Does being told "I know you so well" wind you up?
Updated: Jul 25
There's likely good reason why 'Chess: the musical"'s Florence and Svetlana sing their love-triangle duet out of earshot of the man in question - I think it would have really p*ssed him off! In fact, even the implication may well have done as he sings in Endgame:
"Some are vicious some are fools and others blind
To see in me, one of their kind..."
As a psychologist, if I am working with clients or students and part of what I have to feedback to them are comments on their behaviour I stick to the following:
- I offer observation and ask questions
- I make it clear that I may be making assumptions and always invite discussion of that area.
Psychology, as with any form of research can pose a question, observe the data, and offer explanations...with the caveats that these may not be generalisable, they may be affected by variables such as the day itself - and even the person consciously or unconsciously being deceptive, as well as interpretation. Which is also why while I appreciate the method - I offer findings as a starting point for discussion rather than absolute truths.
I am touched, privileged and honoured if someone tells me "You know me so well" - but this is often based on my interactions with them rather than making any statements...but when it's the other way round and someone says "I know you so well"...I can already feel the hairs on my neck rising. (The irony also being...clearly, to say that, means you haven't got a clue!)
The Johari Window
The Johari Window is a tool which exemplifies why (to take the phrase literally) it isn't possible to really know someone. Firstly, we are organic, changing beings - so even if we "know" anything it is at a snapshot in time; and secondly - there's probably a little bit we don't even know ourselves.
You can try the exercise yourself - look at the window and identify what you can within 3 of the segments (not the "unknown self" - bottom R). And yes, while some of you may say "But what if the person who claims to "know you" has insights into your blind spot?"...well, maybe they do, but they would also know (at least as far as I'm concerned) that to explore it with me it's probably better to ask rather than tell!
"The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" (Goffman)
Goffman discussed the "hidden self" element in his book likening our lives to an acted performance where before we leave our house (the dressing room), we get into role. Further, many of us play a number of characters (Parent, Friend, Professional, Lover and so on...). The characters come with expectations, some may be placed through society, some, admittedly, may be what we have chosen to show to others. The grey area comes when we have chosen to show a certain aspect and suddenly everyone else has joined up the dots in order to "categorise" you. (Ah well, perhaps it makes buying Christmas presents easier!?)
I once had a whole collection of bird pens because someone brought a couple back from a holiday as a laugh, and soon everyone thought I collected them...and apparently I did for a while!
But perhaps more interestingly, is the number of theatre tokens I get.
Now I'm certainly not looking a gift horse in the mouth, and am grateful if anyone simply thinks enough of me to buy me a gift, and yes, I perform, I produce theatre, and I will go to see it. Do I have a passion for it? No. What I get from watching performance is either seeing my friends at the top of their game or, if I'm "doing the job" - it's a great place to get inspiration, oh, and I like "showing off". I also believe drama and in particular, directing it, has taught me more about body language, emotional expression and nuance than psychology ever could.
I wonder if any of my friends - if you are reading this - are surprised? Neither my husband and I love theatre...we met through it, we happen to be good at it, we love to "entertain", but it serves other life goals (and yes we often use the skills). We respect it and we appreciate the many benefits it brings, but unless you're performing in it (and we LOVE LOVE LOVE to watch YOU because it's, well, YOU), we often prefer the pre-theatre menu (oh yes, and escape rooms.)
STOP FOR A MOMENT. Is there anything you might want to set the records straight on? Perhaps you don't need to write it in a blog, but could you bring yourself to tell your nearest and dearest that "that" is just not you!?
...and on that - if any of my friends need to set me straight on what sort of birthday presents they would prefer from me, or if I've totally been labouring under a misapprehension - that's cool too! Relationships are tough enough to maintain and nurture without the need for pretence!
To know others
I remind myself of the following checklist in one of Napoleon Hill's books:
"If you would know men study them...
When in love
When money is involved
When Eating (alone & unobserved as they believe)
When in trouble
When joyful and triumphant
When downcast and defeated..." ...and that's just the start of the list! Perhaps it really is just an unpicking of the proverb "don't judge a book by its cover"...not least because sometimes there are other reasons why that cover was chosen!
We often have a desire to connect with others - or feel that we do. And yes, to me there is nothing more electrifying (perhaps that's my dramatic brain working overtime) than feeling that you truly "click" with someone. But, for me, I believe it is most valuable to a relationship for that "knowledge" to play out in action, interaction, listening, learning and respect for change.
Polite ways to say "Er...no...that's not me at all."
Some great advice comes from Clinical Psychologist Pam Rose:
Express gratitude for their thoughts - because after all, it is a privilege to be thought about.
Possibly express gratitude that they must want the best for you
Then consider explaining (depending on the relationship, the level of imposition, and the outcome you wish to achieve):
- You find their assumptions different to your own
- Are they using their behaviours and beliefs to impose behaviour and belief onto you?
- Such assumptions can be a burden, especially if you need to keep defending your position
- It's ok to not understand or agree, but respect is the key to relationships
...or say it in a blog!?
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For coaching tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt