Friday, August 17, 2007

The Importance of Consistency Between Behavior and Perception

It is my contention that there is a meaningful connection between behavior and perception – especially when it comes to adult loving relationships.

Most people know the meaning of the term “behavior.” In this Post, however, I am referring specifically to human behavior – which is the collection of behaviors exhibited by human beings and influenced by culture, attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, authority, rapport, hypnosis, persuasion, coercion and/or genetics.

Now let’s look at the concept of “perception.” In psychology and the cognitive sciences, perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. The word perception comes from the Latin perception-, percepio, , meaning "receiving, collecting, action of taking possession, apprehension with the mind or senses." Interestingly, in my recent pop-psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom: You Gotta Love ’Em, there is a section on “Perception.” In that section I talk about my conversation with Alison, an intriguing lady I met at a biker bar along the Gulf coast of Florida. As she and I were talking we also were watching some humorous antics being played out by some of the establishment's finest. Our chat included the phenomenon of “perception.” At the right moment, Alison leaned over to me and fittingly murmured, “I love my father’s Vince Lombardi like quote:
Perception isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

I currently am working on a new self-help book in the area of adult loving relationships with a good friend and colleague, Dr. Bill Lambos. In our first draft of Chapter 4 of our developing book, we talk about behavior and perception:

* * * * * * * * * *

Behavior and Perception

One principle of human behavior that is pertinent to adult loving relationships that our experiences have shown to be true is:

People tend to behave in ways consistent with

their perception of other people’s expectations of them.

This principle became vividly clear when Bill Emener was talking with Paula. During one of their sessions, Paula was sharing that even though her husband, Leonard, would repeatedly say to her things such as, “I’ll be back in an hour – trust me,” “I won’t do that anymore – trust me,” and, “I’ll stop by the store and get that for you someday this week – trust me,” she continued to feel the need to always check-up on him, remind him and “pester him.” She felt that she could not trust Leonard. Bill said to her, “Paula, I wonder if it is possible that he behaves in untrustworthy ways because he figures that you won’t trust him anyway?” She calmly asked, “What are you trying to tell me, Dr. Emener?” “What I am suggesting to you, Paula,” Bill replied, “is that maybe if you want Leonard to behave in more trustworthy ways it would be helpful if you could begin to act toward him in more trustworthy kinds of ways.”

Paula pondered Bill’s thought and said that quite frequently when she would talk with Leonard, he would say to her, “It really doesn’t matter what I do, Paula, you never trust me anyway.” It was very difficult for Paula to begin to treat Leonard as if he were trustworthy. We are happy to share with you, however, that the two of them are doing much better in this area. In a recent session, when Bill was talking with the two of them, Leonard declared, “Of course I’m being more trustworthy and responsible to Paula. I have consciously tried to change my ways. However, I also know that she is beginning to trust me and believe me, and that feels good to me. I don’t want to spoil it!”

* * * * * * * * * *

At one point in my latest contemporary romance novel, If Ever Again… It’ll be for Love, Diane is talking with Michael about perception. She says to Michael, “Do you love me because of who I really am or who you think I am.” Michael grins and through a warm smile replies, “I love the person I think you are… and from my point of view, that’s the only you I know and that’s all that matters.”

I recall a time when I was dating a woman I shall refer to as Judy. When I sent flowers to her at her office, her first statement to me was, “What do you want?” And when I surprised her with tickets to a concert for her birthday, she asked me if I had a control problem. (The concert was great. I haven't see her since.)

Question: Have you ever had people perceive you in ways inconsistent with your behavior (or inconsistent with your perception of your behavior)?



Julia Phillips Smith said...

I am often perceived as an extrovert because I've aquired these behaviors over time. But I'm a complete introvert inside. This always leads to head-shaking by other people when I say things that are blatantly anti-social. They think I'm kidding, but I'm not!

By the way, I love this line from your novel:
“I love the person I think you are… and from my point of view, that’s the only you I know and that’s all that matters.”

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Julia,
Thanks for stopping by!
I spent many years doing therapy with extroverts whose scared little boy or scared little girl couldn't feel comfortable living in the real world... hiding behind the extroverted persona. My bet would be, nonetheless, that your close friends and the significant others in your life "know and love the real you."
Thanks for the gracious comment about that line in my novel... true isn't it (or at least isn't that we love to hear from the special him or her in our lives).
'til next time,
Bill said...

Bill, I love your blog and stopped by your web site. You are such a successful and kind man, and I'm going to look for your books. I'm impressed by the fact that you enjoy the ramblings of a children's writer!

I tried to find your blog and site yesterday, but I must have clicked on the wrong link. I'm glad I tried again. Thanks Bill for everything, and I'll be back for more reading!

By the way, Simon is in more of a reasonable mood today. :)


Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Ann,
Thanks for stopping by... your gracious comments about my website and blog are most appreciated.
Okay, so you write kid-lit... I know people for who they are, not what they are or what they do.
Just awoke from some horizontal thinking -- my Friday night co-ed softball team had a practice this afternoon (in 94 degree temperature). The post-practice beer was cold and the AC felt good, but by the time I got home (riding my Harley) I was dripping again. I think Oscar Wilde was right... "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."
'til next time,
P.S. Glad to hear that Simon is on the mend (is using the term "reasonable" when referring to a cat constitute an oxymoron?).

Bailey Stewart said...

I'm the introvert hiding in an extrovert body. People are surprised when I admit to agoraphobia because I can usually hide it well.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Bailey,
Thanks for stopping by.
Yeah I hear ya... I suppose we all have our own little private side we hide from others (and some of us have it down to an art form). As long it is working for you and not creating difficulties, and you're happy the way you are in and with the world... well what's that old saying, "If it ain't broke, fix it 'til it is."
Question -- who's the real Bailey? Are you really how you act (an extrovert) or are you really how you feel (am introvert)?
P.S. I'd bet on "both." said...

I noticed I didn't add what I thought of this post yesterday. I always think I will use up too much comment "space" for others readers, which is so silly since it is not written anywhere in bloggers rules that comments have to be a certain length, or is it? Anyway, I wanted to add the fact that I thought this was a fantastic post. When I read it, I thought of how this would also apply to children. You have written a very helpful and generous post. When we are aware of others perception of us, it helps us reexamine our own mental image. Thank you for your help. :))


Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi again Ann,
Firstly, I do not know of any blogger length rules for Comments. So, let’s go with my rule: write and Comment as much as you want.
I appreciate your gracious remarks regarding this Post. And I could not agree with you more – these phenomena are extremely important to children and their development. And, I might add, the best way for parents to teach them to their children is through modeling.
Thanks again for visiting,
P.S. Tomorrow (actually later this evening) I am putting up a new Post on parenting (for which your comments will be most welcomed).