I think when any of us look back at the experiences we’ve had with another person we can’t help but wonder if our connection to and feeling about them somehow tempers the way we relate to them. This is the most prominent in people that we’d like to make a good impression on or those whom we want to continue our connection to them feeling that our interchange with them either encourages us to feel differently about ourselves and/or that we feel that they match some ideal or preference that we have about the people and circumstances we’d prefer to be associated and connected to. There are a number of different dimensions that we must consider when we wish to assess our part and presentation to the world and those whom we wish to be with. The first thing we need to look at is the difference between who we are and how we behave when in or out of their presence.
Who we are, essentially, never changes. How we behave does. It’s our behavior that other people see that’s used to decide and define who they believe we are. We, in turn, accept this as our identity. Remembering that we believe that who we are is our perception of how the world sees us, we know that that can only be defined by the things we do, the possessions we have and activities that we participate in that the world can observe. So we can say that we are a computer programmer because our daily work consists of working, getting paid and being response-able with others concerning computers. If we behave by the employer’s rules, others will perceive us as a programmer. We know that if we want to keep our job there is a specific rapport that is required for us to maintain that type of connection with our preferred company. If we do it as a hobby, we might be more inclined to say that we dabble in computers only because there are some unspoken rules about what we can call a job or career and what we can call a hobby. So our identity, as transient as it may be, is what the world sees of our behavior NOT who we actually are. Who we are remains the same. We are a perceiving, feeling, thinking person. The moment the world becomes involved in that identification, outside circumstances come into play making our behavior the determining factor as to our identity. This may seem like I’m splitting hairs but when we perceive, that is one dimension of relationship; our core or who we are. When we conceive of and perceive ourselves with another person or the outside world, that behavior or identity changes because it includes the reflections and responses of others. The point I’m making is that the behavior and rapport that we offer or support is dependent on whether we’re by ourselves or whether we’re with others and the type of connection that we wish to maintain in our career with them. The same is true with personal relationships. We all know that we can feel and behave very differently just being friends with someone or being intimate with them and even that intimacy can have a differing rapport being radically different between person to person and our imagined or hoped for rapport with them. So, to recap, when we’re by ourselves, we can, and usually do, behave one way and when we’re with others we can, and usually do, behave differently. On other words, when we’re by ourselves, there’s no impression to create or maintain. When we’re with others, there is. Are you with me thus far? Now, let’s look at why we would behave differently with different people.
Our childhood upbringing creates experiences that push us toward choosing how we feel about ourselves. If we’ve been encouraged to make our own decisions, trust our own instincts and intuitions, we begin to feel confidence in ourselves as a “valid” person and come to believe that we have nothing to hide. If we have been discouraged from making our own decisions, over protected or dominated into NOT trusting our own instinct and intuitions, we begin to feel inadequate and come to believe that we must hide our perceived inadequacy, aka, we have something to hide. This is true for everyone whether acknowledged or not. Every one of us has some degree of this emotional current running below the surface of our awareness. Some of us may be aware of it, but most of us are either not or choose to ignore it. This difference in feeling is the one of the major deciding factors in why we feel compelled to behave differently with different people in different circumstances. Dependent on the level of perceived inadequacies it can lead to some unbelievable compensation made in our behavior in order to avoid the exposure of them for fear of feeling anticipated interpersonal or public shame. The other major contributor factor occurs when we do feel adequate but don’t feel compelled to cover believed short comings because we feel comfortable in whom we are or we have worked through many of the challenges of our childhood that might have created these inadequacies within us. In this second case we simply might just want to limit our exposure to or interactions with people that we have decided are, in our opinion, arrogant, imbalanced or combative. For those of us who feel comfortable in our own skin and who, essentially, don’t feel fearful of exposure leading us toward compensating, this is not an issue. We have our Self-Trust and a stable self-confidence well ingrained. Our major concern here is to determine what occurs when we do feel compelled to compensate or “adjust” our behavior in order to create an image or prevent exposure.
There are two directions that this compensation or “adjusted” behavior may present itself through us. Depending on how badly our spirit was damaged in our upbringing will determine which way we go. We can, either, project outward and “paint” a better image of ourselves in our interchanges with others or we can retreat into the shadows in order not to be discovered. When we project ourselves or strike out “painting” what we feel might be a better picture of who we think or believe we are, we then more actively lean toward compensating. When we retreat into the shadows we lean more toward hiding. With those of us who choose the active path, and depending on the degree of compensation that we feel we need to apply in order to evoke what we consider a more favorable response from those we interact with, we may ramp up our output. With a mild need and a mild ramping, others might not feel anything odd in our approach to them. But for some of us who have a very low self-image, our push to create an image may sometimes become overwhelming to the point where it becomes overly obvious to others and they start to feel our overcompensation as something being “off” with us. These are people we often label as “obnoxious.” Those of us who retreat into the shadows we label “shy.”
