Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I think of myself as an exuberant person. I phrase it as "I think of myself as..." because many people have made clear to me that various of the ways I think of myself are wrong in their opinion. Another example, I think of myself as shy. I doubt you could find anyone who knows me in meatspace who would agree, but I think that's because the way I handle my shyness is to act as if I were a confident extrovert. (Unfortunately sometimes my confidence reads as arrogance. Again, so I've been told, by more than one person I trust.)

I'm starting to believe that instead of knowing myself very well, I hardly know myself at all. Do any of us, or do we just tell ourselves a story about who we are? I'm not sure this question is answerable.

It's hard to get good information; people who tell me what they think of me may have any kind of motive, or filter, or not know me very well, so how do I decide their opinion of me is more correct than mine? They are, after all, almost entirely only observing my behavior; the only part of my thoughts they can reach is what I tell them. Not everything I think makes it out into the wild! I'm as hesitant as the next person to admit my worst faults (that is, what I think are my worst faults).

This possibly-unanswerable question is important, though, because I'm trying to make myself a better person, and if I don't have an accurate grasp on my strong and weak points, I might put effort into changing something that doesn't require change. And fail to work on something that is a glaring fault.

The best way I've found so far to handle this is to consider the evidence from other people as well as their opinions. If I have evidence they don't, that might be a good reason to disagree with their conclusions; if they are interpreting the same evidence differently from me, I might change my mind.

But identity...is it only what is expressed? In that case all I am is what others experience of me.

It might be time to read some philosophy.


Mark Jones said...

I think a good benchmark for measuring the accuracy of others' perceptions of you is how accurate their perceptions of other people that both of you know appear to be. Then you're both working with the same data (limited by how well you each know the third party, how much you interact with him or her under similar conditions, etc.). If your opinions of that third and fourth and fifth party diverge greatly, that's a sign that you're looking at different evidence or interpreting it differently. So they may not be an ideal mirror.

Rebecca said...

I have some of those same questions and I'm working on believing myself, about myself, over anybody else. After all, I am the one who knows how I feel inside when I enter a room (somewhat like you, I am shy but not perceived that way because of my ability to compensate).

In my opinion, it's hard to know ourselves and sometimes we internalize the script that others have written for us.

Nice blog!