You project what you are


It is a fact that you project what you are. – Norman Vincent Peale

My father’s influence on me is enormous.  I can’t really convey the degree to which his example echoes through my life, though I have tried.  At least once a day, I think of something he said or did or believed or showed me when I was a child.  One thing he said often was that maturity is the ability to see how we are perceived by others.

I think this is true.  And I am sure I am not there yet.  Over and over again, I run into the brick wall of what others perceive and I am often startled by how far it is from reality.  There was the woman on the shuttle, all those years ago (four now!), whose voice still rings in my head.  Hard and self-assured, she called me.  Neither of which I have felt, ever, for even a single moment of my life.

Then there was my disconcerting and uncomfortable experience at BlogHer in 2010.  For some reason people have always projected things onto me.  Other peoples’ inaccurate impressions of and assumptions about me feel terrible.  These rattle around inside my sense of myself, small but granular, spiky, unavoidable.  My porous nature means that I’m extremely open to the input of others, and often I give too much credence to views that may not be based in any kind of fact (or, worse, not come with kind intentions).

There can be such a yawning gulf between what others perceive of us and what we actually intend, feel, and experience.  I’ve written of this lacuna often, a moat filled with monsters: assumption, stereotype, judgment.  Having been on the receiving end of snap judgments that are far from the truth has made me slower to jump to conclusions about others, and more inclined towards empathy.

But this quote by Norman Vincent Peale stopped me in my tracks.  Maybe what I radiate – the energy that has often caused others to perceive me as chilly or aloof – is what I am?  Is that possible?  Even considering that gives me a shiver.  But then I remember: those we know well may see an entirely different light radiating from us than do strangers.  That must matter.

Right?  How do you parse the difference – whether it is infinitessimal or gigantic – between reality and perception?  I have to grow confident in who I am without listening to what others think.  Right?  I thought this was the task I’d been engaged in for the last ten years or more.  I guess what I’m learning is that there is value in knowing what others pick up, and while it may or may not change the core truth of who we are, it is something that we are well served to understand.  Oh, wait.  Maybe this is the maturity that my father was talking about all along?

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  1. Posted November 11, 2013 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    “Maybe what I radiate – the energy that has often caused others to perceive me as chilly or aloof – is what I am? Is that possible? Even considering that gives me a shiver. But then I remember: those we know well may see an entirely different light radiating from us than do strangers. That must matter.”

    It DOES matter – because what you project and what others perceive are two different things (IMHO). It sounds to me like they are the ones doing the projecting, not you. When I put my writing out there, it still surprises me how negatively people can respond to vulnerability. It really makes ’em squirm. And they want to put a label on it -it’s a manipulation, a ploy, a writing technique. As if vulnerability were a schtick. I don’t know, maybe it can be?? I have to think about that.

    I love your consistent honesty, I really see nothing but authenticity in your writing. And of course you would be a little different in “real life,” isn’t that why we write, LOL?

    And the thought of a BlogHer Conference makes me break out in hives.


    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much for these kind words. So agree re: the surprise of negative responses to vulnerability. As though it’s a manipulative angle, somehow … I don’t even get that. But as you say, maybe some can do that. I sure can’t!

  2. Posted November 11, 2013 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Wow! So when I started reading this, my thoughts went first to Caroline. She is struggling so with her perception of herself (I look horrible in this dress!) to the reality (she looks like a rock star!). But then I quickly realized it was more about me. I have had two examples in the past few years of times when I have hurt people’s feelings without having any idea I had done so, without that being anywhere close to my intention. It is so true that often people perceptions just are not the truth. We know who we are as do those who are close to us. And yes- to the last sentence of this piece 🙂 Hugs to you for another honest and gorgeous piece.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much! xoxo

  3. Posted November 11, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    When reading this, my mind seemed to go to my teenagers and their perceptions of me. Teens tend to use the words “always” and “never” a lot. “You always make that face when you’re mad,” I hear this even when I don’t feel mad, and I have to think about my tone and body language and have to question myself. Maybe I really was mad?
    You’ve definitely given me something to ponder.

    admin Reply:

    Right. Maybe we convey something without realizing it, that speaks of some deep truth? Right?

  4. Posted November 11, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    This is such an interesting topic with so many layers. I wish I could have a conversation with you about it! I love that you are always giving me something more to think about. xoxo

    admin Reply:

    Yes, I’d love that conversation! xox

  5. Posted November 11, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Another thoughtful piece to which I can relate so very much. Yes, I am the “too serious” (among other similar adjectives) one in my circles of family, friends and new acquaintances. Depending on the day, it still gets to me that that is their perception because I am the one who seems to want to delve most deeply into big questions, the loveliness of life and emotions of all ranges. I feel like one can only do that if you are a deeply feeling, sensitive and empathic person. And I suppose my Pavlovian response, over time, not having found too many like me, is just to become quiet and take it all in alone with myself. It’s too easy to become a target otherwise and so, as you describe in one of these posts, I’ve grown some callouses over these sore spots. Right or wrong, becoming an even quieter, more “aloof” person makes me feel less vulnerable in the real world and I now just take these thoughts of mine to paper instead where I don’t feel so exposed (but oh the irony considering the rejection and vulnerability that comes with being a writer). You are so right–the balance of figuring out our reality with that of others’ perception is tough, but as I am on cusp of 40, I find that I just care less and less about the (misguided) judgment of others.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. Absolutely, the “aloonfness” that others sense is in part a trained behavior of remaining distant in order to not be judged. It’s also flat-out shyness, in my case. Love the image of callouses.

