How Do People Perceive You?

I am more than just short and happy mascot for Lucky Charms cereal, damn it!

In college I shared a tiny dorm room with 2 other girls.

(This story does not end with sexy lingerie and a pillow fight. Stick with me anyway.)

My roommates and I challenged one another to describe each girl using a single word. We were curious: how do others perceive us? How do their perceptions compare to the way in which we view ourselves, and how we’d like to be seen?

Here’s what happened when my name came up:

Roommate #1: Kim, you’re nice.
Me: Nice? Just nice? But nice is so boring.
Roommate #2: It’s not a bad thing. But yeah, you’re just so…I dunno, nice.

Fast forward 5 years. One of my in-laws was surprised to hear that I wanted to pursue a career in therapy. She thought I should open a daycare center instead.

Fast forward another 5 years and I’m in grad school for psychotherapy. Some classmates were in charge of creating character descriptions for us to act out during a skit. They had me play the role of the kindergarten teacher.

Fast forward one more time. I ask my husband Brian why he married me. I hoped he’d say it was because I am smart, insightful, creative, passionate, and awesome (or you know, whatever). I am crushed when he’s says, “Because you’re cute and funny.”

Why We Hate Other People’s Opinions

Did you notice a pattern above? I did. And I don’t like it.

While it’s true that I’m often a sunny, silly, and flexible person who feels at home with kids, I don’t want people’s perception of me to be limited to those qualities.

I like when my husband calls me “Mental Intensity” because of my annoying ability to turn a light conversation into a deep exploration of my personal ethics and social justice issues.

And I liked when one of my grad school professors said he’ll always remember me as the girl with the interesting questions.

No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with kind kindergarten teachers, bubbly babysitters, and funny friends. It’s good to be gentle. It’s good to keep things light and simple. It’s good to be nice.

But there’s more to me than that. And I wish everyone knew it.

No one wants to feel as if the whole world has figured you out without having to actually get to know you.

We all have several layers. But while we are only comfortable sharing our outer layers in public — the perfect, strong, fancy, and impressive ones — we long for people to know (and fully accept) what lies underneath.

Are Your Haters Right About You?: The 7 Out of 10 Rule

When it comes to your weaknesses, the truth cannot be found in your own subjective opinion. You’ve got to “ask the audience”.

I’m talkin’ about the 7 Out Of 10 rule.

The 7 out of 10 rule is a technique I learned in grad school. It helps therapists figure out if the client sitting before her truly has the negative and destructive traits that the therapist suspects he has, or if it’s the therapist’s own bias or issues being projected onto the client. (Yes, there is a fair and objective method behind our madness!)

All you have to do is take note of how 7 out of 10 people (family, co-workers, enemies, and friends) would describe you. What are your weaknesses according to these individuals?

But why 7 out of 10? Why not 5 out of 10, or perhaps 10 out of 10?

Some people’s opinions (around 30% of them) must be discarded. You must account for those whose baggage, issues, or insecurities are influencing their perception of you.

But the truth will always emerge among the majority – 7 out of 10.

Years ago I a client who experienced a lot of turbulence in her relationships, especially with women. They didn’t like her. They abandoned her. They were terribly mean.

My client’s explanation for her lonely life was that women were intimidated by her success and confidence. She said they were envious of her.

But here’s the thing: I know plenty of women who are successful and confident, but don’t consistently butt heads with other females. They don’t walk into a room full of strangers and cause all the other girls’ claws to come out. And so I had to solve this mystery using the 7 out of 10 rule.

If 7 out of 10 women avoided my client, it was not likely (just) a problem with their own insecurities and envy. It was a problem with how my client presented herself. Her confidence came off as arrogance.

The ironic truth is that our greatest strength is usually our greatest weakness. And sometimes it takes 7 out of 10 people to prove that your weaknesses are worth addressing.

So What?

We like to believe that it doesn’t matter what other people think.

I get it. And this is certainly true when you’re on a mission to be your authentic self without shame or fear.

But we should also be aware of how the masses perceive us. Because your words and actions are not solely about the good intentions behind them — they are measured by the impact they have on others.

How do you make others feel?

This is a question we should never stop asking ourselves.

Your Turn: How do the perceptions of others compare to how you perceive yourself? How does this awareness influence your words and actions, if at all?

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4 Responses to How Do People Perceive You?

  1. Ms. Grace says:

    Sometimes someone decidedly not “nice” can help me improve myself. For months I’ve been resenting my father-in-law (of ten months) for calling me a “child” or a “baby” on numerous occasions. I realized that it makes me so upset because it’s what I think of myself at the worst times. So upset that I found your blog this morning via Google searching “how to be a grown up”. I was on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds for ten years before cutting them out just before Christmas when I decided I can’t pay for COBRA any longer. I had quit my job to intern in my new career path, and now I’m certified and hunting for a job that I know will stress me out to the max. Not surprisingly, I have been an anxious and weepy wreck. I am working hard on developing coping mechanisms and distracting myself with small to-dos to prevent the meltdowns that still happen behind closed doors more often than I’d like to admit. Sometimes the path to “doing okay today” is as simple as doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen instead of despairing how I’m such a messy person. If I want to be perceived and, more importantly, perceive myself as a strong and good person, I must ask myself what a person like that would do, and go do it. Being compassionate with my inner adolescent is the hardest part, but learning I can calm her down is so empowering.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi, Ms. Grace! Welcome to ABL and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I can only imagine how hard it must be to be in a transitional time in your career/ life, without meds for the first time in 10 years, and with people reminding you of your flaws and insecurities. Very difficult stuff, even for someone who doesn’t struggle with depression or anxiety.

      But I can see that you are self-aware person who is making a real effort to cope with stressors and grow as a person. I LOVE what you wrote here: “If I want to be perceived and, more importantly, perceive myself as a strong and good person, I must ask myself what a person like that would do, and go do it.” So wise and so true!

      You also hit the nail on the head when you wrote: “Being compassionate with my inner adolescent is the hardest part, but learning I can calm her down is so empowering.” This is such healthy way of viewing both your flaws and strengths. There are 2 wonderful things happening with this approach. First, you are being compassionate toward the flawed or wounded girl in you (accepting and comforting her, not scolding her — which would make her “act out” even more). But you are simultaneously detaching yourself from your inner adolescent, recognizing that she doesn’t define you. She is like one of many guests in your home — after a while, you’ll learn how to take care of her and live in peace. Empowering indeed!

      I hope you continue to find effective coping mechanisms for your anxiety and depression. Many of my clients struggle with the same issues and do quite well once they find strategies that suit their personalities and needs. Best of luck!

  2. Sheryl says:

    I’ve definitely run into this issue!

    What I’ve found helps is imagining interacting with someone who is behaving in a similar way to how I am in a specific situation and asking myself how I’d read it. It’s definitely been eye opening in the past, and makes me more aware of how I’m presenting myself. Which, in turn, has a way of making me start to change things if I don’t like the perception.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes always does the trick! Good for you for having that ability, and for taking it a step further by changing your own behavior when possible.

      Trying to walk a mile in another person’s shoes (even if just in your own head) definitely allows me to see my own flaws. It has also helped me understand other people’s flaws and outbursts in an objective way so that I don’t take things too personally and end up escalating things by counter-attacking.

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