The perception of reality is subjective.  This awareness is vital to my thinking. If you think about the subjectivity of perception you will realize the incredible pros and cons that are implied. It is amazing that people have been able to communicate well enough through their subjective, individual perceptions to get everything done that has been done in the world. It is an important implication for teamwork, when several people work as a team each person’s perception plays an important role in accomplishing any task.

Each individual comes into this world with a unique set of genes which result in different perceptions. By the time we are 18 months old key brain circuits involved in our stress responsiveness and some social-emotional processes have been “sculpted”.  A child who has experienced trauma during that time will be much more easily frightened than those with no trauma. Due to this many of the more serious clinical emotional disorders become part of a person before the age of three.

Even physical perceptions are subjective.  Some of us have a much stronger sense of smell than other’s.  One person loves lima beans while another hates them. Neuroscience has proven that no two people perceive colors exactly the same. This makes it unnecessary to argue about whether or not something is navy blue or black. Unless one person has a need to “win” or “be right”, and in that type situation the other person might decide to get out of the relationship, so no one actually “wins”.  It’s best when people can agree to disagree.

As we grow up we live in unique circumstances and absorb many more perceptions from the people we live with. For instance, if one person grows up in a family in which eating meat is important and another person grows up in a family of vegetarians, as adults those two people may perceive one another as being “weird”. Of course, both people may be healthy/normal even though they develop different tastes, values and perceptions.  We learn different perceptions about religion, politics and many other important topics.

Parents/teachers can observe a child developing her own perspectives as part of normal/healthy development.  When we become young adults and no longer live with our parents it is healthy to develop perspectives that are different from our parents. Because a young adult received genes from both parents and grew up during a different time period from her parents he will develop somewhat or even very different perceptions from both parents.

This development of different perspectives is logical. Learning how to cope with them in a relationship with a significant other or with coworkers, bosses or clients can be difficult. Everyone has a right to their own perspectives and different perspectives give us more information. Problems arise when one person feels a need to impose his perceptions onto other people. If a person experiences trauma during the toddler and/or adolescent stages of growth she may not develop healthy self-confidence and, as an adult, feel a need to try to impose his perceptions onto others in order to feel better about herself. Sometimes people with these issues feel invalidated, hurt then angry by another person’s different perspective. People with these problems often have difficulty believing others have viable perspectives and struggle to participate well in relationships

Good communication skills are vital for working through situations in which people have different perceptions. The most important communication skills are accepting other’s rights to different perspectives and listening with an open mind.  The ability to accept perceptual differences is the foundation of good communication.  Without acceptance a person can spend all his time and energy trying to “fix” or “change” other people and true communication will never happen.  Listening involves using all our senses and checking in with the speaker to make sure we’ve heard her correctly.  Often, we listen and interpret another person so quickly that we stop truly listening.  The ability to stay attuned to the speaker, paraphrase what we heard the speaker say and ask if we heard him correctly is vital.

By accepting, negotiating, collaborating, juggling and blending different perspectives, we keep our minds open to new learning, continually improve our relationship skills and progress.  As we continue to develop our own perspective through many relationships, taking what we like and leaving the rest, we are enriched in multiple ways.

“Just remember that sometimes, the way you think about a person isn’t the way they actually are.” John Green

By Anne Ream LMFT, LPC, ATR-BC  215-753-2519

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