How (self)perception can deceive you

“I am both worse and better than you thought”, Sylvia Plath once wrote.

If you ask me, this quote is completely ingenious.

It fits almost every situation in which you interact with another human being and worry about their perception of you and how it matches your own self-perception.

So often we put our hopes and expectations into our fellow man and so often we get disappointed. Yet, what did we truly expect? Here Plath’s quote applies perfectly. We are only human, after all, aren’t we? Human and complex. In this regard, I come to think of a generally used misquote of Plath but which in reality belongs to author Dean Walley: “Please don’t expect me to always be good and kind and loving. There are times when I will be cold and thoughtless and hard to understand”.

We can never really live up to or stay true to the expectations of others – that is, not everyone’s – despite how much we truly want to, deep down. In my experience, positive impressions jump or sneak up on you unconsciously. You might have known a certain person to be a certain, amazing way, but it was not something you ruminated upon everyday why or how or selfishly willed forth like you often do with expectations that you hope to project onto others. You just knew without consciously knowing. You follow?

Yet, you could argue the same concerning negative impressions, couldn’t you?

I still fear I’m a freak in the sense of unintentionally being a ‘bad’, irritating, egocentric person deep down, despite caring about the world and wanting very much to help the people in it in some way. Well, in my way and the best way I can.

Perhaps not decisively ‘bad’, but not decisively ‘good’ either. (Not that man has ever been just one thing). And that one of these ‘traits’ may stragetically, almost instinctively dominate the other whenever it feels necessary and justifiable to do so – for my own benefit – simply in order to get through and survive in this world.

I don’t know what I’ve become anymore.

But, the thing is, this fear may stem from a recurring insecurity. I’ve realized that my insecurities from my younger years are as prominent as ever. They’ve just grown and changed; their conditions shifted.

I may have distanced and isolated myself throughout my life, because I have – among other things – battled with this knowledge; this insecurity and the possibility that it might have some truth in it, but denied it or denied to do anything significant about it. And thus pushed away the responsibility of deciding upon it, stubbornly telling myself that I am also just me and that that cannot be changed. Not for anyone. Not the essence of me. So be it if people get aggravated by it.

However, the faux confidence only lasts for so long.

An event – a turning point, really – occured just this past summer where I was rendered shocked, hurt, confused and sad that I could ever make people feel immediate hatred, dislike or anger towards me. The fall-out was mainly caused by a mutual misunderstanding; of related tempers clashing in a moment of stress before apologizing and reconciling again. Still, it felt like it was subtly my fault more than anything. That I had ‘a problem’ that needed to be dealt with somehow; that I was being too critical, too snarky, too personal. Perhaps slightly unfair since it takes two to make a quarrel – but also partly true. I knew I was projecting, that I was being unfair as well and that it needed to stop. It’s never nice to come upon such realizations but I think they are somewhat healthy in order for you to grow.

In the end, the episode shocked me to my core and made me realize that I have somehow come to never expect that I can inspire any kind of passionate feelings – platonic or otherwise – in anyone. It’s sad that I feel this way, isn’t it? That I’ve come to view my own effect and impact on others – negative and positive – with so little regard. In so many instances I need to remind myself that I’m not invisible but actually can have an impact. Too often I just hide in the shadows or lay back, dismissing or taking it for granted. Especially that some people actually do care about me and thus can get hurt by what I do or don’t do. (Those out there with a greater emotional understanding and interpersonal guidance may be chuckling at me right now, but you must understand that this is a core feature in the INTP; this particular blind spot regarding emotions).

It may also be a causal/Pavlovian symptom – a misconstrued symptom – because I’ve taught myself not to care too much in order not to get hurt myself and in the end managed to include myself in that view: That if I do not care overtly about people but just what is required when it is required, then that goes for me as well: They do not care about me more than required and thus are not that affected by what I am or do or say.

