Perspective And Self Perception

Talking to an ILIASM friend here recently about the gift of perspective and the mysteries of perception I realize that I am someone whose perceptions are often off. Due to some long standing wounds and hurts inside of me I don’t always see myself the way others see me and I do not always see others the way they are.  These wounds and hurts have kept me in a codependent cycle of self-doubt and distrust.  This friend and I (she can name herself if she wishes) were discussing her current relationship and her realization that her lover doesn’t see from the outside how happy she is in the relationship.  He recently asked if she was happy with him and she was shocked he had to ask because in her mind she had clearly made her happiness known to him and expressed it through action.
I am amazed sometimes at others' perceptions of me.  I don’t realize how I am perceived.  In my work lately I have been in the media for a few things.  When I’m being interviewed I interpret myself as nervous.  I can feel my heart pounding nearly out of my chest and I get a little dizzy.  I believe it reads on my face and can be heard in my voice.  Despite this, recently I was added to the list of official experts used when someone in my field is needed to give an opinion in criminal court cases.  That made me realize that how I feel I am or should be perceived is not how I actually appear or the powers that be would not put me anywhere near a list like that.  My perspective is different.
In my marriage I perceived him as probably right more often than me.  I thought I was causing problems more often than not.  I thought everyone else could see it too.  Much of that was because I saw myself as damaged, unlovable and unloved.  When people mistreated me I figured they knew better than I did what was normal and what was deserved.  My self-perception has been skewed for much of my life.  My perception of others has also been skewed.
I spent my childhood fighting the adult voices around me that told me I was wrong, mean, stubborn, obstinate, defiant and “difficult”.  I don’t agree with any of that.  I never have.  But others did who were important adults in my life.  So while I chose to disagree with them and fight to save my Self as a child, as an adult I have been more vulnerable to those types of beliefs coming at me from others.  I can protect myself from THOSE people that have always said those things because they always thought that way and I disagreed from the beginning.  I have won that battle.  But now as an adult when I perceive that a NEW person has similar perceptions of me, it eats away at my very soul.  It means that perhaps I was wrong for fighting all the stuff that was thrown at me as a kid.  If I was told that as a child by important adults and now I am being told the same things by others… then everyone else must be right and I must be wrong.
Some of that is changing.  Recently I agreed to something that once I agreed to it I realized made me uncomfortable.  It made me uncomfortable to the point of nearly bursting into tears and having episodes of tremors.  So I followed my instincts and backed out.  In doing so I realized that in my marriage I taught myself to ignore the red flags.  I would have calmed myself down and logically argued away the instinct that was telling me something.  In my younger years I was directly told that I misperceived everything so I questioned my own instincts constantly.  While in the long run I saved my Self from total destruction and annihilation, I did not emerge from an abusive childhood situation without scars and damage.
In relationships in the past I have believed people when they tell me who they are.  When I tell someone who I am and what I am like on the inside, I mean it.   I am that person.   I grow, but I do not change who that person is at the center of me.  I fought too hard and too long to keep that person to let that change like a flip of a switch.  If there’s something I am doing that doesn’t work, I change it.  But I am not reactive and I am steady. I know who that person is precisely because of hard battles to shield and protect that inner core from strong forces that really did wish to destroy it for their own reasons that I won't go into here.
Not everyone has fought so hard and so long to get to know themselves from such an early age and to protect that gentle soul from things that should have never been.  So to expect that when other people tell me who they are they actually know in the same way I know who I am is preposterous.  They simply lack the perspective.  They’ve not walked that same journey.  Assuming that everyone has had as much experience knowing themselves and aware of themselves is simply a flaw in my perspective.  I did it to survive.  Many people, most people, have not had to do that.
There are a lot of things about humans in general I still do not understand.  I have always felt that my complicated and abusive childhood full of abandonment and neglect was both a blessing and a curse.  I knew I appreciated the simple things a lot more than most people.  I always knew that I was someone who had seen some horrible things and so it took a lot for me to recoil and write someone off completely because I had seen more darkness than most people.  On the other hand I appreciated the small gestures and small joys so much brighter than many others because early on they were very few and far between.  While I was aware of those differences I never realized that for my entire childhood I was using my mental and emotional muscles to both protect and develop a deeper awareness of who I was.  It felt more like a wound and less like strong muscle memory.  Now I see it differently.
Much like when I am interviewed in the media or called to testify in my field in a big court case when I feel weak and terrified like everyone can see my heart beating nearly out of my chest and like the stammering I can hear in my head is giving me away, I never really knew that in relationships my vulnerability is also not visible on the surface.  There’s an inherent problem there too.  I look strong but I think I look normal or vulnerable or even weak or pathetic and foolish.  So I do not understand when people don’t take care with my feelings because I am so obviously in need of care.  With the help of a few special people who do reassure and comfort me and who can see through to my core very well, I realize that perception is off. 

