Sometimes, when you date a person, your friends are usually better judges of how long your relationship will last. They sometimes seem to “know” you better than you know yourself! Isn’t it strange that your friends can predict more accurately the course of your relationships? Or sometimes, you will start to wonder why a certain person doesn’t like you? You think to yourself, “I’m a cool person, right? So why doesn’t he/she like me?” It’s easy. It’s because our perception of ourself is usually misguided. You likely see yourself very differently from the way others see you.
Here’s what that means. Your friend calls you and says to meet her at the cafe in an hour. So you adjust that hour to say, an hour and a half because your friend is very optimistic about her punctuality, when you are quite realistic to it. It’s not that she is egocentric, it is simply that her punctuality, or lack of, is a blind spot (things only known by others). So, you know her better than she knows herself in this situation. How well we understand ourselves has a profound impact on our ability to navigate the social realm. In some areas, we know ourselves better than others. In other areas, we are so biased by our need to see ourselves in a good light that we become strangers to ourselves. Only by understanding how we’re seen can we make sure we’re sending the right signals.
Here’s a few ways we are often misguided about the way we think about ourselves…
Why You’re Less Transparent Than You Think: We often think others are aware of our anxiety or our darkest feelings, but research shows they’re actually poor judges of our emotions, intentions, and thoughts. We overestimate the extent to which our internal states are detectable to others—a bias known as the “illusion of transparency.” We also overestimate the extent to which our behavior and appearance are noticed and evaluated by others—a bias known as the “spotlight effect.”
Why Your Intelligence and Attractiveness Elude You: There are a lot of reasons to think you’d be the best judge of you. After all, you’ve known you longer than anyone else (except, perhaps, your parents). You’ve spent more time with you than anyone else. You see yourself in all kinds of situations, from lonely reflective moments at home to dazzling parties surrounded by friends and strangers.
But you’re also very biased; you have a vested interest in seeing yourself as decent and competent, and not evil or inept. When it comes to traits that matter to our self-esteem, we tend to have positive delusions—meaning that on these dimensions, others see us more accurately than we see ourselves. “Other men’s sins are before our eyes,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca. “Our own are behind our backs.” You rarely get to participate in gossip sessions about yourself, and you have only limited access to how people react to you and what they say.
It is also difficult to judge your own intelligence, because this is something you have invested a lot in. When people are asked to rank their own intelligence, their ratings don’t match their scores on IQ tests. But when researchers ask our friends or others who know us well, on the other hand, they’re actually fairly good judges—because they have a less clouded lens. The same goes for honesty. Such positive delusions about the self are often adaptive, boosting our confidence and helping us recover more quickly from rejection.
By the same token, we’re not very aware of how attractive we are—not just because we have an interest in seeing ourselves as beautiful, but also because we only see ourselves through our own eyes. The same goes for body language. “It’s just so salient to other people,” explains Vazire. “It’s a matter of physical perspective—your own body isn’t in your visual field. So in addition to the psychological advantage of being more objective, other people also have a physical advantage in detecting your overt behaviors.”
When Perceptions Clash: When people are asked how long they think their romantic relationship will last, they’re not very good at estimating the right answer. Their friends, it turns out, fare far better. But if you ask people how satisfied they are in a relationship, their ratings accurately predict how long they’ll stay together. In many cases, we have the necessary information to understand things as they are—but our blind spots don’t allow us to take it into account.
When there’s a disagreement between the self and others, it can be because it’s a blind spot and you can’t see yourself as you really are. But it can also be the sign of a personal spot—an area where you see yourself more accurately than others do. Here, it’s important to view people across a diverse range of contexts before jumping to conclusions about what they’re like.