Ever since a youthful epiphany, during which it occurred to me that someone else’s internal experience might be notably different from my own, I have believed I had an above-average consciousness of that insight.
Lately, I’m not so sure. As I explore the 42 personality traits of the Clifton Strengths system, I become increasingly aware of just how broad and deep the variation in personal perception and reaction is. And the more aware of it I become, the more I realize just how judgmental I am. Too often, I assume everyone thinks and feels as I do, and if their behavior is not what I think should be consistent with that, I disapprove.
Why do I do this, I asked myself? After pondering, I came to see that judgment is a form of whistling in the dark. There’s probably a better way to make peace with the perpetual unknowability of everybody else’s private landscape, but I haven’t found it yet.
HSPs are often credited with a gift for perceptiveness. Well, maybe. There have been many occasions throughout my life when feelings and motivations that were glaringly obvious to me were completely invisible to others (sometimes even to the people who were having them).
But there have also been times when I was wildly, completely wrong about what was going on (like thinking I was an extrovert for the first 53 years of my life). Deep engagement may show us more, but it also means stronger reactions, and strong reactions are not necessarily a friend to accurate perception.
Maybe the intermittent nature of this gift is part of the problem. Because some people are transparent to me some of the time, it’s more threatening when someone isn’t.
But maybe it’s just my particular history that makes me nervous around people who are opaque. I saw what my family didn’t want to admit, so I was told I was crazy at regular intervals throughout my childhood. As a result, I’m never quite sure how much to trust my own perceptions.
That’s damned uncomfortable for me, but since I am, in fact, NOT 100% accurate in my perceptions (or even close) it keeps me humble (relatively), which probably makes me a more pleasant person to be around!
There’s another factor, which I’m becoming more conscious of lately. My preference to hang out with myself alone most of the time inevitably restricts the amount of feedback that is available to me about other people’s thoughts and feelings. Now that I have a better understanding of who I am most compatible with and why, maybe that will evolve over time.
I’ve had occasions lately to discover who my friends are (and aren’t), details of which I’ll save for another post. Maybe having more interactions with people who are demonstrably in my corner will one day make me braver in the face of those whose intentions are unknown.