Armchair Psychiatry
September 10, 2004 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Do you play armchair pyschiatrist? How sure are you that you're right about people's inner lives? Do you act on your hunches? [More Inside.]

["psychiatrist," that is...]

I'm a somewhat eccentric person, I'm shy and don't talk much in public, and I don't show a lot on my face -- so my moods are very open to interprestation. Lately, I've been in a few situations in which people wrongly tagged my mindset. They didn't say "I think you're..." or "It seems to me you..." or "Are you...?" The KNEW (or believed then knew) what was going on inside my brain. One guy told me, "if you're honest with yourself, you'll admit you're lying." And it wasn't a "lie" that he could sniff out by comparing my claim with real-world facts. My "lie" was a claim about my beliefs -- something known only to me -- and he then counterclaimed that I was lying about my beliefs. I wasn't. But he was unshakable. I asked him for some evidence, but he said he just "could tell." This syndrome has even happened to me here. Once a whole group of MeFi people accused me of being dishonest about my feelings. I was actually being quite honest. My feelings were just a bit unusual.

How good do you think you are at guessing what's going on inside someone elses head? After you've made that guess, what do you do with it? Do you present it to the outside world as fact? Is it unshakable? Are you 100% sure you're right? Have any of you ever been able to shake someone else of a belief about YOUR mental state? If someone says, "I can tell you're depressed," there's no way you can prove you're not, even if you're not. Right?
posted by grumblebee to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Judging from your question, you need to work on your repressed urge to sleep with your mother.

I often feel that people are giving me their public, neatly digested version of how they feel, rather than talking about what they really feel. If it's a social situation, I ignore it. If I actually want to know the person, I'll start asking questions that go beyond what they're telling me to try to get them to feel comfortable admitting something more human. Or else I'll talk about my own feelings and see if that gets a response. That's not playing psychiatrist, it's just trying to move the conversation to a more honest level.

If it's a real friend, I might say something like "sounds like you might be depressed", and see how they respond. It's easy to be blind to your own feelings, and sometimes friends can help you see that. If it's a really really close friend, I might challenge them more directly, trying to get them to come out with something real instead of covering things up. I expect my friends to challenge me on my bullshit the same way, even if they might be wrong. On the other hand, I can't imagine actually claiming that I know what someone else feels. You might want to consider whether they're trying to score points or they're actually concerned about how you feel.
posted by fuzz at 6:47 AM on September 10, 2004

Response by poster: fuzz, you're wrong: I have a repressed urge to sleep with YOUR mother.

When you get one of these feelings -- say that a friend is depressed -- and you ask them if, in fact, they are depressed, and they tell you "no." Do you tend to believe them? I'm sure this depends on the friend and the situation. But, in general, how much stock do you put in your instincts about people's inner states (vs. what they TELL you about their inner states)?

My guess is that some people's instincts come from assumptions like, "if I was in his shoes, I would be depressed -- so I assume he is too." So a related question is: how much do you assume someone else's mind resembles yours? For instance, if you hate being teased, do you assume someone who says "I don't mind being teased" is lying?
posted by grumblebee at 6:57 AM on September 10, 2004

One guy told me, "if you're honest with yourself, you'll admit you're lying."

Basically, he was not only incapable of admiting you might be right, he couldn't even accept the fact that you disagreed with him. Lose no sleep over it. Happens all the time when you grow up atheist ("you believe in the invisible pink unicorn, you just don't want to admit it").

Pinker says something to the effect that we all create mental 'models' of other people's minds, and use the to anticipate their actions and weight their sincerity. So, if you buy that, we're all born armchair psychologists.
posted by signal at 7:05 AM on September 10, 2004

I expect my friends to challenge me on my bullshit the same way, even if they might be wrong.

