Saturday, January 01, 2011

Fried Ego

An earlier comment provoked me to think a little harder about something I said but I'm going to stand by my original opinion which is approximately thus - are we the person we think we are or are we the person people perceive us to be?

I'm sure this is an idea that's been kicked around by many people smarter than me but it occurred to me a long time ago, mostly I guess through personal experience.

I think we all imagine ourselves to be a little misunderstood. People are rarely as confident and self-assured as they might appear. Whilst I tend to avoid moments of solipsism which I mostly find to be rather self-indulgent, it is human nature that we tend to look inward rather than the reverse. We believe we have a fairly good grasp of the kind of person we are yet we are confused sometimes by the way people react to things we say or do. The only real conclusion to be drawn from that is that despite the impression we think we give off, we appear to be giving off a different version of ourself to others.

I can't think of particularly good examples but we're all familiar with the bulllying and aggressive businessman who's rather too keen to profess to actually be a pussycat who hates confrontation. Whatever he may think, people see a bully and act accordingly. He might actually enjoy the reputation and may seek even to encourage it but he's also anxious to suggest there is another side to him.

You might also find yourself in conversation with a relative stranger and they make a statement from which they are obviously seeking or expecting your approval and you think to yourself, at what point did I suggest I might be sympathitic to the point of view being presented to me?

The outcome of all this is that despite who you think you are, people react pretty much exclusively to their interpretation of how they see you. I contend, if your life is defined by your interactions with others - and this is the world that we live in - then other people's impression of you is far more significant than your own impression of yourself. The outcome of this is that you are defined in the world by the opinions of others and not by your own.

I don't want this to sound like I spend my nights tormented that I'm constantly misunderstood but I do sometimes wonder why people react in a certain way. Yes, we all have preconceptions and there are many experiments to show that our preconceptions can easily override evidence that utterly contradicts those preconceptions yet we continue to believe our preconceived idea to be the right one. That is more about opinions than impressions.

So, if you follow my rather random thoughts there, I think we are primarily the person that people see us as, and not really the person we see ourselves as. The hard truth is that whatever you think of yourself, people do not react to that, they react to what they think of you. And although there is also - depending on individual circumstances - a higher or lesser element of self-determination in our lives, the reality is you can't usually get through it without others and they will see you as they find you, not how you find yourself.

Once in a while, you find a person who can clarify your thoughts even better than you can and they actually understand you better than you understand yourself. As a young man in my twenties I was exquistely analysed and dismantled by an ex-girlfriend. She read me like a damn book. It made me think about how I am perceived and how subtle the process of being misunderstood can be. The relationship foundered but I told her then, and subsequently - very gratefully - that nobody ever did that to me and I was I hope a better person for what she did. I don't know if it ever helped me in the future - only others can be the judge of that.