My ex-husband was very guilty of this miscalibrated perceptionwith me.  He did not see me as vulnerable often enough so he did not take care of my feelings very often.  He's not the only one.  It happens a lot.  He brushed me off and scoffed when I would express distress.  I hear many of you talking about being a doormat or being treated with a lack of respect in the SM.  In my case I was misperceived and the way I was treated was based on those misperceptions.  Was I mistreated?  Yes.  Was it out of malice?  Not usually.  It really was out of a flawed perspective.
How we think we are being perceived is rarely true because so many things go through other people's insecurity filters before they make their assessment.  If someone looks at me and I have not started frothing at the mouth or falling unconscious while talking to the national media or on the stand in a packed court room they may assume I am at ease.  Inside I am fully aware of the physicality of my heart pounding, ears ringing and my sense of smell is intensely heightened as well.  But no one can see that, so I can’t blame them for not knowing.  I assumed I was being perceived as a damn basket case.  Being asked back over and over again confused the dickens out of me for a while until one day someone higher up pulled me aside and said something that rocked my world about how she perceived me in those situations.  I had no awareness of how I was being perceived.  Do any of us really know unless we start asking questions and getting input?
Where do I go from here?  I have no clue.  While my heart is not pounding out of my chest as I write this I am still confused and not at all certain I know the next steps.  I don’t have all the answers, just a few new thoughts.
Changewilldoyougood Changewilldoyougood
31-35, F
9 Responses Nov 6, 2012

Perceptions are very important. It is what has made my marriage so difficult and until recently so difficult to leave. My wife has a complete block when it comes to perceptions. Hers is the only one she sees. It finally got to the point where I not only had to agree with everything she said or she would get very angry, she lost any sense that there was any other point of view but her. As a borderline personality everything was either black or white and there was no room for any perceptions but hers.
Have you even been in a resturant and the server seemed to be having a bad day? While I might say something like "you look tired, has it been a long day"? or something like that, my wife would have to say something like "you don't seem very friendly, do you always act this way"? I would want to crawl under the table but her total lack of empathy or inability separate her emotions or problems from that of another were what cause such reactions.
Living 33 years under such scrutiny myself had me questioning my self worth and ability to even make simple decisions. There was no issue too small to criticized where she was concerned.
You are one of the many people on EP who have helped me to see I am capable of making my own decisions and that I can trust my own judgement. So many people here have told me to trust my own heart not out of some silly sentimentality but because they realize from my ability to assess the situations I have been in that I can trust my own instincts or my own heart.
Thank you for being one of those people!

I second the comments of those who said this a deep and introspective way of examining things in yourself and your own misconceptions about yourself and others.

I sense sadness and a restless resolution in what you write. Every journey begins with a single step.

The depth of this story makes me wish to know you better. In your writing you do not come across as someone who would be shaking or stammering. If you speak half as eloquently as you write I am sure you do great. I hope writing this story brought you peace and understanding.

I read your blog today. Enjoy Sweden! :-)

Change, we have similar mentalities (and thank you for expanding upon our conversation), I hope we both gain something from the dialogue it has generated.

I spend so much energy shielding my true self from others, basically because I don't trust them to handle my true self with care and respect. Habits are hard to break. There's no "trust switch" we can flip to instantly feel ok baring ourselves to others. I too experienced a plethora of negative, non-nuturing feedback as a child and adolescent. That ****'s hard to shake off. And sometimes we shouldn't. Sometimes it's OK to remain skeptical...

It's emotionally healthy to dial it back for certain audiences. What I share with my coworkers is a fraction of what I'm going to share with him. Do my coworkers want or need to know about ep for example? Negatory. Do they need to know my bottom nightstand drawer is where I keep all my toys? Don't think so. (As a child, I would shock others to ensure they kept their distance. It was easy to label me as weird.)

Consequently, I have many selves to manage. There's work self, friend self, and neighbor self for example.

Sharing my feelings and my inner sense of me, my true self, with him has been an ongoing project. He knows he's my guinea pig. Those red flag moments have happened...where I second-guess what I'm about to share. I'll write it down, massage how it's phrased, even sleep on it before I share it. I have made light years of progress with him...and yet he asked what he asked the other day.

It sent me reeling. Here I thought I was sharing too much. That I was in danger of scaring him off. There's that trust issue, raising its ugly head again...

I gave myself an exercise later that day. I listed out all the amazing things he's helped me discover about myself. I'm going to share it with him, hopefully in person.

Like you, I want to continue on this crazy journey of discovering who the heck I am really meant to be.

"(As a child, I would shock others to ensure they kept their distance. It was easy to label me as weird.)" This brought back a flood of memories. I did this too, but I had forgotten it. Wow. so many memories.