Agreed. I'll sometimes do this sort of "I think I may know something you don't" with my live-in boyfriend only because I think I know him well enough to gauge when he's maybe not being honest with himself, and I think it's my job to help him deal with his feelings, and vice versa. I'd never push on something if he disagreed with me on it, though I might think I was right, I'd keep my mouth shut if he disagreed. It's his brain at the end of the day, who cares what my opinion is? And, replying to your more recent question: I assume no one's mind is like mine [except maybe my family's, maybe] so I try to just go on what they say and what they do. For people I'm really close to, however, this builds up a lot of data points over decades that can sometimes help predict future behavior/emotions. I don't think you do anyone any favors by starting your opinion of them at a blank slate every morning. If they seem more depressed than usual and you can point to why that is, it might help spark a conversation about why you have that impression, though not wind up with the conclusion that they are depressed.

My Mom will do this sort of analysis with me a lot, she just has a need to think she knows why I do what I do. This extends to knowing where I am, or what my life is like, so she'll leave messages on my machine that say things like "Oh well you're probably out at the store or something...." "You must be on the computer since the phone picked up so quickly" or tell me "Wow, taking the subway must really freak you out" or "You must be excited about taking a day off" etc. For some reason -- probably having to deal with weird parent-kid stuff -- this makes me NUTS, since she's so often wrong and I don't see any reason to even have to guess about people's thoughts and intentions in the first place. It's not fun conversation for me, it goes nowhere. She did this when we travelled in Europe and people would speak to her in other languages that she didn't speak "Oh I bet he's telling you about that church...."

My best guess is that there are people who are often suprised by their own feelings and who benefit from this sort of analysis. You know, like people who don't know they're hungry but if you say "Hey you seem hungry and maybe a little cranky, want a donut?" are genuinely suprised "Oh yeah I guess I am hungry" Maybe people are like this with emotional stuff too "Oh yeah I guess I am mad at my boss/stressed out about my relationship/afraid of clams."

signal: I get that all the time about atheism too.
posted by jessamyn at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2004


My 2 cents.

If you said that you were sleeping more, and finding it difficult to get out of bed, and had a recent traumatic experience or/and a situation that would be difficult (such as a major blowout with a loved one), I'd add up these (usually some others as well) observations and suggest that you might be depressed (for example.)

We all make observations/judgments upon others - when they add up to near to what our stereotype (or our repeated experiences) we jump to that conclusion. In other words, "If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

The difficulties come from people's observations - that they either don't have a good sense of being able to interpret your particular behaviors (facial expressions, body language) or their depth of their knowledge of such things.

A set of police (possibly local and national) were given the experiment (not sure on all of its details) of being able to tell if someone (a set of nurses) were lying or not (can't remember the exact study, someone here will, I'm sure). Normal public was 50-50. But some of these officers were able to hit it with around a 75% accuracy.

I'm particularly bad at sensing when I'm at my limits (fatigue, hunger) until it's usually too late. I have gone without sleep (for a project) in excess of 48 hours, because I could. Along with my deteriorated social skills (around the 24 hour point) came the lack of my ability to sense that those skills were impaired.

Whether or not someone presents their observations as a fact, often has to do with a) their relationship with that person and b) their opinion on how 'right' that fact is. (ooh, and c) what they want you to think of them)

People also have the 'fact' basis of their internal and external past.

Your parents will continue to make factual statements about you (since they did for 18 years+). A date, on the other hand might present it as an observation, and let the two of you draw the conclusions.

And the 'negative emotions' - anger, depression, jealously are particularly hard for us to see in ourselves. And then, often physical situations may intensify those emotions.
Would you be angry if I disagreed with you? How about if I yelled? How about if I yelled and got an inch from your face.
Would you be tired today? What if you got only 3 hours of sleep? And didn't have breakfast? Would your mood suffer?

Well, that's my 2 cents.
posted by filmgeek at 7:53 AM on September 10, 2004

One thing to remember is that a lot of people are in denial about a lot of things. They are lying to themselves about things that are obvious to other people.

It sounds like this person got a read on you that you were in denial and decided to try to call you on it. The problem with that is that very few people who are in denial will spend the time to introspect and weigh the other person's claim against their own internal feelings.

That leads to the person seeing your counter-claim as "proof" that they were right. Whether they are right or not, it's hard to dismiss their feeling that your are lying to yourself. I guess you could always get angry to show that you've moved on to the next form of grief...
posted by revgeorge at 8:05 AM on September 10, 2004

Response by poster: Yes, revgeorge, this is exactly the problem -- and I've been on both sides of the fence.

