Different Identities and Perceptions of Our-Self
This quote is from a book written by Nick Hornby and called “About a Boy”. The main character, Will, started dating a woman that was older than him. She had a daughter and always complained about her ex husband and father of the girl, Simon. This is how this quote came to life, which is one of the best I have ever heard, because it tells a lot about our identity as human beings and how we are perceived by others.
Questions that arise
- Are our identity and personality perceived by others as they really are, or just in comparison to the identities and personalities of other people?
- Does any other person, apart from ourselves, judge us based on the true qualities of our personality and expertise?
Those questions are difficult to answer.
The true value of our qualities
Let’s say I am hired as a manager in a company and I assume that this company had a manager, I will call him Greg, who had to leave his position for some kind of reason. I have my qualities which are set and cannot be changed. Now what is important, is the perceptions that the other employees and stakeholders had on the work of Greg. These perceptions will determine how I will be going to be perceived and the amount of my success as a manager. If Greg had good qualities and the rest of the company was happy with him then I would have to do a very good job to at least be perceived as acceptable for the position. In contrast, if Greg had been a bad manager and nobody had been happy with him then even a mediocre job by me as a manager could be able to be perceived as above average. Nevertheless, our qualities, in their essence, are the same in both cases. Their true value, though, is determined by how others perceive our qualities based on the previous experiences they made.
This also applies to romantic and sexual relationships. We are often only the products of the predecessor’s work in the role we are currently playing. The expectations our partner has, will be influenced by the experiences made with his or her previous partners. Knowingly or unknowingly. We could be the most loving and affectionate girlfriend or boyfriend, it won’t mean much if our partner cannot value and appreciate (or does not need) those qualities. We will not be a good partner. BUT: With the same qualities we could be the best possible partner for another person. This person’s previous experiences have shaped them into fitting (partly or perfeclty) into our quality-frame.
The woman Will was dating in the novel, only appreciated Will because he was not Simon. She may have not even noticed it herself. Will definitely did not notice it, otherwise he would not have been surprised when she left him to get back to her ex husband, Simon. Will could have interpreted this event in two ways.
- He can blame himself for the breakup. He can take it personally, making him think that he is not good enough to please a woman emotionally or sexually.
- OR, and that would be the reasonable thing to do, he can analyze the event and understand that the woman he was dating was a product of her past experiences and that her actions did not have anything to do with him. She would have done the same to any other man in this specific time. She was just trying to distract herself from the ex husband that probably disappointed her in some kind of way. Was what she did ok? No. But take it personally? HELL NO.
Nobody can see us as we truly are
Nobody can see us as we truly are. I thought it necessary to repeat that. That is why we should never take it personally if someone misunderstands us. Getting rejected hurts, being misunderstood hurts. Many times people, even those closest to us, claim to know us. They will falsely apply characteristics on us. In many cases they are only mirroring their own personal characteristics because they want to feel better about themselves. “I am not the only one with this specific flaw“, they are thinking. This is why we should never take other people’s perceptions and actions personally. Those perceptions and actions are not the result of our actions or content of our character and personality, but the result of previous experiences made by the individual characters in this specific event. This is also why even good gestures should not be taken too personally. Being thankful and being disappointed to a degree are necessary and natural reactions to gestures made by other people. But we should never exaggerate the influence those gestures have on our mental state by taking them too personally.
Furthermore, in our lives we have more than one identity. We are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, managers, waitresses, nurses, doctors, genitors. The interactions we have during all those identities are not the same. As a brother, I could be perceived as caring and patient but as a doctor as strict and cruel. Even as a brother, I am perceived differently by the one sibling than by the other. They are both making different experiences with different people and this shapes their individual lens with which they perceive and judge people. Different standards will have different outcomes.
Not taking things too personally is not easy. When someone does something positive to us we feel loved and appreciated. If we exaggerate those feelings we might get disappointed by this person in the future. The same is true if someone does something negative to us and we feel disappointed, sad and hurt. If we exaggerate those feelings we may act in a specific way that will result into not being able to ask this person for help, if we need it someday. We will regret our behavior in both instances.
Understanding that the actions and words of other people are not the products of the content of our character or personality but the products of their personal previous experiences with other people, will make us the pilots of our feelings. Only we know who we truly are. We may not be Simon, and we may be loved more for not being Simon than for being ourselves. That is ok, as long as we know ourselves and are satisfied with the way we are and act.