Lately I have been pondering perception. I’ve been wondering how much misery is created in this world by our perceptions of situations, rather than by the facts. It has caused me to look back on my life and wonder how many of the situations that have been painful for me were at least half in my head. I’m thinking specifically of situations in which I felt victimized by other people.
One of the things that got me thinking about this was, oddly enough, an episode of 30 Rock. I tried to find some clips from the episode, but was unsuccessful. I will try to just sum it up: in the episode Jack talks Liz into attending her high school reunion. Liz doesn’t want to go because in her mind she was tortured and ostracized by her classmates. There is a flashback scene that shows her defending herself against the cruel teasing of her classmates. When she gets to the reunion, she discovers that her classmates viewed her as the cruel one, always being defensively mean in response to their friendly advances. The same flashback is shown from the perspective of her classmates, in which Liz, rather than defending herself from their cruel teasing, is cruelly lashing out at them. I remember seeing that episode and wondering; “huh, I wonder how much of that was true for me”?
As I’ve mentioned before, I was extremely shy for most of my childhood/early adulthood. I spent a lot of that time bemoaning the fact that the only attention that people seemed to pay me was to make fun of me. In hindsight I wonder if I didn’t kind of invite that. The problem with being shy is that people often perceive you as being stuck up – they think you don’t talk much because you think you’re superior somehow, when it is really the opposite. I know that I spent most of my time frowning and looking unapproachable (which is so strange to me now, because for years now people have told me the exact opposite – that it’s my smile that makes me seem so approachable!). Also, in hindsight, I responded defensively to pretty much everything. I was so convinced that most people were out to hurt me that I’m pretty sure I was inappropriately rude to people sometimes. I spent a lot of time hiding behind my hair rather than engaging with people. I lived in a constant state of embarrassment and defensiveness.
I’m not saying that there aren’t some people who are just cruel for no reason. What I am saying is that when you feel like you are being victimized, it might do some good to check yourself. Perception in human relationships can be a big viscous cycle. First off, sometimes you can’t control how others perceive you. What you can control is how you perceive them. For example, if there is someone that drives you crazy; ask yourself why. Is it because that person is really trying to piss you off, or is it because of that person’s own set of issues, exacerbated by the fact that they sense that you are perceiving them in a negative manner? A little compassion can go a long way. If a person perceives that you are not responding negatively to them, they are less likely to continue negative behaviors, so on and so forth into infinity. In other words, the best way to influence the perception of others is to temper your perception of them. If you try to be understanding of others, it opens a doorway for them to be more receptive and understanding of you.
I still have a little bit of a problem with feeling like people are judging me, and being overly defensive about it. It’s just some of the remnants of a long perception of victimization. The idea of feeling compassion towards people that seem to take jabs at me is another useful life lesson for me (and is, duh, a basic tenet of many of the religions I’ve looked into!). It is something for me to keep in mind while trying to invite patience and positive experiences into my life! It will only make my own experience, and that of people I encounter, better.