Monday, October 19, 2009

The Image Dilemma

Lately, I've been giving much thought to old friends and new ones.

Sometimes friendships work out, and sometimes they do not. Now, I'm the first to admit that, as a friend, I'm a handful. I can be irascible, pretty obnoxious, definitely outspoken while remaining reseved and introspective, but not one to keep the peace merely for the sake of keeping the peace.

But I can also be warm, giving to the point of generosity, compassionate and heartfelt once you've gained my trust.

In other words, human. You'll never know which parts of me you'll get, anymore than I'll know which bits of you you'll give me.

Which leads me to this bizarre column: I've been thinking about psychology and jigsaw puzzles.

Each of us has a self-image that is at once clear and muddled. Some of us are clearer than others, but we all have blindspots. Into those blindspots, we seek friends to help us interpret and understand them.

Some friends, a few, fit smoothly like the right jigaw piece. Pretty quickly, you come to the realization that this friend is one who can help nurture you, and help you comprehend yourself.

Some do not. Those friends you keep at arm's length, if you keep them at all. Like the jigsaw piece that is interlocking and you need a tessellating piece, you quickly come to the realization that this relationship is not as vaulable as you had hoped.

Most friends fall in between, on a spectrum of good friends who develop over time to friends you might run into from time to time.

Some of these friends, like some jigsaw pieces, look like they should fit easily, but you discover the puzzle is more complex than you thought. You rotate them around and still, they just don't fit easily where you thought they might.

You have two alternatives: you can put it aside, and hope it fits someplace else when the puzzle of your self-image is further along, or you can take a hammer and try to bang it into place.

Most people have tried the hammer at least once or twice in their lives. It never works.

See, the piece, the friend, looks like it should be a good fit. Maybe it has the right shape, but not exactly. Maybe it has some really bright colours that help offset a dark and dreary, lonely corner of the puzzle and you really really want that piece to fit.

Rather than perhaps admit the piece is wrong, you try to reshape the piece. Worse, maybe the admission you have to make is that the puzzle, your self-image, itself is wrong.

We hang dearly onto our images. We have illusions of who people are, and how they fit in with us. We believe things we have no business believing about someone, or worse, we don't believe in someone when maybe all it takes is a little adjustment of attitude on our part, and then suddenly, the piece fits.

After all, there was some reason we were attracted enough to that piece to even try to fit it in.

The old saw, about experience being the course in which the tests come before the lessons, holds particularly true when it comes to our self-image.

We all want to believe we are something more than we already are, and some of us actually are. For most of us, though, we are already enough to do the things we need to do to survive and thrive. Our self-image is neither complete or unfinished. It really just needs a little filling in.

Like any good puzzle strategy, most of us have laid the framework for filling in the spaces. We just need to hunt down the right pieces.