I decide that you're depressed. If you say you're depressed, then that proves I'm right. If you say you're not depressed, then that means you're in denail (so I'm right again). I've set up a non-falsifiable system. There's no way I could possibly be wrong.

The problem with junking this system is -- as you've pointed out -- sometimes people ARE in denial.
posted by grumblebee at 8:23 AM on September 10, 2004

There are 2 things going on. One is that when you're a quiet person, people will project arbitrary inner-lives on you. One person at work came up to me and told me he had this colleague at his last job who was just like me -- quiet on the outside but [long list of adjectives which had nothing to do with me.] Some assume you're aloof and snobby while others assume no such thing.

The other is that when someone holds a belief so opposite to yours its hard to believe that they are being straightforward about this. You see this happen all the time on mefi when someone expresses an opinion which is towards the right end of the spectrum (and held by millions of Americans) and everybody jumps on them for trolling or being disingenuous. Re: atheism, I get it too -- "Oh you're just mad at God!" and "You really believe, deep down."

AA is notorious for this as well. If you don't admit that you're an alcoholic, you are in denial. One way to distinguish this type of claim from more sensible ones is to note that this sort of logic is never falsifiable.
posted by callmejay at 8:32 AM on September 10, 2004

Normal public was 50-50. But some of these officers were able to hit it with around a 75% accuracy

Offtopic, but the study I remember being referenced on some tv-documentary found that regular people did no better than chance, that plain old cops did no better than chance, that everyone did no better than chance *except* FBI agents who had been specifically trained in narrow, specific techniques to spot small, rapid movements associated with lying. And IIRC the FBI agents didn't do much better than chance.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:59 AM on September 10, 2004

Response by poster: When I was in grad school for theatre, I was part of an amazing improv class. After someone performed, we would sit around and talk about it. The teacher had made one rule for these discussions: you could only report on what you saw. You couldn't report on what you thought was going on in other people's heads. It was really interesting to see how difficult this was for people. A typical session went like this:

Student: Even though I could tell Mary was nervous, I still thought her performance was...

Teacher: Sorry for interrupting you, but you couldn't tell she was nervous. What was she doing?

Student: Okay, I mean, she looked nervous to me, so...

Teacher: Tell us what she was doing.

Student: Um ... Her hands were shaking.

Teacher: Okay, you can tell us her hands were shaking, because they were. You can't tell us she was nervous, because you can't see inside here head. Mary, can you tell us why your hands were shaking?

This was an artificial way of intereacting (I'm NOT suggesting we should give up on reading non-verbal cues), and it was really frustrating at times. But over the course of the semester, we all learned how to observe and talk this way, and it was enlightening. We realized how many assumptions we made without even thinking of them as assumptions. I used to be a major armchair psych. Now I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.
posted by grumblebee at 9:12 AM on September 10, 2004

i've done diagnostic referral and knowing the obvious signs for different states and situations is actually pretty easy if you know what you're looking for, which isn't usually the case for people who just caught an episode of er or an hbo special.
people do totally infer in blank spaces, almost always projecting--
--when people assume i end up learning way more about what and how they think than anything about me.
it's amusing to watch them dig the hole you trip them into.
reading body language has the fun illusion of looking psychic just because people don't seem to realize they usually walk around with everything completely written on them or projecting ten feet in front of them.

depressed people do often not know they are clinical because they are use to things being this way and dealing, not knowing a difference.
depressed people also are very use to hiding their real emotional state as a point of course.

once you know, it is hard to not diagnose people and walk around thinking "obvious borderline personality disorder", "there's someone who needs behavioral therapy", etc. which like sales can drive you mad and make cocktail parties impossible.
i have friends who live vastly different lives, so a neurotic in nyc can sound urgent and whiny/worried just from the local tone and phone connection compared to completely slack country boys who seem then subdued.
i'm considered possibly hypomanic at most times because being a natural northeasterner, i speak very fast compared to the folks in hokum, visa versa with any other sitch in slot a or b, etc.
not knowing the person can make diagnosing them easier in an overview, but if you're being objective (and somewhat holistic) it's about the same either way, except knowing sources gives you a bigger picture.

