Am I defined by my perception of myself, or by how my friends perceive me?

When I look back on how I interacted with people when I was a child, I notice something very obvious: I defined myself based on how I perceived my own identity. I spent so little time with other people, that I had much time to sit and think about my relationship to the balance of nature, and the people that I did know.

Then I can compare this to how I interacted with my friends when I was in community college. One thing is very clear: I hated being alone. To me, loneliness was being without the company of my friends. Every ounce of free time I had while on campus was devoted to being around my friends. I would not work alone, I would not eat alone, I would not sit alone. I began considering people I barely knew other than their names as being friends simply because I knew who they were. All of this was in an attempt to avoid my fear of being by myself, and taking the time to be introspective.

Over time, I began to see myself as how my friends would describe me. I was someone who was opinionated, fierce, confident, aggressive, talkative, a leader, smart, well-spoken and adorable. In reality I am none of these things, but at the time, I did not believe that. I like to share my opinions, but I listen more than I speak. I will not allow others to insult my integrity and get away with it, but I am neither fierce or aggressive. While I appreciate being called confident, a leader, smart and well-spoken, I do what I do because I must, not because I have confidence in it. I am not a leader, people just do what I say because I am older than most of my friends. My intelligence is based on what I know, but my friends know things that I do not. I cannot decide if I agree with well-spoken, because while I can apply class to what I say, I am also horribly long-winded. I agree even less with adorable, and my idea of cuteness is vastly different than the general population.

So the question remains; am I defined by my perception of myself, or by how my friends perceive me?

In languages around the world we use different terminology to communicate the same message. For example, in English you tell someone to “go left” or “go right”, but in other languages, to define a direction someone must take, you either say “up stream”, or “down stream”, even if a stream is not present. Ultimately, we are saying the exact same thing in both languages; you either go one direction or you go another direction. Does this mean we perceive space differently, or are we thinking of the exact same thing and just using different words to describe it? Edward Sapir explored this theory.

Take for instance the ever so popular trumping of eyewitness testimony. Two people can see a car, one person will say the car is red, another will say the car is maroon. They are seeing the exact same color, but they are using two different words to explain what that color is.

In other words, is the way my friends put my personality into words the exact same as how I look at myself? What some people interpret as annoying, others interpret as a great quality. What some people call bossy, others will call leadership. So if a trait of my personality is that I occasionally give what I believe to be meaningful directions to my friends, and someone dislikes that trait, does that make me bossy? The answer is no.

I think, and therefore I am.

Visualize yourself running across a field. Now imagine what it would be like if in the world outside of your mind, what we consider “the natural world”, you had no legs. Imagine sitting in a wheelchair, but thinking of yourself running across that grassy meadow. Have you truly lost your ability to run, or is the image in your mind a reality for you, and you alone?

Your mind is your most powerful asset. Everything you think of is a reality because thoughts are just as tangible as everything else in our world. We can share them, or not share them. If I think of myself running across a grassy field and I tell you that I thought of myself running across a grassy field, then I have made that thought accessible to you. Even if I choose not to bring that thought into the view of the world, it is still accessible to me because I thought of it and I know its existence. I know it more intimately than anyone else. Within my mind is a reality of myself where I run across grassy fields.

My identity is defined by my perception of myself.

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