Perceptual positions are the ways we perceive ourselves and others in any situation. There are three main perceptual positions: self, other, and observer. Each position has its own advantages and disadvantages, but they can also be misaligned or distorted, leading to confusion, conflict, or dissatisfaction.
In this article, I will explain what each perceptual position is, how to align them properly, and how to use them to improve your relationship with yourself and others. This is the third article in a series on perceptual positions. You can read the previous articles here:
What are the Perceptual Positions?
The perceptual positions are based on the idea that we can experience the world from different perspectives. They are:
- Self: This is the position where you see, hear, and feel things from your own point of view. You are aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, and you focus on your own needs and goals. This position is useful for expressing yourself, making decisions, and taking action.
- Other: This is the position where you see, hear, and feel things from someone else’s point of view. You try to understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and you focus on their needs and goals. This position is useful for empathizing, communicating, and collaborating with others.
- Observer: This is the position where you see, hear, and feel things from a neutral or detached point of view. You observe yourself and others as if you were a third party, and you focus on the facts and the big picture. This position is useful for evaluating, analyzing, and learning from situations.
We can switch between these positions depending on the context and the purpose of our communication. However, sometimes we get stuck in one position or we mix up the positions, which can cause problems.
How to Align Your Perceptual Positions
Many people have misaligned or distorted perceptual positions, which can affect their relationships and their well-being. For example, some people may:
- Have their eyes outside their body in the self position, which makes them feel disconnected from themselves and their surroundings.
- Hear their own voice from somewhere else in the self position, which makes them doubt themselves and their choices.
- Hear other people’s voices in their body in the self position, which makes them feel influenced or controlled by others.
- Have their feelings mixed with other people’s feelings in the self position, which makes them confused or overwhelmed by emotions.
- Have difficulty accessing the observer position, which makes them unable to see things objectively or learn from their experiences.
These misalignments can be caused by various factors, such as trauma, lack of guidance, or habit. Most parents didn’t go any further than pointing out in a playful way, “this is your nose, these are your eyes, your mouth, and these are your ears”. Fortunately, misalignment can be corrected by using a simple technique: pretending to program a lifelike doll.
Imagine that you have a lifelike doll that can be programmed to have the same senses as a human being: vision, hearing, and feeling. How would you program the doll to have the correct perceptual positions? Here are some suggestions:
- Self: The doll would see through its eyes in its eye sockets, hear other people’s voices through both of its ears, hear its own voice from its mouth, and feel only its own feelings. This would make the doll feel connected to itself and its environment, confident in its decisions, independent from others, and clear about its emotions.
- Other: The doll would see through the eyes of another person, hear through the ears of another person, hear its own voice as if it were another person, and feel the feelings of another person. This would make the doll understand the perspective of another person, communicate effectively, empathize with others, and respect their differences.
- Observer: The doll would see itself and others from a distance of at least 10 feet (3 meters), eye level to self and others. Hear itself and others from a distance, hear its own voice as if it were a narrator, and feel no feelings. This would make the doll observe the situation objectively, analyze the facts, evaluate the outcomes, and learn from the feedback.
I almost always do the following exercise with my clients in our first meeting:
1. I have them remember an argument/ disagreement that took place face to face with another person.
2. I ask, “remembering this memory what Perceptual Position are you in seeing this memory. “Are you in your own body or are you seeing yourself?”
3. Regardless if they are in (SELF) or (OTHER) position, I have them first go to the (OBSERVER) position to begin the realignment.
I like for my clients to go from (SELF) to (OBSERVER) before they go into (OTHER) so they are not bringing their own emotions when stepping into the (OTHER) position. I then help them align their ((SELF) then (OTHER) positions.
You can use this technique to align your own perceptual positions by imagining that you are the doll and programming yourself accordingly. You can also use this technique to help your clients or friends align their perceptual positions by guiding them through the process.
How to Use Your Perceptual Positions
Once you have aligned your perceptual positions, you can use them to improve your relationship with yourself and others. Here are some examples of how to use each position:
- Self: Use this position when you want to express yourself, make decisions, or take action. For example, you can use this position to state your opinion, choose your goals, or do something you enjoy by feeling.
- Other: Use this position when you want to communicate, collaborate, or empathize with others. For example, you can use this position to listen to someone, work on a project, or comfort someone.
- Observer: Use this position when you want to evaluate, analyze, or learn from situations. For example, you can use this position to review your performance, solve a problem, or learn a new skill.
You can also switch between the positions depending on the situation and the purpose of your communication. For example, you can use the self position to express your feelings, then switch to the other position to understand the feelings of the other person, then switch to the observer position to find a solution that works for both of you.
By using the perceptual positions effectively, you can enhance your experiences, improve your relationships, and achieve your goals.
Acknowledgment: I attended Connirae Andreas, PhD first workshop over thirty years ago on this subject. She had recently discovered that very few humans were aligned in all of these three perceptual positions and especially in the 1st position (self).