in different forms of scrying i use in lieu of or with therapy, the only time people think it doesn't apply and/or get upset is when they are obviously in active denial. accompanying friends will usually call them out or ooh and laugh outright.
posted by ethylene at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2004

I do armchair psychologist plenty, but I always present it as a guess. People are rarely offended, and if it's something neither me nor them really knows (like, to use the stereotypical example, whether a certain behavior pattern comes from some negative experience as a child) they can even appreciate the speculation.
posted by abcde at 12:11 PM on September 10, 2004

One guy told me, "if you're honest with yourself, you'll admit you're lying." And it wasn't a "lie" that he could sniff out by comparing my claim with real-world facts.
People look at their self as an example for the answer they give as this guy did playing arm chair psychiatrist. Also people can be cleaver in making your mind think they have the knowledge. Like reading your body language then using it against you. Example, you are not looking me in the eyes when you answer my question so you must be lying. Regardless if you are lying or not, only if that person asking the question knows the truth before asking will they really know. Otherwise it’s an educated guess about your eyes, not the true facts.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:14 PM on September 10, 2004

Response by poster: ethylene, I find your response really interesting. Understand, I AM a believer that body language can be revealing. And I'm not casting doubt on the general helpfulness of your profession or abilities. But I'm curious about how sure you are about your "guesses." (And I know they aren't blind guesses -- they are based on years of study and a lot of data).

Do you think they are always right? Do you think they are often right? Is it POSSIBLE for you to be convinced you are wrong? What would it take for you to be convinced you are wrong? How much do you take into account ethnicity and upbringing? How much do you take into account general eccentricity?
posted by grumblebee at 12:32 PM on September 10, 2004

my sister use to say she could tell when i was lying, but then she had some weird ocd thing where she wanted me to check off on a list how many times i cried, went to the bathroom, etc.
after it said i had 17 bowel movements and 9 crying fits for two days, she took it down.

people who think most of the world is like them vs. people who think most people aren't
the former tend to be really good at having a very large weird/unimportant pile for things they don't understand as it has nothing to do with them, making a nice, small, negotiable world.
the latter either accept the range of the world or run straight to total alienation.

if only i had my sister's selective memory.
she can't lie to save her life, opting for sins of omission.
posted by ethylene at 12:37 PM on September 10, 2004

the thing is when i am actually called to diagnose, i am quite holistic about it in the shamanistic way. i ask a lot about histories (physical, family, personal, etc) as many details as i can get out, usually directing the person if they are not forth coming which is another reason many people not open to the idea of therapy or standard western medicine feel easier about broaching certain topics, if they cannot otherwise.
the idea is to eliminate the possibility that i don't most of the pertinent information and to probe how much the person knows of their own state. many people lack introspection and self awareness and can't even fathom that other involved parties are working with different criteria or in a sense exist.
body language is great when the person is unaware of it. most people seem to not know how to adjust body language, tone of voice, etc.
because it is a back and forth, there isn't really any blind "guessing", and no detriment meant to anyone who thinks themselves unique, but rare are the people who are truly distinct enough to not fit into common categories. esp. with personality disorders which most everyone has to some degree:
that angsty teen who thinks no one understands them and they are in unique pain, nihilists fueled by alienation, common functional depressives, control freaks, etc.
people without full blown disorders that emerge mostly in the teens to thirties can have tendencies and many mixed diagnosis situations.
still, rarely are they more than a variation of the commonly known.

i am against most psychologial diagnosing because they tend to be very band aid/labelling that doesn't take into consideration the variations and individual so i often go very in depth just so when they deal with standard western medicine they know how to negotiate it somehow without being bullied or overwhelmed into a treatment without reccommendations and research of their own.

most people deal with life by seeing it subjectively and a lack of conscious self awareness is often the main culprit, self absorption being i believe a main source of true evil.
there are people i know who cannot see things from some one else's perspective and often metaphors are lost on them and they ask what a monkey has to do with them or some such.
i will often treat people exactly how they treat me, and if they don't realize it, i make it more obvious. reactions to that are amazing.

