How does the world see you? Does your own self-portrait match with the defining reality given by the consensus opinion of those in your life? Can distortions in our own images ever be clearly understood? Is there a hope that our own personal issues can be appreciated to the point that we can do something about them? We all seem to have a view of ourselves that does not necessarily match the reality witnessed or experienced by other people. How can our own positive internal portrait differ so markedly from the negative one that hangs in the public museum?
The answer to this might be that it is a self-protection or survival mechanism. It takes a great amount of strength to make it through a typical day in our lives. The burden only becomes greater if we see ourselves as undesireable or worthless or annoying. So, if the prognosis really is that we have some significant personal work to do, how can we finally hear what the issues are? Can this information come to us in a non-hurtful manner, that can cut through the years of insulation and defensive barriers that we have erected? What may be especially difficult is if our personality type or psychology is such that we can be offending a great many and we might not even have the tools to recognize it.
The problem comes about when people are hurt or annoyed or put off by our behavior, they typically do not approach us with caring or good intentions. They recoil back with venom and anger and hurt and vengeance. It's hard for such salvos, whether or not they are positioned accurately, to hit their intended mark. From time to time, I have had people tell me that I did not handle a particular situation well, that I was rude or unkind. Feedback from limited moments like this can be processed, accepted or dismissed, and appreciated. But this kind of information is not necessarily a deep-seated, defining personality flaw. ... You are cruel. ... You are heartless. ... You are unloving. ... You are a jerk. ... Now these are characterizations that our natural defense mechanisms are programmed to ward off.
In my experience, direct and relevant feedback of the sort that matters, that results in self-awareness, will not come from complete strangers. I also feel strongly that it will not come from our family, and, in particular, from our spouses. They are just too close. It will most likely come from those who serve as our mentors. What makes their advice different qualitatively from our spouses is that their feedback is sought after, as opposed to unsolicited feedback that spouses would provide. This type of assessment is all too often taken as criticism or nagging or manipulation. However, of course, the mentor has to be able to communicate the critical issues in the appropriate manner. Words and mannerisms and attitudes and expressions must all be carefully checked and measured. There will most likely have to be repeated attempts at getting through. There will most certainly have to be follow-up discussions and feedback. Hopefully folks have a mentor who is up to the task and whose efforts can lead to improvement and progress.
Can you look in the mirror and see the true, undistorted reflection? What are you going to do to improve what you see?
(Part 2 of 2)