I read a fascinating article today in Psychology Today regarding perceptions of self. This article, entitled Mixed Signals by Sam Gosling pointed out that there were four categories of how we see ourselves.


“Bright Spots are things known by you and by others” like political affiliation and whether your introverted or extroverted.


“Dark Spots are known neither by you nor other”. These things are deeply subconscious influences that provide unknown sources of motivations and behaviors.


“Personal spots are known only by you” such as how you feel about your job – no really feel – or personal phobias.


“Blind Spots are things known only by others”. These are the signals you send out in the world and have no idea that this is how other see you.


This article was absolutely intriguing on two levels for me, both as leader and as a writer. As a leader, the army teaches me that I must know myself. As a writer, I must know my characters. But according to Mr Gosling, there’s no way that I can truly know either one. On the one hand, it might be easier for me to know my characters b/c I’m creating them but is it truly easy for me to write a heroine who sees the hero as a flatulent douche bag when he sees himself as a sensitive lover? One way to use this information is to look at how your heroine does see the hero and vice versa. Many of the opening conflicts in romance novels start out because of miscommunication in exactly how the hero and heroine see the other person. Once they discover the true nature – the ‘personal spots’ as it were of the other person, then room for true love takes off.


This is a little too easy for me though because in real life, it is nearly impossible for people to look at the negative aspects of themselves. So if you’re going to write realistic characters, you have to find a way around the self delusion that a person maintains around them. For instance, there is a key leader in my company who honestly thinks he’s the best NCO in the company and that he’s looked up to and admired. He’s completely self deluded because the soldiers hate him, don’t respect him and think he’s a flatulence filled douche bag.


Why the disconnect? Because of the lies we tell ourselves. In my case, when my commander sat me down and told me that I was unapproachable, cold, not nice and too aggressive, I wasn’t surprised at all. For me, that was a sign that at least I wasn’t feeding myself a load of bullshit that I was some nice and kind mommy figure (even though I have those tendencies, they are the dominate ones that people notice until they get to know me). He seemed surprised, though, that I was not surprised by his assessment of me.


In writing, I struggle with having my characters NOT having the same lack of self delusion. Right now, I’ve got a character who honestly believes he needs to be deployed because that’s his entire purpose in life. He doesn’t realize that he’s staying deployed out of a deep seated guilt for what happened to him and his wife doesn’t know the reasons, either. Hence, their marriage is struggling. The major turning point in the story is going to be when he realizes how deep the level of self delusion has really been and the consequences his self delusion has had, both on him as a soldier and as a husband.


Mr Gosling offers tools to help people look at how the world sees themselves. There are apps on Facebook called the Honesty Box and the YouJust Get Me app, both of which are designed to help people see themselves how others see them. While you may never understand your dark spots, you may get a glimpse at the blind spots in your life.


As a writer, when you’re developing your characters, draw a box and label it with the four categories. See if you can fill them out. You may get key insights into your characters before you get 200 pages into a manuscript and realize you have no idea what your character’s motivation is.