Tuesday 25 November 2008


I've been pondering the idea of self-perception versus the perception others have of us for quite while now. I mentioned recently that I'd often been labeled as "stuck-up" in the past because of how painfully shy I was. I knew that I wasn't stuck-up, I knew that I was just too horribly shy to talk to other people - but they didn't. They just knew that I kept to myself and didn't talk to them.

Last year a group of moms in our church had a weekly meeting where we could get together with our kids and let them play at our feet while we did a Bible study. We discussed the fruits of the Spirit over the course of the year:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
Galatians 5:22-23

On the day we discussed self-control, we considered whether it maybe meant not just controlling in the sense of holding back, but in the sense of taking action as well. People often talk, for example, of having self-control over what they eat - which generally means restraint. Or self-control in the sense of not hitting someone when you're angry. But maybe, it was suggested, it means forcing ourselves to do things we don't necessarily want to do, rather than just not doing things we do want to do. Maybe, for example, it would include forcing ourselves to talk with people and carry a conversation despite this not being something we're generally comfortable with.

I've thought about that a lot since then. I think I've come a long way over the past two or three years. I still have a long way to go - I always will, in some area or another - but I've discovered a sense of self-confidence that was most definitely lacking in prior years. I've become better at initiating and carrying conversation. I've become less easily intimidated, less sensitive, more calm, okay with the fact that not everyone is going to like me. So maybe I'm less likely to be thought of as being stuck-up now (or maybe I'm more likely - eek!), but I've little doubt that other perceptions have risen up to take its place.

With that in mind, I find myself wondering - does it matter what others think of us? I grew up hearing that it doesn't - forget what they say, you know yourself, just ignore them, they're wrong about you, it doesn't matter what other people think.

But why do they think those things about us? And if that's the perception we're giving off - regardless of how true it is - shouldn't we care? Shouldn't we do something to change the way we come off? Why are we generally thought of as being [fill in the blank] - selfish, spoiled, hypocritical, self-righteous, callous, uncaring, stuck-up, whatever - despite not seeing those things in ourself? Maybe we should care what others think after all.

Forgive the rambliness and lack of clarity of these thoughts...I'm not sure where exactly I'm going with them. They're just some thoughts I've been pondering over the past few months. Now, to figure out what to do with them...the hardest part being, I suppose, figuring out just what others' perceptions of me are in the first place.


  1. We are on similar journeys I think. I am definitely more outgoing than I ever used to be and certainly much of that is being forced to do it through work or church activities. I too have gained confidence and conversation skills over the years. I have often wondered and cared far too much, however, about how others perceive me and have had to effortfully let it go. Not to say that I don't still struggle but I am learning that I really can't control what others think or see in me. They have their own set of experiences and preconceived notions to draw from and I have no power over that other than to be as kind and open to them as possible. Over the past few months I have done a lot of soul searching and learning about myself. Who am I really and who has God designed me to be? Am I living up to that design or hiding from it because I am afraid?

    I am rambling too, so sorry. I have much to learn and I certainly don't have all the answers. Let's journey together and let go of our fear!

    God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.
    2 Timothy 1:7

  2. I think your thoughts make a lot of sense. I've come along way in the shyness area as well, but I'm still kind of a mess there. I've gone from being very quiet and not talking at all to rambling on out of being nervous and not knowing what I'm saying. I kind of wish I could go back to the first, because I'd rather look snobby than like an idiot, haha.

    I have a lot of trouble with people not liking me. I realize intellectually that not everyone will always like me, but emotionally, it drives me crazy. I want everyone to like me and if they don't, I have trouble accepting that as personal tastes, instead I want to do something to fix it. And in that case, it usually makes it worse because the person would rather me just leave them alone.

    I think some of others' perceptions have to be important though. I mean, if they're seeing a selfish person, maybe it means that they're misinterpreting things or maybe it means they're seeing something we're not. On the other hand, some people just really and truly don't get along with others and will see all kinds of things that are not there.

  3. What I've learned for myself is that I should care what others think, so, like you said, I'm aware of how I come off to other people, aware of the impression I make on others. However, others' perceptions of you shouldn't make up your perception of yourself, shouldn't be a major part of your self-worth. It should just be factors for input, something to ponder, to see whether you agree or disagree, and whether those factors are something you feel you need to change, etc.

    Remember that others' opinions of us take their entire life history into account - everything that has ever happened to them, everything anyone has ever said or done to them or they have ever said or done to themselves - is all included in their opinion of you. Very little of that has to do with you.

  4. This is an interesting blog, but I do humbly disagree. I believe I will never truly worry about what others think of me because well often they don't attribute attitudes or statements that hurt my feelings or concern me. I do think sometimes I come off as stuck-up do to shyness. But after we get to know one another I'm a chatty Cathy. That isn't to say I don't care at all what others think of me at all, it's just those opinions who matter to me or that I desire that I worry about.

    I just try to put out Christ like love, and understanding. I think that if someone is going to judge me that immediately than I don't really need nor do I desire them in my life. I guess what I'm saying is I try to put my best-foot forward but I don't loose sleep if they don't like me.

  5. Wow, what great comments, I've really enjoyed reading all your thoughts. Thank you so much.

    Karyn, I think you really summed up my thoughts perfectly, though I did a very poor job of saying so myself! I do think we should be aware of how others perceive us so that we can be aware of the impression we give off and perhaps adjust our behaviour accordingly if we are consistently giving off a negative impression.

    I could, for example, just have an attitude of "too bad if people think I'm stuck up, that's their problem" - or I could make the effort to move past my discomfort and help them to feel at ease rather than brushed off or snubbed. I certainly used to have that attitude, thinking that if they only got to know me, they'd know that I was just shy rather than stuck up, but over the past few months I've shifted to thinking about how it makes others feel - ignored, uncomfortable, affronted, even hurt - and how I can take those small (albeit uncomfortable) steps to help others feel more at ease and welcome around me despite my inherent shyness.

    But no, being aware of others' perceptions shouldn't drive my impression of myself - and indeed there are some aspects of myself that will automatically give some people a bad impression but that I wouldn't change anyway, as it speaks more to their own biases and prejudices than to a behaviour or attitude flaw in me.

    Again, thanks for those great thoughts. Some of it has really verbalized my own feelings and other parts have given me more to think over.

  6. Lauren and Karyn both brought up good points, so I'll just agree. :)