Here’s a common meme: “Other people’s perception of you is a reflection of them.”
I’m not certain whether I agree or disagree.
Other people’s perception of you is their perception of the role you play in their own family tree. In other words, it is true that people do not perceive you. But they are not just projecting themselves, either. They perceive the role you play.
If someone sees me as a competitor, that determines how they interpret my words and actions. So their perception is about competitors, not about me. If they see me as a friend, that determines how I’m perceived. So their perception is about friends generally, not me specifically. If someone perceives me as a father figure, then I inherit all the positive and negative attitudes they have towards fathers.
Can the way someone perceives me change? Thankfully, the answer is yes. But only if the role I play in their family tree changes. I can spark that change by setting boundaries.
For instance, let’s say I’m dealing with a young man who sees me as a father figure. Let’s say I also happen to know that his father is always trying to manipulate who he dates, and trying to control who he dates. I can change the way he perceives me by refusing to get involved in his girlfriend issues. That’s an easy boundary to set since I shouldn’t be getting involved in his romantic relationships anyway. I shouldn’t even comment on them.
If I fudge in the boundary, what happens? Well, now I deal with all the baggage he has with his father. All of it. I’m not prepared for that.
Let’s say, though, that as so often happens, he ends up trying to recreate his messed up relationship with his father with me. Let’s say he seems to be trying to get advice from me about his girlfriend or his dating. See, he’s trying to get me to fudge my boundaries. If I stay firm, what will happen? Well, he may get frustrated or disappointed. On the other hand, he may give up his attempts to blur my boundaries. He may put me in a different role. In fact, he might even invent a new role out of thin air for me. And at that point, our friendship has unlimited upside.
What does it mean, though, if he won’t accept my boundary? What does it mean if he keeps trying to get me involved in his girlfriend issues? It means that he has TONS of baggage with his own father. And there is no way I can deal with all that.
See, I don’t need to know someone’s history to know that the more they want me to fudge a boundary, the more I must stand firm. Because if I can’t even keep the boundary, I certainly can’t deal with all the baggage hiding in the closet.