"Consequently, I have many selves to manage. There's work self, friend self, and neighbor self for example." So very familiar. I used to have all these and more. Now - with lots of distance from the negativity and lots of work on me, there's just ME. But I know if I get too hurt that strong ME could splinter again and I would find myself feeling weak and disjointed. That's where self protection comes in for me as well. When people get past my self protective defenses, as has happened to me in the not so distant past as we've discussed at length (and I much appreciate btw), but then it turns out I was wrong in my judgment of them I am much more vulnerable and I am afraid I may find myself sliding backwards to more of a piecemeal version of me. One that hides and protects. One that puts this part of me safely away in this box and that part of me securely behind that lock and key. I never liked it, but it was for survival.

I just want to say that I appreciate your friendship, both in person and online. We have much in common and your perspective is very valuable to me. Thank you.

...and an easy pattern to fall back into. Shock and humor worked well. Ironically being the center of attention can have the same effect.

There are days I'd like to have an invisible hand to squarely push me forward. Other days, I'm fine pushing myself. We all learn at our own pace.

I feel the same way. I admire the thorough manner in which you are able to document your feelings. You are a very self-aware looks good on you :)

2 More Responses

I agree with your thoughts as you express them here Change and I love your "name". There is much truth in and if you function as an expert witness my dear you are certainly perceived differently than you feel you are. From experience I can tell you those can be very uncomfortable shoes to wear. Be comfortable in your own skin dear- sounds like you have got it going on..

Thank you. I'm trying to change my perspective. Your comments are helpful.

Dysfunctional marriages **** with your head.
While you are still in one, your thinking gets weird and you are prone to making uninformed choices as a result.

This does not always self correct once you are away from the toxic environment, your mileage will vary.

I am in the realm of personal opinion now, so take this or leave it.

We are, NONE of us, anywhere near as important in the scheme of relationships as we think we are. Brother vaguest often says (when talking about perceptions of us being the bad guy for leaving) that "most people have forgotten you as soon as you have left the room" and I believe this to be very true.

All relationships are NOT great, NOT deep, NOT close, NOT meaningful, NOT greatly important. Of all the relationships you have with all the people you know, there are probably 20 that are "close" at this time. Of those 20 relationships, there might be 10 that you could describe as reasonably deep.
If you are extra-ordinarily fortunate there might be 5 of those ten you could describe as meaningful, but really, one or two is a more realistic estimation.

We all only have so much butter. If we spread that equally over the life enhancing people in our orbit, there is plenty to go around. If you spread that same amount of butter evenly over "all" the people you have relationships with, then important and significant relationships suffer. You are spread too thin.

I can only totally endorse mvcmvc's take on this. Embracing life enhancers, cutting life depleters is a smart play.

Again quoting vaguest "We are not meant to be with everyone we love". That goes double for relationships generally "We are not meant to be soulmates with everyone in our lives".

Most people you "know" have indeed forgotten about you as soon as you leave the room. There is nothing wrong with that. With a lot of people in our lives, we'd do well to adopt the same position.

Long winded way of saying "Sister CWDYG, you are maybe spreading your butter out too thin"

Tread your own path.

I think, in my case at least, my dysfunctional marriage was the result of my head already being ****** with and a bit messed up due to other things. I really did not think my marriage was that bad, because I had many worse experiences before. I hear your analogy about butter and cutting out depleters. This story is about me doing exactly that more than ever in my life. Am I done doing so yet? No way. Am I even skilled at it yet? No. But it's a step and it's all I have so far. It's also about realizing that - while they may forget me as soon as I leave the room - I always perceived I was invisible and forgotten while I was still in the room as well. My perceptions are off. They go through a lot of layers of messiness and crap before I get to my own judgment on things. By then, they are skewed. Sometimes one way and sometimes another. But accurate... Not often. I'm working on that.

And baz, while I agree with you that most people forget about others as soon as they leave the room I generally do not. I understand as others have taught me this, including my father, since I was a young adult. It is however, not nearly as common for me to do that as it is for others to do that. That is not to say I do not do so. But my heart, my strength, my mind and my soul are in relating to other people and learning from them. I can no more forget someone than I can forget myself once they have touched my life. Can I cut them out of my life? Yes, as I have proven by action. But I do not forget. It seems to me like your average person has a protective mechanism of amnesia that is much stronger than mine. I only forget someone if I choose to because remembering them creates pain. And then it has to be lots of pain.

JESUS Sweetheart!!! First of all, please know that you are NOT alone in not having an upbringing where you were not supported. I am not comfortable talking more HERE given that I am still being monitored, but a PM would be most welcome :)
The **** that happens to us as kids unfortunately makes the rest of our lives harder....but NOT insurmountable!!

