Dear Therapist..."Can I Trust My First Impressions of People?"
I’ve noticed a pattern in my sense of people, and I’d be interested to know what you think. Basically, what do you think about first impressions? The pattern for me is that from the moment I meet someone, I get a strong vibe either way, liking or not liking the person. It’s like I know in that instant. But I usually ignore my impression and instead, I convince myself that I should try to get this person to like me.
This happened recently with an absolute nightmare. She turned out to be bonkers. Why do I attract this?
Dear impression chaser,
First impressions are fascinating to consider. I think a lot of us have a romantic attitude about our perceptive powers — we like the idea that on some level we know what’s best for us, we see the truth in people, we spot the core issues. But there’s deception in communication. And we get people wrong all the time. There’s also the fact that a wonderful person might be on terrible form for the first meeting. I think it’s important to allow for surprises — always. It can even be a relief to revise an impression.
But in your case, you were quick and incisive in your sense of this person, and something got in the way— I suspect it was the tension between wanting to be nice and agreeable and wanting to freely be yourself.
We’ve been socialised to get in our own way. We shush our innermost feelings to make us more agreeable and cooperative. We need to fake certain things to get along with people, but people pleasing can sacrifice our safety and health in pursuit of a questionable direction of travel.
I don’t know what this particular relationship has meant for either of you, and if you now feel stuck with her in some way. If you do, I think it’s important to allow for ongoing discussions and assessments about what works for both of you. We often feel trapped by dynamics we somehow fell into, as though it’s too late to negotiate the terms and conditions.
Ask yourself what you want, and keep asking. Let yourself be surprised. And when you’re right and no one is listening to you, listen to yourself. You can come up with an I told you so dance if you really want to make a point.