The Psychology of Being Perceived: Why We Seek Relationships and How to Find Fulfillment Within

“People are progeny of relationships. Commencing with the maternal-infant connection in the inception of life, and culminating in forging friendships and succumbing to love as we mature, we invariably find ourselves in pursuit of ‘other individuals.’

Have you ever pondered what precisely we seek in a relationship? In essence, what propels you towards an intimate connection with them (as opposed to another individual)?

It is the act of ‘perceiving.’

Psychologists posit that the impetus behind fostering friendships and even deeper affections for a specific person often stems from the profound experience of being ‘perceived’ (Badhwar, Neera Kapur, 1993).

Numerous cultures linguistically substitute the manifestation of love with the visual sense. In Kazakh, the phrase ‘I like you’ translates to ‘I perceive you distinctly,’ and in Greek, ‘Love is gazing at you for an extended duration.’

‘Seeing’ is a pervasive concept in psychology as well. Let us delve into it in this present discourse.

01 The moment I was perceived, solitude ceased to envelop me

What does it feel like to be ‘perceived’? I enlisted the perspectives of a few acquaintances:

🦁️: “One afternoon, I found myself in a disconsolate state. I retreated to the rooftop in solitude. My then-boyfriend trailed me but uttered no words. He merely sat in quiet proximity. I sensed that my emotions were acknowledged. Perceived.”

🐈: “Emerging from a toxic relationship, I had been reproaching myself. After divulging my narrative, a friend affirmed that he was genuinely not a virtuous person. You committed no transgressions. I felt that all my grievances were recognized. Upon hearing this, a weight lifted from our chests.”

β˜”οΈ: “My educational attainment is not extensive, and I’ve perpetually felt inferior in professional circles. During a meeting, my supervisor earnestly endorsed my proposal. Finally, someone acknowledged my worth. I was on the verge of tears at the gathering πŸ₯².”

Another confidant 🍬 depicted the sensation of being ‘perceived’ thus: “It’s akin to a shadowed recess in my heart suddenly being illuminated.”

Have you observed? ‘Being perceived’ signifies that certain emotional nuances are apprehended by another individual, akin to a mirror reflecting our essence.

Consequently, we garner validation for our sentiments, encounter love, and cultivate a sense of self-esteem – an unparalleled gratification.

The self-psychologist Kohut employs the term ‘selfobject’ to delineate the emotional occurrence of being perceived: it is akin to expressing something that has long been stifled, finally finding articulation.

He recounted a tale in “Psychoanalytic Healing” –

A child and his mother frolicked in the park. The child clung to his mother’s side. The sun radiated, and pigeons strolled about. Abruptly, the child ventured away from his mother and approached the pigeons. Every few steps, he cast a glance backward.

He yearned to witness his mother beaming with pride at his achievements, to perceive her pride. If, at that juncture, the mother could articulate “I am proud of you, my child” through embraces, expressions, or more explicit language.

In that moment, the child was ‘perceived.’

02 The primal exigency in existence: to be perceived, the self can subsist

Every individual’s life necessitates, initially, being perceived by the nurturer to apprehend their existence. Numerous psychologists have emphatically underscored this:

Klein asserted: “To exist is to be perceived.”

Winnicott expounded, “The original mirror is the mother’s countenance. When the infant gazes upon its mother, what does it discern? It discerns itself.”

Psychotherapist Brandon posits that interpersonal relationships serve as the crucible for understanding who we are. He labels the yearning to be perceived, comprehended, and esteemed as the need for ‘psychological visibility.’

A life that is initially ‘perceived’ more frequently finds it uncomplicated to establish a robust sense of self-identity and value. Conversely, individuals possessing only an indistinct and fragmented sense of self remain oblivious to their essence and aspirations.

For instance, a child’s emotional expressions are repudiated. Tears are deemed unacceptable, and laughter is discouraged. Laughter signifies arrogance, tears signify an overload of responsibilities. A desire for commendation results in humiliation. At such times, the individual also disowns oneself, feeling devoid of existential significance.

To a certain extent, our identity is a consequence of those around us who mold our character.

03 Only when we are perceived can we form an attachment to an individual

A baby has two caregivers. A solely provides sustenance, and B is solely responsible for companionship and amusement. Whom do you reckon the baby will grow closer to?

The probable answer is B. According to the findings of attachment psychologist John Bowlby in “Attachment”: The pivotal determinants of infant attachment are the promptness of response to the infant and the intensity of interaction with the infant. Simply furnishing sustenance does not elicit attachment behavior.

In essence, genuinely ‘perceiving’ an individual forms the foundation for attachment.

It is understandable why we only foster intimate relationships (forming friendships, falling in love) with particular individuals. The pivotal determinant is whether we undergo the experience of being ‘perceived.’

Psychologist Brandon dubs this experience ‘recognition shock’ –

“When we encounter someone who thinks akin to us, who observes what we observe, who esteems what we esteem, we not only experience a profound affinity with such an individual but also come to discern our selves through that individual’s perception.”

04 Being perceived is the commencement of convalescence and an opportunity for self-transformation.

Practitioners of various psychological disciplines underscore the necessity of affording clients the sensation of being ‘perceived’ during therapeutic intervention, communicating to clients: “I listened, I comprehended, and you shall not be judged.”

As perceiving entails profound acceptance, the individual senses a secure environment within the relationship. Only then does the individual endeavor to manifest their genuine self, and the anguish gradually surfaces.

Furthermore, ‘being perceived’ can significantly bolster an individual’s self-esteem and kindle the impetus for change.

Yet, in reality, when individuals identify a flaw in another, their reflex is often to criticize and admonish (resulting in counterproductive outcomes).

Hence, refrain from hasty judgment. Instead, inquire of a fatigued student the reasons for their aversion to school, probe the fears of someone evading intimate connections, and unravel the motives of an unfaithful partner.

Only through perceiving can transformation be initiated.

05 But it’s not facile to be perceived.

The encounter of being perceived is exceedingly precious, yet not uncomplicated. The principal impediment is the requisite to ‘genuinely transcend one’s own boundaries and comprehend another person’s spiritual world.’

This necessitates relinquishing one’s preferences, aversions, and needs, refraining from superimposing subjectivity onto another, and eschewing idealization.

Consequently, we frequently confront the ordeal of ‘not being perceived’:

At times, it emanates from a insincere relationship where the other individual merely seeks to fulfill their specific needs and has no inclination to perceive.

At times, the other individual possesses an immature personality and lacks the ability to perceive others.

Alternatively, the other individual only knows how to bestow without considering our genuine needs. Kohut employs the term ‘mature moralism’ to censure this ‘self-righteous’ perspective: an excessively subjective outlook grounded in one’s own standards.

Nonetheless, all is not lost. If ensconced in an unsatisfactory relationship where one is not perceived, commence by practicing the act of perceiving your inner self.

Perceive those experiences overlooked and stifled during the developmental process, apprehend the authentic vitality and desires within, and embrace them.

Subsequently, tenderly convey to your inner child: “I perceive you.”

This evoked recollections of my recent viewing of “Avatar” and how, in the film, people do not express love but declare ‘I perceive you.’

In the language of the Na’vi people, ‘I perceive you’ conveys ‘not merely observing with the eyes but also sensing with the mind.’

May everyone partake in the blissful experience of being perceived, comprehending themselves, and others with the heart.

Illuminate yourself every moment you crave love and, likewise, illuminate all those around you who yearn to be perceived.”

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