  6. Posted November 11, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I remember visiting my grandparents the Christmas my twins were 10 months old. In my head, it was a stressful, anxious time, with me constantly monitoring/chasing/soothing/tending/preventing catastrophe for one baby or another, frustrated that I couldn’t relax and enjoy time with my grandparents. A few months later, I saw some video my husband had taken that day, and in it I look calm as can be. At ease. I couldn’t believe how different the outer appearance was from my inner reality.

    The experience helped me understand why others have consistently reflected back to me views of myself that don’t match my own. Where is reality? I don’t know. Although I did often feel anxious as a new mother of twins, I also felt profoundly right in that role. I had no doubts about my ability to do it well. Maybe that was projected because it was the more fundamental truth?

    In my late 40s, I find increasingly that I don’t care where the reality is. I have less and less riding on what others think of me. And I am wondering if that is the key to closing the gap–if we project what we really are when we no longer care about projecting something in particular, when we can just be who we are. I think I would have enjoyed that day more if I could have said, “Hey, I’m struggling a bit here.” I think my relationships would have been deeper if I could have shown more of who I really was at that time, both anxious and calm, simultaneously.

    admin Reply:

    So interesting. I’ve thought that I’m caring less and less what the perception is. But you assert that you care less and less about the reality, and maybe we’re actually saying the same thing. xox

  7. Cindy
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    This one really hit home! I, too, am often accused of being aloof or even snobby when it’s really just my own insecurity manifesting itself. It’s really interesting how there can be such a yin/yang between the way we feel and the way we come off. I struggle with how much to pay attention to these “false” perceptions of me. On the one hand, it shouldn’t matter, I shouldn’t worry so much about what other people think of me, etc., etc. But I’m also concerned that if I don’t think about how I come off, I’ll be verging on boorish. And I know I’ve unintentionally offended people or hurt their feelings. It’s been a lifelong struggle and instead of getting easier, I only feel like it gets harder, as I become more aware of this disconnect between intention and perception.

    admin Reply:

    Yes – it is getting harder here too, which is unanticipated. I think you’re right that it gets more challenging because we are more aware. xox

  8. Sue
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Fascinating idea to ponder. I once had a dear friend and colleague tell me I was intimidating when people first met me. And here I was feeling shy and awkward- so who is correct? Rita commented about caring less as she has aged. Maybe that maturity your dad spoke of does come. At 50 I simply try to be who I am and am less afraid to ask for help or share when I do not know.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. That’s what the woman on the plane all those years ago did for me. She said I seemed a certain way which just outright shocked me. I hope for the maturity that you and my Dad are both talking about!!

  9. Amy
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I can’t imagine thinking you are “cold”. You radiate warmth and honesty in your writing and in person! You are sensitive and thoughtful, two qualities I admire!

    admin Reply:

    I really appreciate your saying this. More than you know. xoxo

  10. gena
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    excellent thoughts to ponder –i believe that once we start being aware of or even caring about what others are thinking it changes our very being –sort of like the Hawthorne effect–who really cares what it is that we are projecting? That old saying: “it’s none of my business what others think” is the way i try & live my life. As long as you are being your own best version of yourself it’s all good. After all, perception is something you will never be able to change –it’s not real.

    admin Reply:

    Yes, you’re right to point out this spiral – it can turn pretty insular pretty fast, but also toxic, in that the impressions of others can impact how we see ourselves and behave … round and round we go!

  11. Gale
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I can’t help but comment that the people you cited who have perceived you differently from how you perceive yourself were almost all strangers, or people who know you only barely. Would Matt have the same opinion of you? Would Hilary? Would your Princeton friends? Would Aidan? My husband is a VERY different person to people who know him than he is to people who don’t. This isn’t because he isn’t the person we all think he is. It’s because he only reveals his true disposition to people who know him well. Perhaps the same is true of you? Either way, just because someone perceives you in a way that you find inconsistent with who you are doesn’t mean you are wrong. More likely, they are. When the people close to you reveal such perceptions you should take heart, but no sooner.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you for this. I agree with you, but I lose sight of it a lot and it’s helpful to be reminded. xox

  12. Kathie
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Been thinking about this one all day – so timely! I’ve had a weekend where it seems that even those who I think know me the best may have the wrong perception of who I am, which leads me to wonder what exactly I am projecting. Still have no answers, but reading your post helps! xo

    admin Reply:

    Thank you – I’m sorry you can relate, but glad at the same time … xoxox

  13. Posted November 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Dude. You are SO not cold and aloof. I read this quote on a yoga studio in Charlotte: “How people react to us is their karma. How we react to them is ours.”

