When I wrote about my mini-meltdown moment I mentioned that I work in an “others” based job, where my focus is on helping other people. Which I love and find very satisfying, but I thought that I should write some more about the psychological aspect of Self and Others to also give you more of an insight into this interesting aspect of our psychology and behaviour.
People often ask me why I became and image consultant, and the answer lies in my need to know about myself. When I was a teenager I remember going into a store with a friend and we both tried on the same pinafore style dress. We were the same size, took the same sized dress into the fitting room and could both put it on comfortably. But there the similarity ended. It looked great on her and horrendous on me. I wanted to know what was it about my body that meant that many of the fashions of the day looked so bad on me. It was my first step into the world of the hows and whys of image but the one that has had me on this path since I was young.
I wanted to know about me. I wasn’t as interested in others as myself. And that’s pretty normal in the teenage years. But all my reading and pondering on the question started off with me – the self-focus – as my motivation.
Are you someone who has an innate need to help others and to focus your energy on other people? Then you are naturally more Others-Focused
Or do you assume that others are capable and able to do things for themselves and will ask for help if needed? Then you are naturally more Self Focused.
Now often people think “self-focused” people are selfish, this is not true (but they may come across as selfish to those who are others focused as they don’t realise that the self-focused person assumes that if they need help they will ask for it.
Some of us are more balanced or have taught ourselves to be more one way than the other.
I know that I’m naturally more self-focused. I have had to train myself to ask people if they’d like a tea or coffee as it’s not something I may think about as I don’t drink tea or coffee so don’t think to offer it as often as some of my friends would like (in fact they know now just to go help themselves, I have helped them become more ‘self-focused’).
Being self-focused just means that I assume you don’t need me to ask if you’re OK, or if you need anything, that you will let me know if you do. I spend much of my time doing others focused work and because of my natural introversion, when I’m not “on” I tend to need to not focus on others needs while I’m recharging.
Now, what does this mean for your life?
Firstly, you need to know that not everybody thinks and communicates the same way you do. So if you have a self-focused friend or partner who doesn’t automatically offer you the drink etc, speak up, that is what they are thinking you will do if you want something. Or if a decision is being made and you feel that your point of view is being left out, let them know as a self-focussed person will assume that you agree with them if you don’t say anything (they are assuming that you are self-focused too).
On the other hand, if you are self-focused, those others-focused friends and partners may seem at times like they don’t think you’re capable of doing things for yourself and handling problems. It’s not that, they are just looking out for you (and maybe they would like you to ask once in a while how they are going). Sometimes self-focussed people have to remember to ask others more questions just to make sure they are on the same page.
Secondly, be aware of how you come across to others. As I mentioned earlier, self-focused can be seen as selfish and always making decisions with their own interests at heart first. Whilst others-focused can be seen as a walk-over who always lets other people get their way without actually standing up for what they really want and believe in.
How does this influence our choices?
There are a lot of other communication and behaviour areas that self and others influences. It may be that a self-focused person is more likely to want clothes that are more different from their friends (it’s about their unique identity), whilst an others-focused person will want their clothing to be more like their friends or the current fashion (this is about sameness or difference). Working as an image consultant I have to understand my client and whether or not they want to be like others, or more different (and so be careful about the language I use with them).
I will always remember how important this was made to me when I was talking to a large shopping centre stylist and she mentioned “I always put all my mothers in a denim skirt from XX store” and I remember having a visceral reaction thinking, “how dare you plonk me in with every other mother as someone who wants a generic style, just because a woman has borne a child does not mean she needs to or wants to wear a denim skirt”. This short conversation really brought home to me how we have to learn to communicate well with others, to understand their point of view. Sure a denim skirt works for many women, and in fact I’ve owned some during my lifetime, but my self-focus behavioural style did not want to be boxed up (and I’m assuming that this stylist was someone who liked sameness, she liked to fit in rather than stand out).
Is it nature or nurture?
I’m not sure if my self-focus and difference nature came because I have an unusual name, so all my life I’ve stood out and been different (rather than being one of many Kate’s, Elizabeth’s or whatever the trendy name was when growing up). And there were other elements of my life that made me more different from my peers (and something I resented as a child), I grew up without a television, my mother died when I was young, I played the violin and was terrible at sport (the opposite of the popular kids) and we moved a lot in my early years so I went to multiple schools which made me feel like I never really fitted in. The only person I felt I could rely on was me, which is probably why I am a self-focused person, though I do enjoy others focused work.
I can’t tell you if I was always like that, or it was a result of my environment. No matter which the older I get, the more I realise if we understand how others communicate and behave and the reasons why, it really helps us in our life and improves our relationships of all kinds.