Share a Flaw: This one is interesting. The self-deprecating part of me automatically says “Ha! Which one?” The optimistic part of me has trouble finding a flaw that doesn’t have some sort of upside that almost balances it out. Rather than debate the cost/benefit analysis of each of my flaws, which could take a while, I figure I’ll focus on what I view as one of my biggest talents, that can also be a deadly flaw: I read people incredibly well.
This doesn’t sound like a flaw on it’s surface. Reading people well helps make you a better people-person and communicator. It allows you to help people who might not outwardly admit they need help. But at it’s foundation it contains a dangerous caveat.
Being able to read someone is kind of like a restricted type of telepathy. Thoughts and feelings that they didn’t want public, and didn’t necessarily know were view-able, are on display. Being good at reading people doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with having good intentions. It simply means that you can read feelings in others’ that most cannot. What you do with this information can vary widely.
I consider this both a talent and a flaw because it has been both over the course of my life. My ability to read people is, I believe, rooted in my childhood victimization; when you live with someone who has anger problems and is like a ticking time bomb, you are constantly reading them, trying to assess the danger. Body language, intonation, breathing patterns, slight changes in expression: all are analyzed and over-analyzed for any sign of a threat. Living in that mode 24/7, for years, makes it practically impossible not to read and size up every person and situation in the same manner. Your senses are heightened like a rabbit who just smelled a fox, and they never get dialed back down. A scientist might describe it as some disorder or another involving the parasympathetic nervous system, some defect where the fight or flight reflex is constantly on the verge of being triggered.
How is this a talent? Well, I’m practically a human lie-detector at this point, particularly if I know someone for any real length of time. I often can point out to people that they are lying to themselves simply because of the slight tics in their facial expressions. In my BDSM lifestyle it is invaluable, in that I barely have to put thought into reading my bottom (as in submissive, not as in butt) to keep tabs on any changes in their physical behavior or emotional state during a scene. It is so innate to me that I don’t really have to put effort into it, I just naturally notice a change in headspace belied by a slight shifting of weight off one foot and breathing rate quickening by 5 extra beats per minute, without having to look for those specific clues and then assess them. It makes me an incredibly effective top (as in Dominant, not shirt), and that is a skill that I treasure and value.
It is also a talent in that when I am talking to someone about their problems (which is frequent, because I’m extroverted and non-judgmental), I am sometimes able to help them put into words what they don’t know how to say: their body is still feeling the feeling, even if the person doesn’t know the right words to describe it, and their body feeling it creates those tiny clues that impart worlds of information. My submissive has difficulty putting words to his feelings sometimes, and when his only answer to “What are you feeling right now?” is “I don’t know!”, I am, more often than not, able to deduce what the problem is and what we need to do by his body language, expressions, and by asking one or two questions and then gauging his reactions. Then I am able to help him identify and label feelings that were, before that, nameless afflictions. When you know what something is, you can deal with it.
How is it a flaw? The things that make it a talent are the exact same things that make it a flaw. Being able to read people, to see their emotions on their face as if reading books off a page, also means being able to manipulate them. It’s information that not only do others not have access to, but no one knows that you have access to unless you tell them. Insight is not inherently good any more than information is; it’s the application that determines that. And how to apply it is a decision that is left up to me. Fallible, flaw-ridden, me. I’ve done things in my life with that insight that I am too ashamed to admit to, even here as one more anonymous blogger in a sea of people with louder, more articulate voices.
Sometimes I wonder if this particular reaction to situations like mine, where victims become hyper aware of others’ emotional states and thought processes, is part of what leads into the cycle of victimized people becoming perpetrators and then going on to victimize others. Both the people who victimized me had been victimized themselves, long ago, and it was never dealt with, even after it had grown into something ugly and monstrous.
I have manipulated people with my insight, and I have caused much pain serving my own selfishness, especially when I was younger. Eventually I grew to fear my insight and its potential for misuse, and I learned, through years of struggle, to rein it in, to channel it and try to only use it where it was smart and safe to do so, like BDSM or peer therapy.
Nonetheless, being able to read people will always be a coin with two sides for me, with the siren song of puppeteering softly calling my name, forever.