Thursday, October 13, 2005

Do you see what I see?

A few days back an anonymous blog monkey made the following comment:

I've always been interested in perception vs. reality in a different way. How people see themselves vs. how others see them. I knew a girl that was completely annoying. . . She could never understand that people saw her one way when I'm sure she saw herself and her actions completely differently. . .
I think this idea of self-perception vs. public perception is fairly pertinent to this blog as a whole, and will become more so as we continue to plumb the sordid history of Cap’n Neurotic.

The other day, while chatting with Flunky Lover, she told me that she had never thought of me in the way that I described myself here. I’ll assume for the sake of argument that she was talking about the self-conscious, neurotic, paranoid self-description, and not any of the more positive, self-affirming things I’ve said about myself. Baby steps to mental health, people, baby steps! And this is not the first time someone has reacted to my self-descriptions in such a way. But I think that highlights my own particular brand of self-deception, er, I mean PERception: the oft-mentioned “outsider complex.” The complex developed as part of my psychological defense mechanism: if I saw myself as being always separate and apart from everyone else, then I couldn’t be hurt when it turned out to be true. Of course, as defense mechanisms go, it was exceedingly worthless.

For one thing, as Dr. G’ovich once pointed out to me, it’s the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy; if I saw myself as an outsider, then an outsider I would remain. I even wrote a poem about it once
he sits in his house
watching the people outside
wondering why none of them enter

they circle the house
wanting to enter
wondering why he doesn't invite them in

i am the house
sitting here silently
wondering why no one tries the door

Catchy, isn’t it? And you wondered why I didn't want to share any of my poetry. Another drawback to the complex is that it didn’t totally abolish the blow of being excluded, only lessened it a bit. So, y’know, only sledgehammer blows to the ego, rather than bullet wounds.

The final drawback is it didn’t help to protect my psyche from those times when I was confronted with a negative perception that didn’t fit into the matrix of negative self-images I had constructed. For example, at one point, long before he realized that bestowing such information was akin to pulling the pin on a grenade, G’ovich let it slip that a girl in our dorm referred to me as “the guy who thinks he’s funnier than Letterman,” since apparently one evening while Letterman was on I was being unusually loquacious . . . or was that obnoxious? I, of course, latched onto this like a pit bull, no matter how much G’ovich begged me to let it go.

The issue wasn’t so much that this random person (with whom I don’t think I ever had a full conversation in all the time I knew her) viewed me as some obnoxious loudmouth; yeah, that was bothersome, but not the biggest issue. No, the biggest issue was that, rack my brain as I might, I could not begin to think of anything I had said or done that would have caused her to form this image of me. As distressing as it might be to have my worst fears about my actions confirmed by others, it may be even more distressing to find out that there are things out there that I didn’t even think to fear. Another prime example: when G’ovich warned me that my behavior was likely to drive everyone away. It’s like a slap in the face; here I’ve gone to all this trouble to map out every conceivable character flaw and social faux pas I can conceive of, only to discover that I’ve overlooked one. Or two. Or twelvety-seven. Double the failure, double the fun!

All of which is to say that, obviously, how I view myself is often at odds with how the rest of the world views me; sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. As I started writing my Secret Origin, I began to think about how the people from my high school would react upon reading it: would they recognize the same reality that I did, that of an introvert skating around the edges of their social world; or would they shake their heads in wonder that I could ever be so off-base in my interpretations? Only time (and me actually getting one of them to read and comment on the blog) will tell.