I’ve been working on this for a while, but it finally sunk in yesterday. Nearly a year after writing my TEDx, which talks about how we can’t control the way other people perceive us, I finally understand why it’s so damaging to have other people misperceive or mischaracterize us and our intentions.
Ironically, the damage doesn’t come from the person who misperceives us, it comes from us.
The damage is done when we try to correct the other person’s perception by explaining who we really are, as opposed to what we meant. Again, and again.
The Difference Between Explaining Yourself & Fighting For Your Worth
Misunderstandings happen, and when they do, explaining yourself corrects the misunderstanding and creates understanding. It brings both parties back to the same page. The misunderstanding comes from not being on the same page to begin with.
When you and have the same perception about who we each are, misunderstandings are easy to correct. I know in my heart that you are a good, honest, and decent person, and you know in your heart that I am a good, honest, and decent person. We both agree on this and the way we value each other is the same.*
A misunderstanding might come when you say or something that I interpret differently than you intended, but my view of who you are remains the same. Asking questions or having a quick conversation resolves the misunderstanding and the two parties go on about their lives unharmed.
“I thought you were handling that case/cooking dinner/playing pickle ball tonight.”
“No, I was just looking through the case file to find an email address I needed/setting out food for a recipe I’m putting together for tomorrow/trying out a new yoga class with friends instead.”
The problem comes when you perceive me as different than I perceive myself. For example, when I see myself as helpful, loving, and determined but you see me as controlling, needy, and stubborn.
We do not share a common understanding about who we are, so misunderstandings cannot be corrected because the underlying assumptions about the other person are incorrect.
Using the examples above, instead the misunderstanding being resolved by the honest and correct statements, “No, I was just looking through the case file to find an email address I needed/setting out food for a recipe I’m putting together for tomorrow/trying out a new yoga class with friends instead.” The argument gets personal. “You were setting me up and trying to take credit for that case (because I see you as controlling)/you were passive-aggressively trying to get me to cook because you didn’t want to because you can’t handle both dinner and prep for tomorrow (because I see you as needy)/you are intentionally leaving me hanging with pickle ball and refusing to try yoga on a different night. (because I see you as stubborn).”
I can tell you what my intentions were. I can fight with you. I can provide evidence of who I am. I can show how and why I am helpful, loving, and determined, but if you believe me to be controlling, needy, and stubborn, I cannot correct your perception of who I am.
Betrayal of Self
Every time I frantically plead with you to know me better, every time I spin myself up, waste my own precious time and energy trying to get you to see me as I know myself to be, I betray myself.
The damage you did to me in misperceiving me hurts. But is is nowhere near as vicious as the damage I do to myself trying to convince you otherwise.
Going forward, it’s about me. Me having my own back and refusing to betray myself again.
I Release Us…
I release you from “being corrected.” I release you from having to change the way you see me or understand me.
I release myself from trying to get you to see me as I know I am.
In my desperation to be seen, known, and loved for who I am, not for the misperceived version of me that you hold, I have betrayed and abandoned myself. I have questioned myself and my worth.
I no longer need your vision to be corrected. I am fine and secure within myself. How you see me doesn’t change who I am.
I betray myself every time I dance around explaining myself and try to get you to see the truth.
I am done betraying myself by defending myself. My truth exists with or without your affirmation of it.
Seeking to convince you is futile. It wastes my time, drains my energy, and causes me to question myself unnecessarily.
I trust myself more because I know who I am. You can believe whatever you want about me because I know my truth.
This year, I set us both free.
*The way we perceive ourselves and others does not necessarily need to be the same, or positive. What matters is that we both see the same traits. If I see myself as cut-throat, determined and stoic, the only thing that matters is that you view me the same way. If I see myself as weak, needy, and helpless, the only thing that matters is that you see me the same way. Having similar, or the same perception of truth is what matters.