Here is a fun little exercise for you.
During a time of grieving, therapy, healing and stress - write up some questions about how you come across to other people and ask several people you know to answer said questions honestly. Then sit back, wait for the answers and be prepared to feel as though you were kicked in the head.
To be fair, I did ask for honesty. And those that responded were not mean, nasty, or out to hurt my feelings. In fact most of them commented on how “brave” I was to even ask the questions as they did not think it was something they could do themselves. But that does not mean their answers were easy to read.
First, the questions I sent:
When we met,
specifically our first face-to-face meeting, what was your first impression of
- Overall what
would you say is the most positive aspect of my personality, what would you say
people find most appealing?
- What trait or
habit do you think people find least attractive about me? Or most off-putting?
- Would you say that there was any particular thing about me that would want someone to keep me out of their personal circle?
I am sure some of you are thinking: “Why in the world would you even ask people these questions?” Well I do have a good reason. This last year has been very difficult after the death of my mother. She was my best friend and my greatest sounding board. I came to realize that for several reasons I often find it difficult to connect to other people in the ways I would want to. This is not just in the wake of my loss but is tied to events and experiences over many years. After my counselor suggested asking someone I trusted to give me some feedback I decided to act on that idea.
Of course being ME you know there were spreadsheets involved. Names of selected respondents, columns for gender and how long in years I had known the person as well as their responses under a header of each query. The numbers break out as follows:
- 9 responses out of 15 requests – 60% response rate
- 7 Females & 2 Males
- 3 each for the number of years category: 0-5 / 6-10 / 10+
My first surprise was who did, and who did not, respond, some of these I found very unexpected. Individuals who I had thought to get a sentence or two wrote well thought out paragraphs with specific examples and occurrences. Three people who had promised to respond, and in fact gave me specific time-frames, I did not hear from at all.
The second thing that caught me off guard was the theme of the answers to Question One. The way I was described from their perspectives was incredibly similar (especially given most of them do not know each other). Yet their observations and memory of that first meeting are the polar opposite to what my recollection was and how I was feeling at the time, regardless of how it came across.
Some responses made me cry, some made me defensive and some made me question I really should ever be around other humans. There were days when I began to feel like some sort of monster, or social cancer, and I understood why no one wanted to be around me. But I read them multiple times and usually that sick, panicky feeling in my gut would calm a bit – each review decreasing the feeling that I wanted to just throw-up.
I will say again that in spite of the common themes and words I read in each answer I am still a bit in awe of the disconnect between how I feel about myself and how others see me. Some of which may come from their own filters as well as my learned behaviors.
The questions now become:
- Do I WANT to change who I am? Is it even possible?
- If so, how much change are we talking about? Do I have
to learn an entirely new persona and personality in order to achieve what I
thought I wanted?
- And if I do change that completely will I still be ME?
What will I lose in the process? Can I maintain my own sense of self and integrity
if I change that much to make others more comfortable?
- If I change nothing whatsoever can I handle the
loneliness, solitude and sense of isolation that prompted the questions in the
- Have I just not discovered “my people”? Or is it perhaps that the window to form the types of relationships I want has closed?
I don’t have any concrete answers yet so there is no pretty and neat ending to this post. Just more questions and more work.