Perceptions Versus Reality: Can We Really Know If Our Perceptions of People Are Correct?

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Do you ever find out something and it takes weeks to process the information? Well, that is where my head is at this week. I recently discovered new information about someone in my past that pretty much alters the image I had of them in my head. I thought I had a clear, unequivocal understanding of who this person is and just knowing this one thing makes me unsure if I truly know any of the people around me. It is strange how you can add the tiniest piece of a puzzle and it completely changes the whole image in front of you.

Let me start by saying that I am not going to go into detail about who this is or what I found out. However, I will this information isn’t necessarily negative, if anything it was just… unexpected for lack of a better classification. I cannot be one-hundred percent of the whole story because I no longer am in contact with them, nor do I want to reach out. Usually, the people I know from the past usually stay in the past; well, at least on my end. And I plan to keep it that way for now.

This got me thinking, how well do we know the people around us? How do we know that someone is exactly how we see them within our own perceptions? Do we really show one-hundred percent of who we are one-hundred percent of the time? I have been pondering over these questions for years and years, but not as much as I have in the past few months.

The short answer is, we can’t be one-hundred percent certain that how we see the people in our lives are true. There is no way of knowing whether or not how we see others is an accurate depiction of who that person is. Nor is how others see us really how we see ourselves. People we perceive as kind and loving can secretly be cruel and full of hate. People that we think are rude and stand-off-ish can be the nicest people if you get to know them.

I have been on the receiving end of being misunderstood by many people in my personal and professional life. The way people characterize me at my job is very different than people I go to the gym with or go out drinking with. How my friends see me is very different from how my family does. The people I go out on dates with usually project what they want to see in me rather than taking the time to actually get to know me. All of these people perceive me in different capacities, different social situations, and see me using different parts of my personality to complete contrasting goals and tasks. All of these perceptions people have of me may not be completely accurate, but they are all true in some sense.

Everyone is complex. We are always growing and changing and constantly becoming other people. The problem that I am seeing is that no matter how much we change, how much we grow, people from our pasts are always going to see us in the images of us in that time. That is what happened to me when I found something out about my old friend. I had this image of them the last time we were in each other’s lives. I was relying on the information I knew about them from a long time ago and not taking account of the time that had past nor considered that this person, well, changed.

I thought I was so certain about who this person was, and it gave me comfort in thinking how right I was about the people I knew. Now I can’t be certain of anything. Not even people I have known my whole life.

I realized that I am always learning new things from the people I have in my life. They are not the same people from when we first met and that is a wonderful thing. I can see how people have grown become better than what I initially remembered. Old tormentors have turned into fantastic humans. Toxic adults have learned from their mistakes and have formed better habits. On the other side of the coin, I have seen people that I used to admire and look up to in a new, yet negative light.

Either way I look at it I have realized that I have to constantly revise my image of others no matter how well I think I know them. I need to recheck my own personal biases and change how I see things. Nothing is every truly concrete when it comes to people. Every person always has the room and the opportunities to change; and hopefully for the better. We just have to accept the inconsistencies of the people around us.

I for one am not the same person I was three months ago, let alone six years, but I know that no matter what person I am now and who I become in the future, the image of who I used to be will always exist in other people’s minds. There is no way for me to change people’s opinions about me. All I can do is be true to myself and always work towards being a better version of me.

In conclusion, our perceptions aren’t always reality. Things are constantly changing around us, and we need to learn to adapt our world views to new information. By accepting that people can change, for better or worse, we are able to change our minds and our hearts. You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to have different opinions and friends and have a completely different life from what you had in the past. There is no rule that says that you need to stay exactly the same for the rest of your life. So, be open. Be willing to learn. And don’t let people’s perceptions of you dictate who you truly are.

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