As you may have guessed, there as a very poignant reason why some of us will push the point and others of us will just back down. Its cause comes from two sources. First, the soul or spirit we are before we enter this life and body may have preponderance toward either projecting outward or retreating inward. Then, once we enter these bodies, we are now subject to the additional exposure to and training by those whose care we are entrusted to and the environment we find ourselves in. These two different sources are what scientist call nature vs. nurture. The first influence we can clearly see is innate or a given resulting in our accompanying disposition. But the second is “adjustable.” This “adjustable” dimension can make or break our choice between projecting out and retreating. Projecting outward we label being extroverted and retreating inward we label being introverted. To understand the difference we can look the process of training.
I don’t want to speak “science-eze” but in order to make a point I need to say that in the training of any sentient being (we are one…hopefully) there is always a combination of rewards and punishments used as a compellent or force for change. Scientists call this training conditioning. Some parents train with rewards and/or bribes. Some train with punishment and/or withholding. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. But to avoid any human emotional prejudice on our part, let’s look instead at horse training or “breaking” as ranchers would label it rather than people.
Each horse has a spirit and resiliency which usually returns them to a comfortable and active state after any trauma or difficulty has passed. This resiliency differs from horse to horse. Some horses may be able to take more punishment (trauma) or abuse than others. It takes a skilled trainer to “know” or feel where that limit is. When a trainer successfully trains or conditions a horse to respond to specific commands, their spirit, their life and liveliness is retained. They still have an expressive personality. They still have spunk and energy. But when the trainer estimates that limit badly and pushes beyond what the horse is able to recover from, the horse’s spirit dies. The spunk disappears. The life goes out of their eyes. They become void of personality and expressiveness. This same process takes place in the training of children. If a parent is authoritarian or abusive and misjudges the resiliency of the child, they may, literally, kill the spirit of the child through using excessive discipline or punishments to induce specific behaviors. The child will then retreat and feel hesitant or even immobilized toward expressing or performing for fear of more punishment or abuse. In parenting, the overall effect of over-protection and abuse is the same. With excess directives, protections, punishments or abuse the child becomes reluctant and/or unable to act at all because they have either not been given the opportunity to learn how to be independent or for fear of behaving in a way that will draw more punishment and disapproval. Allowing for lesser punishments or abuses we find that this type of exposure produces only mild inhibition and shyness. So, we can safely say that depending on how far the “trainer” has gone beyond the child’s ability to recover and to be resilient will determine how shy or buried the child’s spirit and personality will be. Those of us who lean more toward being shy or introverted are usually reacting to over conditioning by virtue of an authoritarian or overprotective parent. Before I move on I think that it’s also worthy to note that children who grow to become abusers themselves regain their spirit through reclaiming their power by becoming the abuser but at someone else’s expense.
So where does this leave us? Those of us whose spirit has been “broken” will retreat inward and behave as an introvert. Those of us whose spirit remains intact will project, compensate and behave as an extrovert. Remember, both may not actually be inadequate or incompetent but feeling and believing that we are will lead us toward modifying our behavior when we’re with others.
In answer to our opening question, “Do we behave differently when in a relationship as opposed to when we’re not?” We almost always do to some degree. Even the best of us who have done an outstanding job in becoming accountable and have been ruthlessly honest with ourselves will still have things that we feel we need to hide. This is only human. But that little bit of a “discrepancy” won’t lead us toward needing to compensate for anything. We’re comfortable to just let it go unnoticed. However, if our conditioning has left us feeling that we are somehow just not enough or competent enough, it is here where the need to compensate begins to grow. The more intense our perceived denigration is, the more intense will be our feelings of inadequacy. The more intense our feelings of inadequacy are, the stronger will be our urge to compensate.
So, when we speak with someone, and it’s usually with someone who might be important to us, and we feel the urge to “flower up” a description of our experience or heighten the “wow” value of what we’ve done, we have to ask ourselves, “Where is this urge coming from? What makes me feel that I need to do this?” This will be the beginning of recognizing where our imagined and assumed inadequacies lie. The reality of it is usually not so and it’s only a factor of how we were taught and perceived our self-value as a child. Who led us to feel this way? Why? This is the root and the core of where we can kill any urge for us to compensate.