the reason i know i'm usually correct (can't account for all) is i use to work with my personal stable of medical professionals who dealt with other aspects and confirmation or i have by chance or on purpose had feedback or follow up.
in the case of random, in a crowd or impromptu situations. i either watch it play out or get instant feedback.

if the informations turns out to be wrong, i have not yet not caught them. men will say they are single, people insist lives lack conflict. i usually end up repeatedly coming to the same things until i'll just be like "cut the shit, it's right here."
if you can't tell, i'm blunt, my cards more so, but not without tact, but i find that blunt honesty often derails the falsehoods and i no longer bother with people i don't have a personal interest in because i find it too draining, even if i was being paid standard metropolitan fees (unless it's nyc).

i won't lie or give out any information that i am not 100% on without a disclamer of lack of up to the bleeding edge info or referral consultation even if i am sure because i am not hyper specialized in any one field like neurochemistry.
i do give out random info and will session with new people in a lighter tone but not without people knowing what is up and the up and up. most people do not really want to know things once they realize it's not a parlour game, closing thier palms and backing away. most decide to be more private.
i do take people at whim or referral but it tends to be only one or two meeting before i decide to keep up or let them go.
because it's all pro bono right now and i have never recieved money for scrying services (philo/ethical issue of mine), it's not like i have to.

as to my personal life, i am always giving into the long shot or taking the chance. not so much any more because it is simply not worth the trouble and i don't have the room. it's all in my willingness to believe, which is the only way any lie really works, how much they want to believe.
this way, i know when to kick my own ass, am fraught with cassandra complex as i watch things happen, or often just take in the show.

kee-rist, is that enough?
i'm not all knowing or even a great bank of wisdom, just know what i know all too well from empiric knowledge of many many sides: location, economy, region, religion, etc.
having been tolerant of others and being forced into massive change most of my life, it's a rarer position to watch from.
otherwise i'm just another goof with a wacky mental index that only works half the time on trivia games, who's media collections are at least 10% recognizable, 90% huh? who has the weirdest selection of acquaintences.

the key is always objectivity, perspective, history and knowing when to pay attention.
and when to knock someone down a few pegs.

i have never seen a needed "exorcism" that wasn't the result of psychosis.
i have never found a unique and new undefinable.
i have dealt with eccentrics and paranormals. that is a whole different topic.
i suggest "eccentrics", a book i got a prepublishing copy of that is the best on the topic i've ever found.

(maybe someone should thread the paranormals)
posted by ethylene at 1:28 PM on September 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who sounds similar to your acquaintance, grumblebee. He was so unable to put himself in anyone else's shoes that he always assumed everyone must be feeling exactly as he would be feeling in a similar situation, and there was absolutely no way to convince him that maybe, just maybe, your psychology was different than his.

I find people like that tend to be the ones to give the most unsolicited advice (not that I'm biased or anything, since I don't think of myself like that!). People who assume that other people have different priorities, feelings, mood swings, etc. seem more willing to talk through a problem -- "How does that make you feel?", I guess, rather than "You must be feeling X."
posted by occhiblu at 1:42 PM on September 10, 2004

Everyone's an armchair psychiatrist. Reading others is what humans do, unless one is 'autistically' affected in some way.

As R D Laing said - what people think about you - their view of you - is their map of you; what you think of you, is your map of you.

I'm more interested in what your real reason for asking is, grumblebee.
posted by Blue Stone at 1:51 PM on September 10, 2004

Slightly on topic: My mom, as part of her nurse's training, had to take a course on abnormal psychology. That quarter was hell for my sister and I, who were teenagers at the time and suddenly being scritinized for signs of the most obscure mental disorders.
posted by kindall at 1:53 PM on September 10, 2004

ok, that post made me late for a meeting and is fraught with dropped words and typos but i hope with all the don't haves dropped, etc it was still understandable somehow.
posted by ethylene at 2:13 PM on September 10, 2004

my last note unless someone needs something (lord knows i've been unneccessarily chatty on askme lately) is that growing up around family, doctors, teachers, etc. all my life thinking they know or questioning me has trained me to present them with the quickest cleanest form of fact they can absorb, so i ended up with lots of evidential incidents and pin pointing facts, times, incidents and crazy lots of back up info for them to refer to with all sorts of official and sourceable affidavits.
i use to have it all in my head, scarily.
now i'm like most people and i forget the names of so and so or the particular article source with an abnormally large and ungraspable tongue tip.
i try to check my perspective and sanity regularly but esp before something like a session.

