Dear Therapist: How Do I Change People’s Perception of Me?

Now that it’s been a while since I started therapy, I feel myself changing for the better, but I find that people’s perception of me remains the same. How do I help them see me in a different light?

– by Anonymous Talkspace User

From what I understand, the point of therapy is to come into my own, discover who I am, and figure out a way to change the less-than-awesome parts of my personality. It’s a tedious process that requires a lot of work, but I can happily report that it’s starting to pay off. The credit, however, is far from being all mine. I was paired with a very intelligent and thought provoking therapist, whom I have formed a great relationship with. Had I been paired with someone different, who knows what I’d be writing now.

The Torah posits the following question: Is not a flower a mystery no flower can explain? I think it’s a really good one. Most of the time, it takes a little bit of outside help to shed some light on the more confusing and darker parts of our own minds. Though, once we have the right support system, we can become braver and more determined to explore and understand our psyches. The comfort that stems from taking action, rather than doing nothing, is liberating – until you encounter people who have no idea how much work you’ve put into reprogramming yourself, and treat you like the old you.

When you start therapy, you are paired with someone who doesn’t know you; your therapist had no time to form any lasting impressions, perceptions, or expectations of you. This doesn’t last long, since letting the therapist in on as much of the real you as possible is part of the therapeutic process, and helps them understand who you would like to eventually become. But when it comes to people that have known you for a long time, the way they view you is pretty much set in stone – and it may be very hard to change their perception when you’re ready.

I, for example, have always been a very anxious and nervous person. So, my family, friends, coworkers, and close acquaintances have learned to see me in that way. But I have been feeling a hell of a lot calmer and by far more composed since I started therapy, and I want these changes to be the most visible part of my personality. Like when I meet new people; it seems their perception of me is a lot more accurate than the one held by the people who’ve known me the longest. True, strangers have the distinct advantage of not knowing my history, but they don’t need to if it’s grip on my present is no longer an issue.

When people think they have someone completely figured out, they can be completely oblivious to the effort that person is putting into becoming a better version of who they are. They assume there is nothing more to learn about that person, and will continue to treat him or her in accordance to how they always have. This can cause unintended problems. Because people tend to become what they are expected to be by those that surround them, old perceptions can can potentially distort how someone making progress in therapy is beginning to view him or her self.

So, dear therapist, when people still treat me the way they treated me before I got help – do I work twice as hard to change their perceptions or stop caring about their opinion entirely?

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