Some years back, a man whom I had known for about 10 years was describing me to a new acquaintance of ours. It was all very positive and complimentary, but with one small problem: he wasn’t describing me. In fact, the more he waxed eloquent about the attributes and personality of Monte Wilson, the more invisible I felt. All I could do was sit there thinking, “You really don’t know me.”
A friend responds to me the same way I would if I were seeing and sensing myself through the mind of my friend. In other words, he acts as a mirror that reflects the image of how I see and experience myself. He sees what I know to be true of myself. She senses how I experience life. In other words, true friends are psychologically visible to each other.
Of course, friends also help us discover the, heretofore, unseen aspects of our true self. You’ve had this happen before, when a friend complimented or criticized you about something and you instantly intuited that, yes, “That’s me!”
This is how Nathaniel Branden defines psychological visibility in his book, The Psychology of Romantic Love. “Human beings desire and need the experience of self-awareness that results from perceiving the self as an objective existent, and they are able to achieve this experience through interaction with the consciousness of other living beings.”
But it is not just visibility that we desire. We also have a desire to love and to be loved.
It is not good that man should be alone. (Genesis 2:18)
There is something about the way we are made that needs relationships where there is a large degree of mutual visibility. My own thought here is that there are a number of reasons this is so. Two come to mind:
External validation and affirmation “You really are you!” However self-aware I am, however brutally honest with myself that I seek to be about the nature of my true self, I need feedback as to the veracity of my self-evaluation. Caveat: I am not referring to a craving for the approval of others, as if I were asking permission to be myself. I am referring to the acknowledgment that my evaluation of my self is, indeed, legitimate.
Mutual support I know that I need the love, gifts and wisdom of others to make my journey in this life. I instinctually know that it is neither right nor wise to be “alone.” Think back to the stories many of us grew up reading: Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, Frodo and Samwise, The Three Musketeers, Harry with Ron and Hermione, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, King David and his Mighty Men, and Jesus and the Twelve.
Certainly, the mere fact that we are visible to someone doesn’t mean that we are going to be good friends. However, there can be no true emotional connection and companionship where there is little or no visibility. How can you say," I love you," if you are blind to the “you”? Am I really going to believe someone loves me who doesn’t Get Me, get who I am (“warts and all”)? And sometimes, even where an individual does see me, there is still the possibility that this person does not have the capacity for mutuality or desire for companionship with me. "Yes, dear, I see you. And I can't stand what I see!"
Of course, there is the experience of people who love us for whom they wish us to be. I am not referring here to those who truly see us, and the person we can become: I am speaking of those who project or fantasize or idealize the person they wish us to be. In these cases, we know that there is no reality, no substance, and no foundation for a true friendship. Where such blindness exists, we know that, sooner or later, the individual will “see the real me,” and the “relationship” will end.
True friendship requires visibility and mutuality.
When we encounter a person who thinks as we do, who notices what we notice, who values what we value, who tends to respond to different situations as we do, not only do we experience a strong sense of affinity with such a person but we also can experience our self through our perception of that person. This is another form of objectivity. This is another manner of perceiving our self in the world, external to consciousness … The pleasure and excitement that we experience in the presence of such a person, with whom we can enjoy this sense of affinity, underscores the importance of the need that is being satisfied. Branden
While Branden is specifically referring here to the basis for Romantic Love, it, nevertheless, applies to friendship, as well.
I believe we were created with an innate desire to be with people who see and understand us, and with whom we share mutual beliefs, values and visions: people who understand our journeys, our struggles, and our achievements, and want to be a part of our lives, as we wish to be a part of theirs. These are the people whose empathy is most real to us and whose applause is most meaningful. These are the people whom we call friends.
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2011