(here, obviously my filter is not always on)
posted by ethylene at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2004

I think what you've described is people scoring points, or maybe even trying to manipulate you, using the language of psychobabble. In my experience, when people seek to assert their interpretation of your mental state over your own interpretation, this is for their benefit, not yours. (Yeah, so that's armchair psychologizing as well, but it makes me feel better ;-) )

I personally play armchair psychiatrist sometimes, but not in order to tell people my conclusions - I do it so I can try to understand why someone is behaving the way they are so that I can interact with them more successfully. It would be the kiss of death in any less-than-intimate relationship to tell them my conclusions though. And if people say things that contradict my model, I take them at their word.

"If you're honest with yourself, you'll admit that..." sounds like part of a really bad sales pitch.

Lastly, I think this is more an American thing, where the language of "therapy" is more firmly entrenched and discussion of personal feelings is considered publicly acceptable. In much of the rest of world, we call what you've described "rudeness".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:04 PM on September 10, 2004

Response by poster: I'm more interested in what your real reason for asking is, grumblebee.

It's partly pure interest, Blue Stone. Like occhiblu, I've noticed that there are some people who seem to be absolutely sure they know what other people think. "You can tell he's lying," "She obviously hates her mother," etc. There are others who are clueless about what other people think (autistics, etc.). Then there are most of the rest of us, who make guesses and think of them as guesses (though educated guesses) and are ready to be proven wrong. I'm fascinated by these different personality types and what makes them tick.

On a personal level, I've recently been told what I think by several different people. It's infuriated me, because I've disagreed with all of these people. But I've felt trapped, because I have no way of proving what is actually going on in my mind. I pretty much agree with your R D Lang quote. As far as they are concerned, they ARE right. I may not really be lying to them (or whatever), but their version of me IS lying, and they see their version of me -- not the real me.

These recent experiences -- some of them took place here, but not the most upsetting ones -- made me realize that I've been plagued by this my entire life. There's always been a wide gulf between my inner version of myself and what other people see. Perhaps this is true of everyone. But I've noticed that people tend to make pronouncements about me as if they are talking about indisputable fact.

Some examples:

==I was a very happy nerd in high school. The ONLY thing I didn't like about being a nerd was getting picked on. What I really wanted was for the "popular" kids to go away and leave me alone, so that I could be happy with my computers and my D&D and my comic books. I NEVER wanted to be one of the popular kids. I NEVER wanted to date a cheerleader or whatever. But almost everyone assumed that I did want these things. If I claimed that I didn't, I was in denial.

==Like many here, I've experienced this syndrome as an atheist. I don't believe in God at all. I don't believe in any godlike entity. I'm not a "spiritual person." I don't think people have souls, etc. But I'm continually told that I DO believe.

== I don't like most pop-culture. I like a lot of things that are generally considered "refined": classical music, serious literature, etc. I DON'T consider my tastes refined. I think it's absurd to say that Beethoven is "better" than Pink Floyd. I've always gone out of my way to respect other people's interests. But I simply don't like a lot of the stuff my peers like. I don't think they are bad people. I don't think they are dumb people. But many of them assume I'm a snob, and nothing I say will change that opinion.

== I guess I have a sad "resting face." People ask me "what's wrong" about nine-thousand times a day. Nothing is wrong. I'm happy. I don't blame them for thinking I'm sad if I'm not smiling, but they tend to disbelieve me even when I tell them I'm happy.

==The MeFi example: when AskMe first started, I posted a question and Matt deleted it. I wasn't even slightly upset that he deleted it. I totally respect that this is Matt's site and I would defend his right to delete any post he wants (even if it's just on a whim). Besides, I got my question answered before he deleted it, so on a selfish level, I got what I wanted.

