Will I ever be able to accept the version of me that exists in the perception of others?
by Sam Boudiab
Recently, a friend of mine was accused of something she didn’t do. When she attempted to clarify things to the other person, they said, “I’m entitled to my own reality.” 😧
While I disagree with that entirely, since the person was clearly trying to deny the truth right in front of them, I understand where that sentiment came from. I believe that interaction was the result of a cognitive distortion which caused the person to panic and become stubborn when they were brought to actual reality. However, it resurfaced one of my fears; I fear that misconceptions about me will become reality simply based on the perspective of others.
Sometimes this is based on actual interactions with people, and sometimes on people projecting their own preferences–or “realities”–onto others. For example, months ago, I was visiting my parents’ house and I decided to have a Coke Zero. My mom was going through a chronic pain program at the time (which I would later go through) and had been only eating whole foods and not drinking things like Coke Zero. However, my mom saw me drinking it and was shocked! She expressed her profound disappointment in me and even said something along the lines of, “I don’t even know you anymore.”
Now, I had never shown any hint or inclination that I didn’t drink Coke Zero anymore. In fact, I loved drinking it and had it often. My mom was projecting her experiences and preferences onto me and created a distorted version of me that, to her, existed. She was quite displeased, and I found it all to be quite funny at the time. But there are other situations where you might feel that someone has a worse impression of you that doesn’t have to do with whether or not you consume soft drinks.
In the past, I’ve acted out in ways which I’m now very embarrassed about. Since then, I’ve grown from my experiences and have put in a lot of work to take care of myself and see myself in a positive light. Unfortunately, some of my past friendships ended before I made these improvements. The thought that those old friends may never know about my new self eats away at me sometimes. Because there is a “wrong” perception of me out there, that version of me still exists and it causes me to have some trouble comfortably moving forward with my new self.
I wouldn’t say any of my old relationships ended on particularly bad terms, but the version of me I left them with just isn’t right anymore. I feel the need to clear things up. I just want to say, “I love myself now! It’s okay now!” and I want those old friends to be proud of me. I want to thank them for the opportunities they gave me to grow and become who I am. I haven’t had many friends in my life but I really cherish and appreciate each one, even if we are no longer communicating. I want them to know how they helped me even if I was going through my lowest times when I knew them. I also know I have matured enough to properly be able to handle those relationships now and sometimes wish I could reach out with these messages.
However, I refrain from doing that. Part of me thinks it’s selfish to want to force my perspective of myself onto others. After all, my perception of myself is just that; mine. My true self will never be known by anyone because once it is perceived, it becomes subjective and turns into something else. Neither my nor another’s perception of me is actually correct, since we are both biased by our own opinions and experiences. My true self simply exists and cannot live in anyone’s perception, including my own. So if I am aware of this, why do I continue to care so much about how others perceive me?
Well, I just do. Logically, I know that other people are not my responsibility and I just need to continue caring for myself and being kind to others. Emotionally, I think I will always care about the impression I leave on people. However, taking responsibility for myself is not about other people; it is about how I move forward each day. I am working on letting go of the past so I will be able to do that. As for now, the many versions of me are out there in the void and I just have to be grateful for them all.
Sam Boudiab is a multidisciplinary creative based in Chicago. She prefers beverages and soups to be scalding hot and spends way too much time trying to “understand.” She thinks baba ghanouj is better than hummus. Find her work at samanthaboudiab.com and on Instagram at @samanthaboudiab.