British writer and theologian C.S. Lewis said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” Put simply, reality is based, not on fact, but instead on our personal perception of what we see and hear. That said, it’s been my experience that not everyone has the same perception of reality.
Generally, I would imagine most of us trust our senses to deliver an accurate view of the world around us and then depend on our cognitive reasoning to help us comprehend it. It’s commonly known as, “perception.” Whatever the term, it simply means our view of things depends on how we interpret our surroundings. For instance, if I see a blue sky with clouds drifting by, I assume everyone else sees it too, right? Colorblindness notwithstanding, that all stands to reason.
But we all know people who walk around in more of an oblique version of reality. Often their reality is negative, dark, and painful, not to mention staggeringly inaccurate. Here’s what I mean. We all have a friend or family member who always seems to have it worse than everyone else. Regardless of how bad your case of the flu was last week; his experience was near death. Of course, it wasn’t, but that’s how he relates it to you.
This is known as catastrophizing and tends to be associated with various personality disorders. It can mean that the person behaves and thinks in ways that would be considered different than normal. And yes, I get that normal is relative and subjective. But here, I’m referring to someone with a mental health issue who is exhibiting behavior contrary to acceptable — or safe — social standards.
Sometimes those thoughts and emotions are caused by traumatic experiences and manifest themselves in other ways. I’m not a psychologist, but I do know that borderline personality disorder, for example, might include a strong fear of abandonment. It can cause the individual to always assume the worst about others. Thus, their view of reality — and people — may be somewhat distorted, altered by the painful experience of being left behind.
But what if there is no medical diagnosis for these issues? What if the person’s sense of reality just seems to be completely “out there?” Is that really a thing? How does it happen and is it an indication of mental illness? Probably, but it may never be diagnosed, let alone treated.
In my opinion, someone with a warped sense of reality also seems to be absent any sort of empathy or understanding, instead feeling like the world revolves around them.
It’s possible they’re unaware of their own character, feelings, motives, and desires, each of which helps to define who we are, and has a great influence on how we perceive and cope with the world around us. If you’re unable to see your own attributes, good and bad, then your sense of reality might be drastically altered as well, especially if you have no support system.
Someone like that might seem incredibly self-centered, narcissistic, or even paranoid and probably suffers from a strong persecution complex. It’s doubtful they even know that their behavior hurts those around them, damaging relationships, and even reinforcing the abandonment issues because they push people away.
I’ve dealt with people like this, on some level, all my life. Most are completely unaware of their behavior or lack of awareness. At times some exhibit symptoms of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and even factitious disorder (what they used to call Munchhausen syndrome) because they often fake or inflict illness to get attention.
Again, we are tiptoeing around various levels of mental illness and I reemphasize, I am not a psychologist. These are simply my personal observations based on some education and limited experience. Mental healthcare is incredibly lacking in the United States, horribly curtailed by ignorance, stigma, and decades-old misinformation.
So, if someone you know is exhibiting these behaviors, please discuss it with someone close to them or seek out a mental health professional to help. Your doctor, local behavioral health agency, or public health department can help find the right resource.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.