In any case, someone -- not me -- posted to the gray, saying the thought my question was worthwhile and asked why Matt deleted it.

I posted to that thread, saying that I also thought my post was worthy. I was VERY clear that I wasn't complaining; that I respected Matt's decision; but that I simply disagreed with it.

I then got attacked right and left by people who assumed that I was crying and whining and complaining and badgering. They attacked me for disrespecting Matt, etc. I kept saying that I wasn't upset that he'd deleted my post, but I thought it was worthwhile discussing WHY he had deleted it, so that the rules would be clearer in the future. Which was always followed by people claiming I was lying about my motives.

I'm willing to imagine that something in my phrasing seemed disingenuous. But if so, it was an accident. I kept saying that I wasn't lying. Many people didn't give me the benefit of the doubt.

If they had said, "well, It still seems like you're lying" or "I'm still suspicious," I would have considered that the benefit of the doubt. But they KNEW I was lying. Nothing I said made any difference.

I've gone on about this to illustrate a point. I'm not upset about that exchange. This question was immediately prompted by something in my personal life that I can’t discuss here. All I can say is that a friend of mine is 100% sure I’m lying to him when I’m not. The supposed lie is not about a factual matter, it’s about something going on in my head. He has one story about what’s going on in my head; I have another. Neither of us can prove anything, but IT’S MY HEAD!!!

I'm just confused about the sort of person who is SURE they know what is going on in someone else's head. I can't understand that.

And I'm pretty good with psychology. I make guesses about other people all the time, and they generally turn out to be right. But I'm ALWAYS aware that they are guesses. And if someone denied them, it would always make me think twice.
posted by grumblebee at 3:09 PM on September 10, 2004

I try to never declare something about someone. I try to phrase it in a way that indicates that this is the way it appears to me. After all, I've been blazingly wrong before, and I will be again. People don't always act the way they feel.

Regarding depression: If I thought someone was depressed, and they said they weren't, I'd probably discuss the common misperception that mental illness is 'bad,' and how incredibly wrong that idea is, just to clear the air. Beyond that, if they still say they're not depressed, I'd probably watch them a bit, but leave them alone. I mean, it's their business in the end.
posted by stoneegg21 at 5:34 PM on September 10, 2004

A few things occur to me from what you've said, Grumblebee:

If you're quite inscrutable, this can be unnerving for people, who like to feel they have some understanding of the factors (people, stystems, etc.) in their lives - it's about comfort. Is it possible, I wonder, that faced with such a difficult-to-fathom person, that they're simply pinning their own creations of what you're like onto you, in order to have something on you - some idea about you around which to pivot when dealing with you?

Maybe some of it is that some of the people think you're mold-able because they don't percieve anything about you - and wish to impress upon you their idea about how you should be?

I've encountered my own fair share of disparity between perception and actuality in people's perceptions of me, only I've always found it to be an advantage rather than something to be concerned about.
People think i'm stupider/more gullible/more naive than I actually am - my outward behaviour suggests it far more than is the case. This puts me at an advantage as it's usually ony an issue with people who are up to no good.

The only vaguely "I know I'm right about you" stuff has come from people I'd describe as 'ego-centrists'. And that's their problem not mine - so wrapped up in their own opinions that they can barely see the possibility of a world beyond them.

Is it possible that, if you're quite easy-going - meek, perhaps - the people who are attracted to you (for their own psychological needs) are the sort of forceful egotists who'd delight in trying to dominate your mind with their idea of who you are?

Personally I'm very comfortable with other people getting it wrong about me. If your friend told me I was lying about my beliefs, I'd burst out laughing, and later after it's all forgotten, I'd pretend to let slip my supposed beliefs and have another good laugh at him if he fell for it.

Or I'd tell him that I knew he was gay. Hey ... I just know it, man. Stop lying. You're only fooling yourself - nobody else. It's so sad you feel the need to lie about this to your good friends. Hey, guys!! We don't mind that Bob's gay, do we? >:o)
posted by Blue Stone at 9:45 AM on September 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

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