Tuesday, 26 April 2016

No one's first choice

We all have things that we believe about ourselves, about others, and about how we are to interact with the wider world.  For example, we probably have some idea of how others see us, though this will inevitably be affected by how we see ourselves.

When someone I know came to talk to me recently, I pointed out that she didn't have to.  She'd arrived at the venue with her friends and, due to a problem between me and one of her friends, I sat alone.  The last thing I wanted was to create further problems, so I'd assumed that she would remain at her table, with her friends, and I would remain at mine.

When I said that she didn't have to come to talk to me, it wasn't that I didn't want her to talk to me.  I was simply thinking of the ongoing stand off between another person at her table and myself.  The reply was that she was there because I'm her friend.

It might be useful, at this point, to list some of my core beliefs about how people see me:
  1. No one really wants to listen to me.  It's best if I don't talk too much about myself, and that could also come across as me being self-absorbed anyway.
  2. If people want to talk to me, they'll talk to me.  If they don't come to talk to me, it's because they don't want to.  Approaching someone, or initiating a conversation, might mean I'm forcing a conversation they don't necessarily want to have.
  3. I'm no one's first choice of friend.  I'm there in the absence of other options.
When I list them in such a way, they sound very negative, and they are.  The incident I've mentioned highlights the negative and presumptuous nature of these beliefs.  I'd made assumptions about how another person saw me, and it seems that I was wrong.  Those core beliefs told me that I was simply someone she saw at dance classes, and nothing else.

Point number 3 is the important one.  I never feel that I'm particularly important to anyone although, even as I write it, I'm aware that it's more likely to be a self-esteem issue than an accurate evaluation of my worth.  I know that I often present people with difficulties, however, because they've been quite open in telling me that I'm difficult.
If you can see the image, and you're wondering what the letters INFJ signify, it's a personality type.  More accurately, it's a personality type described by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  Unlike a lot of personality tests that are available online, the MBTI, as it is often abbreviated, is based on genuine psychological theory.

Now, we should be careful about attaching labels to people.  The whole point about the MBTI, and Jung's personality types, upon which the test is based, is that these traits are apparent to a greater or lesser degree, and we must always see someone as an individual, rather than a type.  People are inherently complex, and psychological theory barely scratches the surface of that complexity.

Where those types are useful is in understanding how we see the world and the people in it.  If it wasn't clear before, it is now crystal clear that each of us sees the world in a different way.  I can't tell you, with any certainty, that the generalisations about the INFJ personality type are accurate but, in my case, they seem to ring true.

The first picture suggested that I keep a lot of myself hidden.  I've heard people say this about me.  On one occasion, someone noted that she'd told me a lot about herself, but knew next to nothing about me.  A good friend has commented that I'm a very private person.  There are so many other examples, but I'm sure you get the idea.  I realise I'm doing it.  What about the charge that people tell me a lot about themselves?
It's been said that people feel the need to fill the silences that I leave.  That's fair.  I listen and observe more than I talk.  I express myself better in writing, like I'm doing right now, but I still leave a lot of myself closed off from the world.  As the image above suggests, people tend to get the best response from me when they are showing me who they truly are, beneath the layers of pretence that they often use to protect themselves from the scrutiny of others.

Does this mean that I can tell when people aren't showing me who they truly are?  Do I have the ability to see whether someone is being genuine or not?  Is that my superpower?
I'd hardly call it a superpower.  It might sound like a good thing to have, and I admit that it's saved me from embarrassment a few times but, in terms of interacting socially, it's a nightmare.  You quickly realise that people present many different faces to the world, are different things to different people, and all of it is absolutely essential to the smooth functioning of social interactions.  You can see behind the façade, however, and it makes it difficult for you to deal with people.  If they stick around long enough to give you a chance, they eventually come to realise that they have to be genuinely themselves in your company, that you won't judge them for it, because you already know who they are.

The bottom line?  Most people don't like feeling so exposed and vulnerable.  You can count the people with whom you will develop a close friendship on the fingers of one hand, but those friendships will be sincere and meaningful.  The people who turn their backs on you either can't accept a fundamental aspect of who you are, or wrongly assume that you won't accept a fundamental aspect of who they are.
You're probably thinking I could put on a pretence myself, to make social interactions easier.  I can't.  What you see is who I am.  The only trick I have in the bag, so to speak, is to limit how much of myself I show.  This can present itself as me being cold, distant or reserved and can frustrate anyone who is trying to get to know me.  I can't be different things to different people.  I can only be myself.  That feeling of being exposed and vulnerable, which people often feel when I get to see behind the façade they've chosen to put up?  I feel that all the time.  I can only protect myself through being silent, keeping things to myself, and pushing down a lot of powerful feelings.

When Halloween comes around again, if I attend costume parties, I'll choose a costume that allows me to cover my face.  I believe a face like mine really should be covered, but that's a whole other issue.  If I have the chance to be present and still hide myself from view, I'm a whole lot more comfortable.  Like I said, it's the only trick I have in the bag.

The likelihood of me being the first person someone thinks of when asked to name a friend of theirs is remote.  If we've known each other for some time, however, they genuinely know me, and I know them.  I may not be the first friend they think of, but I'm a true friend.

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