In my last post I touched on how we often confuse our true identity with one that depends on our external appearances, to the things we have learned about ourselves through personal experiences, or to judgements made by others that we have internalised. We compare our past self and our future self to how we see ourselves now – this is our perception of ourselves.
How you see yourself, how others see you and how you perceive others see you may be an accurate representation of your self-image – but these perceptions may not necessarily be true. For example, you may think a particular person is confident, organised and assertive. Some people may agree with this, while others may view them as arrogant, bossy and obsessive. This is an example of how one’s perception can cloud someone’s true identity.
When we can fine tune both our own self-perception and our perception of others, we can then gain understanding as to why it is people treat us certain ways and effect our behaviours. Often we assume that someone’s actions towards us are based on the kind of person they are, when in actual fact there’s other situational factors influencing them. When we can consider the circumstances for another person’s behaviour, we lessen our judgment of others, and hence deepen our compassion and kindness.
To become more in tune with other people and even other things and circumstances around you is a profound spiritual practice. Moreover, contemplating our own perceptions of others is important because how we perceive others has great influence on our own happiness. A study in 2010 at Wake Forest University* strongly suggested that your own perceptions of others reveals a lot about your own personality. The study showed a strong correlation between seeing others in a positive light and our own positive traits, as well as how satisfied we are with our life and how well-liked we are by others. The researchers discovered particularly strong associations between positively judging others and how enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous, emotionally stable and capable a person describes oneself and is described by others. On the other hand, viewing others negatively correlated with negative personality traits and a greater incidence of depression.
So the way I see it, the more we can open up our perceptions and perspectives (i.e – the more we can put ourselves in the shoes of another) the less we’ll get caught up in our own little confusion and suffering that arises from misunderstanding. We’ll move from feeling separateness to experiencing oneness. In doing so, we’ll expand our own happiness and cultivate self worth and the sense of who we truly are – our identity.
*Perceiver effects as projective tests: What your perceptions of others say about you. Wood, Dustin; Harms, Peter; Vazire, Simine. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 99(1), Jul 2010, 174-190.