Your perception of me and my story is off. This is a story about how I HAVE overcome it and I continue to overcome it every day. I continue to learn, grow and be surprised by how much was wrong in my childhood that is right in my life now. And I am not talking about being "not supported" as a child. I'm talking about far greater than that or the impact would not have been so grand. As I say in my story, I am aware that much of my awful childhood was what has given me great self awareness and great appreciation for joy. Without darkness, I could not appreciate and recognize the light as I do. I will PM you or you can read my blog.

<p>A fabulous post about a very difficult topic. . . getting to know our true and authentic selves is certainly made more complex by a whole series of life experiences. Often our perceptions are like "looking through a glass darkly. . . " Are the negative experiences wholly bad - or do they also engender a sense of self awareness we might otherwise not have had? If we had avoided those negative experiences, would our intact sense of self mean we did not undergo these misperceptions? Is it in fact as clear cut as that . . . ?</P><br />
<p>One variation of your experience that has occurred to me is that I have collaborated with the misperceptions of others. Even when I have been reasonably clear that I AM being misperceived, I have given credence to that misperception rather than counter it. IMO this stems from lack of self confidence. I would rather "go along with" their unrealistic or unreasonable "version" of me, rather than be quite clear that I am NOT who they (whoever they are!) think I am . . . </P><br />
<p>And by doing so, I have been complicit in my own negative experiences. Rather than counter the misperceptions with the truth and thereby avoid the discomfort (annoyance, pain, anger) that the misperception causes me, I have tolerated it and not stood up for the "authentic me".</P><br />
<p>I now make a point of being as "authentic" as I can be!! (Sounds like an advertising slogan! lol) The point being that, by being complicit in how I was viewed by others, I surrendered my rights to being treated appropriately. I did not take responsibility for being treated INappropriately. <br />
<br />
My reason for not counteracting the misperceptions was two fold - on one hand I always believed others were "better" than I was and therefore more likely to be accurate than I was - even when the subject was "me"! And secondly, I was nervous about challenging the opinions of others for fear they would resent or dislike me.<br />
<br />
Now I recognise that I need to be assertive about the "real" me - even if that results in me being disliked or disrespected by others. Because if I am only liked or respected for who I appear to be, rather than who I really am, the experience is hollow . . . .</P>

Thank you Enna. Sometimes I feel like I use this place as my own electronic diary of sorts... with a few pundits and people around to comment and reflect their own thoughts on my most internal workings. It's a lot of vulnerability sometimes and I appreciate your kind, understanding and valuable words of wisdom.

This is an inspiration on a level of self that I can compare to nothing I have ever read or heard.
When we are children, we should be protected. Unfortunately many are not. We adapt coping mechanisms than any child should never have too. As tiny little people, we do not have the skills of knowing what ‘should’ happen in real life.

You demonstrate so clearing that going into adulthood; how our perceptions are skewed by some reality we have built.

When entering a profession, we learn, listen to our teachers and read the text. Higher education helps guide our thought processes. We have structure which did not exist in our youth.

Not oblivious to others, our self is still that of an eroded child. Your case in point about public speaking on a topic you clearly understand. Without going into my own history, I spoke in front of CEO’s on financial dealings, risks, and schedule conflicts. I knew my stuff; my confidence was in the knowing.

Yet, I entered into a relationship that I thought was dream, turned nightmare.

I am still rebuilding that which has been a huge backstroke in my life. On this forum I come off a bit hard, where in rl I am a soft spoken, no threat. I know how to draw lines of boundries. In my marriage I was open, because I thought that was how to act.

Thank you CWDYG for putting this in words.

"In my marriage I was open, because I thought that was how to act." YES! Exactly. 100% YES! I understand this and I struggle with whether it is the right way to act or not. Or was it the right way, but in the wrong marriage with the wrong person? Hmmm... thank you Windy. good thinking. That helps me.

My opinion is we should never have to 'act' in a marriage. Worts and all babe. Honesty even if at all costs.

Your story is familiar to me.. Trusting self is such a tough thing for me. Telling myself that what I am going thru right now is not about survival., that I will be ok. I actually talk to myself while driving or getting ready for work ..How others perceive me is quite different from how I feel about myself .. Your words ring true for my life ..very well written .. Thank you.

When I was a kid and going through the things that shaped me I would flee my house and go for long walks. I would talk to myself while walking/running for 3-4 hours about anything and everything. Walking and running were the way I raised my endorphins so I didn't just want to crawl into a ball and die all the time. Talking to myself was how I recentered myself. I still do it too sometimes. Telling myself things like "you are not this person. This is not who you are, this is just where you are. Only 5 more years before you can leave... 4 more years... etc." got me through some really rough times. Without that early self reflection I would not have survived with my internal self intact. I would probably have been a shattered, splintered version of what I turned out to be.