Seems I’ve gone out on one of my rational limps and got tangled up in the strings. And I’m not quite sure how to disentangle myself. Should I just begin to care more and to visibly, physically, verbally show it more – even when it feels fake to do so? Again, it’s not like I do not care at all, but I’ve already been hurt enough to find that gate hard to open even more. So – as pathetic, lazy, sobby and uneffective as it sounds – I hope and wait for someone – somehow – to come to know and care about me on a deeper level and thus pave the way for me in this regard. As if it will happen out of the blue..! *scoffs* But at least then I think the gate will be a little less heavy if I have two more hands to help me push it open. Only then I see more sunlight than only dim fog at the end of the tunnel. (A bit heavy with the symbolism here, I know). It comes to no surprise that I also categorize as an Enneagram Type 5.

As hinted to, I am still as confused as I was as a teen. It is just … slightly different now. I know my inherent value but am bound to take the outside world’s response to me into account in order to sum up who I am as a person.

Strangers or distant relatives have called me sweet and nice –  humble even – however, they rarely know me that well and probably perceive me as slightly reserved or shy. Some people have been in awe and called me very insightful by a mere, immediate thought I voiced, yet also smiled and likely wondered how arrogant and naive I can be as well. Teachers have hinted to both a talent and a waste of talent; for not taking more advantage of my ressources and showing my intelligence to the fullest. To open my mouth more while my parents, ironically, wanted me to shut it more. Closer friends or family seem more ambivalent and likely find me as irritating as I am insightful, as naive as I am arrogant, and probably too closed-off, too excentric and too humble at times. Perhaps because they know me, care about me or even love me? Especially since this ambivalence is mirrored in my own self-love and self-perception. In the end, it all constitutes what is complex about humans and being human, right?

As a person on Tumblr described it:  “I am a different person to different people. Annoying to one. Talented to another. Quiet to a few. Unknown to a lot. But who am I, to me?”*

Resonating Anne Frank: “Everyone thinks I’m showing off when I talk, ridiculous when I’m silent, insolent when I answer, cunning when I have a good idea, lazy when I’m tired, selfish when I eat one bite more than I should…”

Still, most of all, my own insecurity (aka my Fe) wants people to simply like me. Well, don’t most people feel like this? But I cannot just exist. It isn’t enough for me to just be. I need to give as well. I sometimes wish – or my insecurity wishes – I could be less me and thus less of a ‘nuisance’ to the people I know and adapt to their needs; be more of a help and comfort, despite not having the inclination to be more emotionally helpful and ‘touchy-feely’. My empathy inevitably mixes with my rationality, but I have so much to give of this particular ‘mix’. That is my kindness and though it isn’t very competent in giving the immediate, emotional and physical comfort, I think it can help in other ways. (I’ve found that I am a great pep talker. Huh.)

And yet, I also do not want to reduce myself, because merely showing an outer personality that constitutes of being kind and helpful is not really a personality but rather personality features, in my eyes. I’ve met pretty, kind girls my age who only ever acted kindly, never really giving away any faults or anger or deviations from the perceived norm. It equally frustrated and impressed me that they wouldn’t or couldn’t get riled-up but always gave a polite smile. Perhaps they simply were genuinely sweet people. Or they made a hell of an effort to acquire and keep up this diplomatic façade. I never saw any other side of them. Of course, if I had really gotten to know them, they’d perhaps shown more sides.

But, to quote Jane Austen in Persuasion: “She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.”

And to me, you should be ‘allowed’ to have the space to display weird gestures and quirks in public. You should be allowed to show anger and eagerness and not be regarded as immature if you do (especially if it does not harm anyone), because you are so much more! Honest about who you are: Kind and considerate, but also distracted and selfish. Intelligent but also naive at times. I know, it may be a very INTP thing to think this way, and I (or perhaps the child in me) may be talking on behalf of myself now. Yet, people have to somehow take everything else that comes with these ‘kind’ features as well in order to have what constitutes me or you, no? And it would be utterly hypocritical to do otherwise, since all people have quirks or deviations or whatever. Some have just learned to curb or diminish them in some situations and express or channel them in others – which could be viewed as just as ‘abnormal’ from another point of view. We are all different, in that regard, but no less or more faulty than others.

Anywho. I think the above-mentioned event changed me, somehow. Made me more aware of myself and others; gut-punchingly aware. At least, I hope so. I tell myself so. And I know such events cannot be entirely prevented in one’s life or in the future – they are there to make you grow, after all – but hopefully, now that I’m more aware, they will rarely occur.

*revised 5/6/17*

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