. Under the influence of appearance bias, you cultivate a false image others see as positive. With group bias, you don’t question ideas your tribe or social group believes.If you are subject to blame bias, you don’t consider your mistakes. With superiority bias, you view yourself as ethical and rational, and see only the mistakes of others.

Familiarize yourself with your emotional responses, and cultivate rational thinking by maintaining a healthy balance of curiosity and skepticism.


People who validate themselves have healthy self-esteem, Greene notes, but those with unstable self-images can become narcissists. Narcissistic leaders anger easily, thrive on interpersonal drama and create unstable environments. 

Our mission in life is to … learn how to turn our sensitivity outward, toward others, instead of inward. Robert Greene

Greene cautions you to be mindful of your natural narcissism. Many people imagine they’re superior to others. People often experience success and then indulge in feelings of grandiosity. An unrealistically high self-image leads to irrational decisions. Pay attention to destructive signs of a superior attitude in yourself and others, such as defensiveness when facing criticism or dislike of authority.

Nonverbal Cues

No gesture is empty; everything from people’s breathing patterns to the objects on their desks provides clues revealing their feelings. Greene urges you to manage your behavior in order to control the impression you make on others.

Everything people do is a sign of some sort; there is no such thing as a gesture that does not communicate.  Robert Greene

Familiarize yourself with signs of hostility from other people, such as squinted eyes or pursed lips.When people are seated, notice if they are pointing their feet away from you or toward you. Note that dominant people make eye contact with whomever they please.Mixed signals might show in someone’s tone of voice or a tense smile that masks contempt.


The author touches on a familiar theme when he says to pay attention to people’s hidden desire to gain power over you. Think of yourself and the things you produce or create as objects of desire. Greene warns that you won’t stimulate desire in anyone else by revealing every single thing about yourself.

Dangle in front of others what they are missing most in life, what they are forbidden to have, and they will go crazy with desire. Robert Greene

Withdraw periodically – make yourself unavailable – to create the impression that different people are competing for your attention or your work.

Repressed Desires

Everyone has a socially unacceptable internal persona whose aspects they repress. Psychologist Carl Jung referred to this as the “Shadow.” To identify other people’s Shadows, note contradictory behavior, emotional outbursts and moments of denial. Surprisingly, for an author who specializes in tactics meant to gain the upper hand, Greene urges you to be empathetic toward people who are grappling with their flaws. 

Become aware of your own dark side. In being conscious of it, you can control and channel the creative energies that lurk in your unconscious.Robert Greene

To control your Shadow, scrutinize your destructive hidden desires, such as revenge fantasies or insecurities. Embrace your repressed desires. Explore your unconscious desires through creative or inventive work. Never fear showing your Shadow.

Expanding on his Jungian themes, Greene writes that people identify with masculine or feminine gender roles and often form negative gender-based relationship dynamics in early childhood. For example, men whose mothers didn’t show them sufficient care in early childhood may project unrealistic fantasies of their ideal female onto elusive women. Greene urges you to cultivate the best aspects of your personality by expressing positive qualities people associate with both genders. 

Likable Leadership

People are fickle about those in charge, liking them one moment and turning against them when they show weakness. Polish your leadership skills by working hard and being accountable.

Authority is the delicate art of creating the appearance of power, legitimacy and fairness while getting people to identify with you as a leader who is in their service. Robert Greene

Cultivate inner authority by accepting your duty to contribute to society using your unique talents.

Mortality and Mercy

People need a sense of purpose. Accepting your mortality triggers your purpose and urgency and sharpens your perspective as you determine which of your priorities matter.

By becoming deeply aware of our mortality, we intensify our experience of every aspect of life. Robert Greene

Accepting mortality lets you experience life more fully and profoundly. Focusing on death – or that which you can’t comprehend –means focusing on the sublime, that which touches you with fear, awe and wonder.

Greene generally shows no mercy for human weakness. His ruthless, wholly strategic guides to human interaction offer few moments of sympathy; they are manuals for exploiting the foibles of others. But here, Greene offers compassion, empathy and understanding. It’s an almost shocking repudiation of his brand, but still offers sufficient cutthroat advice to satisfy his most loyal readers.

Robert Greene also wrote The New York Times bestsellers The Art of Seduction, The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War and Mastery.

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