    Or, to quote Anais Nin, “We see things the way we are.” If people are reading something into you, that is their stuff to deal with, not yours.

    admin Reply:

    Love both of those. Thank you. I needed them right now!

  14. Posted November 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Pamela!

  15. Posted November 11, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    I’ve too been accused of being aloof. Truthfully, I often am especially in chaotic environments or when I do not know someone well. I’ve accepted that as part of my introverted self and realize that it may very well mean that I lose the opportunity to get to know someone better. Well actually, they lose the opportunity to get to know me.

    Perhaps your father was referring to the maturity that comes with self-awareness. Awareness that allows us to present ourselves in different ways to fit different situations. There are certainly times when that awareness would come in handy. I would not want to come off as aloof during a job interview, for example.

    Definitely a topic to ponder.

    admin Reply:

    That’s a good way to reframe it – not our loss, always, but sometimes theirs, too. xoxo

  16. Bob
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    I like your father’s comment about maturity, but it seems to me that it can only apply in the aggregate. It’s not realistic to think you can know how any one particular individual perceives you.

    I don’t think I believe Peale’s statement. While it might be true that an observer can glean a detail or two based on what you project, it seems impossible to get enough information to determine exactly who you are — your essence.

    However, I do like Plato’s idea that perception becomes reality. If several people perceive me to be a liar, then I am a liar in their area of influence. The actual reality does not matter — the perception has taken over to become reality. The problem is that I worry too much and for too long in how people perceive me, which is really how I perceive them to be perceiving me. It’s exhausting, and it feels like a trap.

    I think the way out is to try to ignore who is perceiving who. Just live your life the way you think you should, and try to be kind to others. But for me, this is easier said than done. It’s like trying to ignore the chocolate cake that has been placed in front of me.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. Chocolate cake. Very tempting and downright impossible to ignore! Such a slippery thing … if perception DOES become reality, then we need to listen to it, right? But that can be dangerous, too …

  17. Posted November 12, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, you have a gift for expressing the introspective here. I’d never heard what your father said before about maturity. I’m not sure I know what maturity is except that it is being true to self through and through. The outward perceptions don’t carry much weight to me. What makes a person beautiful, to me, is the authenticity that radiates from a person, which can’t be manufactured or arranged, but simply IS, which comes from knowing who we are, where we’ve been, and what is most important, rooted in love. To me, you embody all of those things. Thank you, as always, for the great food for thought!

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. What a generous thing to say. xox

  18. Posted November 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Chiming in late here, but have you read “The Untethered Soul?” I am in the thick of it right now, and so much of it reminds me of what you are saying here.

    admin Reply:

    I have not. Must check it out!

  19. Posted November 13, 2013 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    You have given me SO much to think about. Generally, I find myself thinking it best to NOT think about how or what others think of me — b/c it usually sends me down a rabbit hole that never really ends in a good place. But… on the flip side, I see what you mean about there being value in seeing what others see. Food for thought, as always! xox

  20. Posted November 16, 2013 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I think everyone is surprised to hear second-hand how someone perceives them, particularly when it is so far from how you perceive yourself. This has certainly happened to me.

    But when it does, I am reminded of a simple truth. What others perceive of you is ultimately about THEM… not you.

    I think we all live in these incredibly self-centered bubbles where we think the whole world is about us. Posts on FB seem to be directed at us, our children’s behavior seems to be a direct reflection of US.

    Perhaps we have some leftover neurological connections from birth. Back when you believe the world IS you.

    So now, when others project feelings, it’s usually always about THEM not US, and when we get hurt by those projections, it’s about US not THEM.

    And never will the truth be known.

    admin Reply:

    I believe this so completely. It was one of the essential truths I wrote about wanting Grace to know when she turned 10 (“it is almost never about you.”) And it was surely the one people responded to most. I agree entirely. I think we all – myself included – take far too many things too personally. That said, direct input, assumption, and commentary is harder to push away for me, but I hear your point that the source from which those things spring is no different. xox

  21. Posted November 23, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    I just finished reading Stalking the Divine by Kristin Ohlson and had to share this passage:

    “I think each of us has two selves-the outside self that others see and that we don’t, and the inner self, the one we’re always trying to reveal to each other. Somehow we’ve become convinced that the inner self is the one that’s real, while the outer self is only a facade. After having any number of people tell me who they think I am while I know a very different person on the inside, I’ve decided that maybe the reverse is true. It’s the outer self that gets us through the world even when we don’t feel we can manage it, persevering…despite the tyrannical bleating of the inner self.”

    This fit too well with this discussion not to share!

    admin Reply:

    This is so fascinating. Love this quote. I hadn’t thought about it that way, really … my father maintains that impressions are all we have, but I’ve always privileged what we KNOW about ourselves. Maybe it’s the other way around than I’ve always thought!

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