It’s our survival technique, the approach we took to surviving the hard times of our lives, that defines us.
It defines us both because it makes sense of the experience of our life and because it reveals much about our essence, about the kind of person we are.
My survival technique is glaringly obvious.
I learned to observe my life rather than to live it. I see my life in context, analyzing and dissecting it, as a strategy to handle the pain and challenges I have faced.
On the participant/observer axis, I skew way towards observer.
Everyone needs to live on that participant/observer axis. We need not just to do stuff, we also need to consider what we do, not just to choose, but to make better choices. We need to learn by understanding context, learn from our failures and, if we are smart, learn from the failures of others.
In therapy, the big challenge is usually to help people live a more examined life, to see patterns and habits.
That’s not my problem, of course. I already do that. And it’s why I am so damn useful in many situations where people want to heal or grow or succeed, because I can help ask the questions that illuminate the challenges. I think well.
I have said many times that I feel like I have lived my life backwards. I learned my survival strategies very early, with challenging parents and a nature that I was taught I had to suppress. Most people lived and then learned strategies. I learned strategies and then tried to learn to live. My girl instincts needed to be submerged and channeled, not to be explored, sadly for me.
That means that my youthful exuberance was very constrained. I didn’t learn to try, to risk, to explore, to take a shot. Instead I learned that analysis paralysis would serve me better, cautious and considered limits to what I did. Keep myself in a box, I did.
And trying to learn participant energy when other people are leaving it behind is very tough.
Being a keen observer is always what people liked about me, at least when they wanted to understand. But being a keen observer is always what people hated about me, at least when they wanted to just get on with life without too many damn uncomfortable questions. There are always things people would rather not see about their own survival strategies.
Trying to explain my challenges as a too intense observer to others is a challenge, because it’s not a problem that the majority of people have. They haven’t turned themselves into a highly tuned instrument ready to suss out new situations, carrying a load of knowledge and a way wicked sensitive gut where the visceral is always a gateway to the intellectual.
Observation was my strategy for survival, though. Think it through, make connections, come from duty and not desire. Observe, observe, observe, observe. Explicate, explicate, explicate, explicate.
Observation tends to lead to a reactive life, though, waiting for the next train to pass. When you know the risks, you know the risks, and with a little creative thinking, a penchant for always worrying about possible disasters to come, analysis paralysis is easy to find. We live “The Hamlet Syndrome: Overthinkers Who Underachieve.”
An I am observer and visionary because of what I had to survive? Or has surviving so much just honed my natural instincts? Does it matter? Probably not.
But being an observer has always set me apart. I needed to be set apart, yes, just to survive, but being set apart from from other people and from my own desires, well, it’s lonely.
Probably too lonely.
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