Perspective vs. Reality
Perspective is not reality. Although I definitely understand how confusing that sounds. As I read deeper into perspective and reality, I realized that much of what occurred during my childhood was due to what I think of as incongruent perspectives. Growing up in an abusive environment, I was fighting against the perspective that I was a bad kid and that everything was my fault.
I was the family scapegoat. My perspective of myself was not the same as my mother’s perspective of me. I think that is at the core of my need to fight against that. To fight to align my perspective with what others in my family saw. While I was in the middle of that existence, I felt that I was in danger. And my brain reacted accordingly by keeping me in survival mode.
Defining Perspective & Reality
Taking a step back and building a foundation on these concepts, let’s look at the definitions of perspective and reality.
These definitions helped me to realize the difference between perspective and reality. Perception is how we interpret reality, and that interpretation of reality helps us to navigate the world. Reality is then the fact that we as humans can prove, with science, but that exists outside of our influence to change.
“Perception acts as a lens through which we view reality. Our perceptions influence how we focus on, process, remember, interpret, understand, synthesize, decide about, and act on reality.” 1
Reality is the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them (noun). I think it should include the absolute, self-sufficient, or objective existence not subject to human decisions or conventions. (philosophical definition)
Collective Perspective, Not Reality
Reality simply is, well, reality. How we see it is up to us, and combined with our experiences, helps us to interact with and interpret reality. A large group of people who have a similar perspective that is not supported by reality. How is it then that there seems to be something that I am referring to as the collective perspective?
A historical example of this is the slave trade. A large enough group of people truly believed the indigenous people of Africa and other areas were inferior to them. That slave trader group (and many other people along the way) had the perspective that indigenous peoples were not people; they were subhuman. And therefore, they did not deserve the same rights as the slave trader group.
The perspective that those people were inferior is not reality. But those people believed it to be true. Their inferiority perspective provided them the moral high ground that then offered them the authority to capture, ship across the ocean, and then sell into slavery human beings.
Unfortunately, that collective perspective continues to this day. However, we use different labels than ‘subhuman’ or ‘inferior’. The result is similar; the oppression of other human beings. Even though science shows us that we are all human beings, no matter what the outer shell looks like, that perspective persists.
Perspective & Childhood Abuse
When someone has a different perspective that does not align with the collective perspective, not reality, but the perspective, it becomes incongruent. The collective will say that there must be something wrong with the other person. People are most likely brushed off or ridiculed because their individual perspective does not align with the collective perspective. By ridiculing that person, the collective is trying to get that person’s perspective back into alignment.
Abuse of any kind is all about control, don’t get me wrong, I understand that. But I think that the abuser has to create a perspective about the victim that somehow makes it okay to abuse the victim. I often wondered how a person could be abusive to another person—seeing the victim from a perspective that gives the abuser permission to be abusive, maybe one of the many factors at play.
An abuser’s perspective towards a victim who ‘gives them permission’ would look like believing that the victim is inherently bad or stupid and need the abusers’ help. That help comes in the form of emotional and physical abuse. But from the abuser’s perspective, they are providing the victim what they believe the victim needs. From the abuser’s point of view, how they see the victim is their reality. They genuinely believe that their perspective is accurate. That way, they will never second guess or have doubts about what they are doing.
Incongruent Perspective & Childhood Abuse
Suppose one of the factors in abuse is that the abuser’s perspective is different from reality and the victim’s perspective of themselves; there is an incongruent perspective. Psychologist Carl Roger‘s research delved into the congruent and incongruent perspectives of the self. His definition of incongruent perspective is when your actions do not support who you think you are.
I know I went through years of incongruency, according to Carl Roger’s research. How I acted was not aligned with who I was or how I saw myself, or how I wanted to be seen. I acted out by yelling, aggressive behavior. I was embarrassed after those episodes, but I really felt that I had to act out. I was in constant conflict. And not all of what I went through was confrontation; I was being told lies by my mother that didn’t align with who I knew I was.
Being told abusive things that you know is not true and conflict with how you see yourself creates such a deep anxiety level—trying to break through that while hearing that all of the time was a monumental task. Even though there was not a physical threat, there was a psychological one. The attacks on me emotionally created what my brain identified as a dangerous environment. From my perspective, I was in danger. The reality was that I was living in an abusive environment.
- Jim Taylor Ph.D. (August 5, 2019). Perception is Not Reality. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 16, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201908/perception-is-not-reality#:~:text=Perception%20acts%20as%20a%20lens,of%20what%20reality%20truly%20is
- Saul McLeod. (2014). Carl Rogers. Simply Psychology. Retrieved November 18, 2020. https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html#:~:text=Carl%20Rogers%20believed%20that%20for,behavior%20(self%2Dimage).