“A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him.”
~ William James
Why do you suppose this is?
Dear Sybil, 😉
It’s not so much why, it’s that it is. We’re too tiny to understand the vastness we live within, but we can make some basic sense of what’s going on. We can come to understand that we are someone different to everyone we meet. This isn’t because we’re dishonest or disingenuous—quite the opposite. We’re doing a very common thing in the natural world—we are cooperating with the other people by mirroring their emotional state, but if it’s allowed to exist unbridled, trouble can definitely ensue.
You have an identity for each parent. One for each sibling. One for them in every permutation and combination of groups—they’re almost like chemical formulas where you’re changing the elements and ergo the reaction or non-reaction. And you act accordingly. Because by being with them you are sending the electricity in your brain—your life force—to the parts of your brain where this behaviour is stored. This is why you don’t even mean to and you’ll start mimicking a British accent if you’re talking to someone British. It’s a kindness. You’re trying to make yourself more understandable.
So “You” is actually a construct of beliefs about you. So an example I sometimes use when I teach—you might not imagine yourself as a Gold Medal Olympian. And yet you could have an accident that puts you in a wheelchair and your angry reaction to could be to become as mobile as possible. As an angry wheelchair speedster you would then have a good temperament for wheelchair basketball where in fact you might actually become an Olympic champion. So your beliefs about yourself define what you do and do not do. So you’re probably not really working out your biceps right now in anticipation of that Gold Medal.
What you are changes based on who you think you are and in who you think others are in relation to you. When the war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, because everyone lived amongst each other, some neighbours were killing people they used to go on holidays with! These were good people whipped up into a frenzy by mass thinking and there was ugliness on all sides because of it. Is it any surprise that one of the leaders was a psychologist and not a military leader?
So people who were previously filed under neighbour got very nice, kind and generous attention. But now that they are their parents parents parents parents…etc…religion, now they’re no good and they need to die. From going on a picnic together to killing someone. It’s crazy. But it happens because people believe that their thoughts about that person actually have an affect on who that person actually is. It’s absurd. Just because I stop calling a guy my neighbour and change to calling him my enemy does not mean that what he holds dear in his heart has changed! That’s insane. How powerful do I think my personal thoughts are? He is who he is. My view of him is just my personal opinion.
Different people can hear us more clearly when they’re spoken to in language that is easy to understand. So there’s nothing wrong with having one face for work and once face for friends and one face for your mother and another for your kids etc. etc. etc. That’s not inauthentic. That’s the only way it can be. Even if you attempted to stay entirely consistent they would still each see a different person when they looked at you.
Our only job on the inside is to try not to be anyone but ourselves. We should merely be open and aware, like a child. We will learn quickly and it will be enjoyable and there will be no one to protect. And that’s fine because you couldn’t protect “yourself” anyway when everyone’s just going to think you’re who they believe you are anyway.
I do hope this answers you question. If not, let me know where you’re still confused and I’ll see if I can clarify things further.
Thanks again for the question. Have an awesome day!
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.