Freud said by age five we cement who we are for life. If I believe Dr. Freud, I’m screwed.
I was an impatient, head strong little girl who’s favorite phrase was, “Daddy, right nowww.” And everyone loved it. Nothing like a little “Aw, she’s cute” to teach a kid that her stubborn demands equal perfectly acceptable and amusing behavior.
If our personality is set in stone at such a tender age, how much can we shift the rest of our lives? And what does that mean for our relationships and experiences if we can’t truly change?
I’ve met a handful of new people this last month. And each time, in not-so-idle chit chat, I wonder how well I can size them up inside of the peel-the-onion conversation. The stories of their lives. The way they tell it. The selection. The tone. The little idiosyncrasies that stick out like accidentally exposed underwear. And I wonder, how are they judging me? My presentation of myself. My masking of my Little Miss Right Now. My inability to mask. We all try to craft first impressions…but is it even possible? Do we all fail miserably to hide our inner five year olds?
The Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, talks about how we reject people who touch a nerve in our own identity. And so regardless of what resonates or doesn’t–through others, we are only fine tuning ourselves. The last month, though I’ve been focused on me time, my antenna has been up tenfold. I have put myself in unusual and sometimes uncomfortable situations–partially to see how it changes me.
I’ve leaned in to the discomfort. The confusion. The things that struck a dissonant twang. And sure enough, I learned that the room to shift my values has been very small. I’m fully formed and I seem to only gravitate to my likeness. The things in others that reflect who I am myself. Is that narcissistic?
It’s not so black and white. I’m not sure that you ever have a genuine image of anyone anyway. Though I share these thoughts shaped by the me I want you to read, you can’t see the filters, the processing and the re-processing before they’re packaged. (I’m even writing under a pseudonym.) No matter what you say, no one really knows what’s in your head but you. And, as Simone de Beauvoir, so insightfully said, “Sometimes speech is no more than a device for saying nothing, and a neater one than silence.”
Yet, you communicate so much without speaking. Your outfit. Your hand gestures. Your getting lost in a sentence because it started to travel down the unfiltered path. Your gait. Your laugh or lack thereof. Your eye-to-eye or eye-to-floor or eye-to-empty-space contact.
Through all of that, turns out, you are who you don’t have to say you are. The child in all of us still picks our playmates on instinct–just on a bigger playground.