Why we can’t assume our internals are perceived externally

Image credit: Eyeem.com

As best as I can tell from my sixty years on this astonishing planet, most people want to be seen for who they are and appreciated for who they are.

For some, this is a fruitless quest. I mean, there’s so little to a creature like Trump that not only do we see him in his abjectly inadequate entirety, but also there’s zero chance of anyone with more than no functioning neurons in their frontal cortex appreciating him except perhaps as a way to frighten impressionable young amoeba (as in “if you don’t start evolving soon, little amoeba, you’ll regress until you’re nothing but a Trump”).

But for most of us, the vast majority of people who have some good elements and some not-so-good elements, we have characteristics and behaviors that redeem us at least much of the time and make us worth knowing.

Unfortunately, as best as I can tell, for the most part other people see us only in slices. The box in the illustration below represents (a few of) someone’s characteristics.

Different people see different aspects of us, but rarely see us in our entirety

Everyone in that person’s life sees one or two slices but no one sees the complete picture. And even when we evince a particular characteristic, other people may decline to entertain it.

For example, I knew a woman who appreciated her partner’s intelligence and high sex drive but she was adamant that humor was only for small children, and only until they “grew out of it.” For her, humor was an indicator of immaturity and she firmly rejected the idea of her partner possessing such an undesirable trait. On the few times he manifested it, she made it clear that it was totally unwanted.

A man I knew similarly seemed unable to see his wife’s intellectual capacity. He adored her as a home-maker and as a great mother but was totally oblivious to the fact she was highly intelligent and in desperate need of mental stimulation. He thought her decision to take an online course in particle physics was “cute.”

I’m sure we can all think of examples of this human tendency to see only parts of each other, some combination of slices that inevitably omits crucial unseen parts.

Many couples settle down into a long-term relationship in which both consciously or otherwise allow parts of themselves to grow fallow because the other person either simply doesn’t see those elements or has no way to accommodate them in the relationship. Most people settle for “good enough” because, let’s face it: it’s hard enough to find someone who loves us and is kind to us and reasonably reliable. Most other people’s relationships aren’t exactly enviable.

But that does leave us only partially seen.

While this is more or less inevitable, I believe it’s important that we see ourselves in the round. If we suppress parts of ourselves or allow important aspects of ourselves to wither from lack of attention, we’re ultimately going to feel dissatisfied. If we don’t tend our own garden, we can hardly expect anyone else to do it for us.

And by exploring who we fully are, we can often discover parts of ourselves we were previously unaware of.

It’s OK if others never fully see us. But let’s ensure we do fully see ourselves.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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