One of the anecdotes my mother occasionally tells is of the time I once clearly showed my ability to sense and demonstrate visual patterns to a high degree. According to her, she found one day that I had drawn all over the corner of one of her favorite tablecloths. As she looked at it, however, she realized that what I had done was neither the deliberate vandalistic tendencies of a young child, nor the random innocent scribbles of a toddler. What I had drawn was a sample of the pattern that was embedded in the printing of the tablecloth. One that to most seemed random, but to my eyes already had a clear organization. (Needless to say, I’m sure I was still punished for rendering publicly unusable a perfectly good tablecloth.)
I have always been good with patterns. Mainly ones I can see or observe in the physical, tangible realm. I have weirded out one friend and caused several others to laugh deprecatingly when I impulsively point out a particular pattern that maybe seemed so mundane or so unnoticeable that it was a wonder to them that I ever saw it. The point remains, though, that my minds easily makes connections and associations that others sometimes struggle to see at all.
Part of the way that my mind does this is by observing negative space. For those unfamiliar with art (which I only have a passable knowledge of myself), negative space is the space around an object. A chair is positive space; the air in a hollow box placed around the chair is the negative space. An apple drawn floating in midair in a still life is positive space; the white paper around the strangely levitating apple is the negative space. In short, where others see the objects and interpret them by what they do see, I see the space around the objects and interpret them by what I don’t see.
Sadly–and here’s the connection to what I’m actually wanting to talk about in this post–this way of seeing things often extends to my perception of myself. Whenever I look at myself, either literally or figuratively, I struggle with seeing only the negative aspects of my personality and the negative possibilities of what I am capable of doing. I spent a whole year constantly pushing myself away from a couple of friends, one of whom I was personally interested in, as they began dating, simply because I was afraid I would create a tense, ugly situation (just like one I had been subjected to being in the presence of for four months beforehand) if I did not completely remove myself from the picture.
Which is why I need my friends to so often correct my self-image and why I occasionally ask them to tell me what good they see in me. Not due to a prideful desire to hear myself praised directly, but because I so often begin to forget the good parts of myself if I’m not reminded of why my friends don’t find me simply an irritating little git that they’d rather not have around. I only ended the self-imposed separation from those two friends after a much-needed but long-delayed conversation with one of them led to me revealing the reason for my “disappearance.” That friend (somewhat shocked by my explanation) told me in no uncertain terms that the untoward situation I feared I would create was exactly the kind of situation I was most likely to stop before it got too far, based on what that friend had seen of my personal morals. Had I not had that correction of my self-image, I would most likely be having a much harder year, not to mention separating myself ever farther from those friends.
Sometimes having this ability to see the negative aspects of myself is beneficial, as it allows me to see where I really do have problems if I am willing to step back and be honest with myself. However, it does make life painful for me sometimes, if I get into a vicious cycle of doubting or denigrating myself and refusing to believe that I am capable of anything significantly good. It also sometimes make me hesitant to accept compliments (either directly given to me, or indirectly given through introduction to someone else), since at those times I truly don’t believe I deserve such compliments.
The other way this ability is annoying is that I sometimes that I wish my friends would not introduce me to others (at least when I am present) mainly as someone who is “good at math.” In my mind, being good at math is OK, and I know I’ve been given a talent at being mathematical. But when people hear first that I’m good at math, it doesn’t tell anything about how good of a friend I am, or how much I desire to help others, or other similar qualities that I feel are more important than being “good at math.” Of course, my friends mean it in good faith, but I have to admit that sometimes it hurts that the first thing that tends to come to mind is that I’m a math whiz.
Bottom line? I need my friends so that I can fight my tendency to see only the negative and never the positive. It’s too easy for me to see the darkness inside me and not the speck of light at the center of myself that God’s trying to get my attention with. Without my friends, I’d be lost and lonely, always flailing in the dark, probably depressed and possibly suicidal. My friends are what keep me whole, what keep me sane, and what keep me positive. They are the ones who negate my negativity–which as any math major knows, is the same as confirming my positives.