When it feels unsafe to show myself I sneak through in sudden slivers cracks in the glass, window shards tiny spotlight beams shining out revealing the very worst parts of me A charming flame behind a hearth that cracks and pops quick embers to be franticly stamped out on the rug not fit for polite company or the presence of people who turn away from the dancing heat I don't know if I've ever seen someone else who hides like I do, or maybe they're just better at holding up their painted pleasing mask no sudden tears out of seemingly no where to surprise and confuse a perfect evening Surely people must wonder at the moments I lose the carefully crafted composure I've clutched after days of endless, irritating effort with others they must feel the sudden shift of energy in the room when I shrivel inward, when I turn cold and quiet Giving myself a few moments' respite from the white-knuckled grip on my own struggling soul a second to catch my breath and be real retracting my artificial warmth from an otherwise empty room Occasionally I'll hear a half-hearted, "What's wrong?" that is easily assuaged by a hollow, "Nothing, I'm fine." a confirmation of being utterly unseen happy to believe me and go back to pretending as soon as I reapply the artificial smile Unlike the rare few who know they've now seen behind the uncanny valley facade of self they don't let it go when I step back behind the screen no longer satisfied with what they've realized is fake brave enough to seek me There aren't many people who care to uncover the glimmer that steals between the cracks most people easily accept the mask I suit them better that way I'm used to not being seen
Opening myself up to others has never been one of my strong suits. Yet I know from experience, and many things I’ve read, that vulnerability is necessary in order to achieve true intimacy. This is exactly where my dilemma lies. I was fascinated by the realization I happened to stumble upon the other day surrounding this idea and how it has influenced my own life.
Sometimes I end up resenting and pushing away the people I most admire. I become frustrated by how much better I think they are than me. I paint this picture in my head of someone on a pedestal. So far above my strange little eccentricities and flaws that they could never possibly understand me. At first I feel embarrassed and unworthy of their attention and/or affection. I think to myself: well if they knew who I really was they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Whether that’s really true or not, that thought eventually turns angry and I think: oh, fuck them then. I don’t need them anyway. I grow tired of pretending to be someone I’m not to maintain their approval. (Whether I even need to do so or not, remains unknown.) I either retreat myself or begin to push them away. This seems like a better option than what I view as the only other: that I am seen for who I really am and rejected.
I was running this problem over in my head the other day, when I began to wonder how I have any intimate relationships at all. I mean, of course there are plenty of people that I am able to be vulnerable with, people that I feel safe showing myself too. So what’s different about those relationships? I discovered that there are really only two ways I’ve been able to get close to someone in the past.
One way is when a person gets to know me before I decide I really give a damn about them or what they think of me. This happened more often when I was in high school and college. My first boyfriend knew all of my dirty little secrets before I fell in love with him or even became close friends with him just because we had classes together. In these instances, the fact that this casual acquaintance does not reject me for what they discover is extremely endearing to me. I begin to like them more because they’ve seen who I am and have not turned away, or perhaps even like me better for it. It feels so good to be seen. And I feel that they must be an exceptionally kind and compassionate person if they could still like me after truly seeing me.
The other way is when the other person is very outgoing and open. If they pour their heart out to me, I am usually so touched by their vulnerability and trust that I feel safe enough to offer my own. The closest people in my life have historically been extremely extroverted. Their bravery gives me the courage to open up. They also tend to ask me lots of probing questions, which I actually enjoy. Some people might find that rude, but I love nothing more than having someone ask me about myself or my experiences. I’m far too self-conscious to offer up that information willingly. So unless I’m directly asked, a lot of my life remains unknown to even my friends. Even if I desperately want them to know. I just feel too embarrassed to offer up unsolicited information about myself because I think no one would care.
So having noticed this pattern, how can I get close to someone who does not fall into either of these two categories? I am genuinely at a loss on that one. Not only am I too afraid to let this person find out too much about me and my past, they also don’t ask about it at all. Even if I wanted to tell them, I would have no idea how to bring it up besides just blurting it out randomly. And I don’t think that would be helpful even if I could muster up the courage to do it.
I’m not sure where this fear of being seen began. I cannot even remember a time where I was rejected for showing someone who I truly am. I’ve always been accepted and shown compassion. And each time this simple act of decency and kindness has touched me deeply. Each time I can hardly believe it, can hardly accept it, and feel certain that I don’t deserve it. Even though I know that I only end up liking someone more after they’ve shown me their flaws. I don’t love them despite these imperfections. I love them more because of their imperfections and the fact that they trusted me enough to share them with me.
I can’t seem to let go of this belief that I am not worthy of anyone else’s love until I am perfect. But that is obviously ridiculous. People don’t want someone who is “perfect.” (I certainly don’t.) People like other real, imperfect people far more. Consider the popularity of the anti-hero. Everyone loves a deeply troubled TV or movie character with redeeming qualities more than one who is infallible. Because no one is perfect. We see ourselves in the revealed shortcomings of others and we love them for it, as we can only hope others will love us for ours.
I am not being fair to myself or the people I hold dear by withholding and hiding these imperfect parts of myself. It’s not fair for me to breed resentment towards someone for my perception that they could never accept or understand me. Especially when I refuse to even give them the chance. I know deep down that I don’t have to be afraid. Certainly some people will reject me, but so many more have already embraced me and my flaws. Not only that, but by hiding myself away for fear of judgement, I am sending myself the message that I am not enough as I am, that I am unworthy of being seen and loved. And that’s not what I believe, not really. What I really believe is best summed up in the words of my favorite poet:
No matter how insignificant I may be, I believe I deserve to be loved.Federico Garcia Lorca
Imposter Syndrome is a phrase that I’ve been hearing about a lot lately. Essentially, it is a term that means feeling like you are a fraud, that you aren’t as good, talented, smart, etc. as others think you are, that you are undeserving of the success you’ve achieved in life. I think we can all relate to feeling this way from time to time. It’s hard to decipher whether or not I have this particular syndrome though. Especially when the google definition specifies it disproportionately affects high achieving people. Part of me wants to believe that this is a reason it may apply to me, but at the same time, do I consider myself a high-achieving person? That’s debatable. Would anyone really suffering from imposter syndrome consider themselves high-achieving?
The definitions I read don’t quite fit what I’m experiencing. It’s not that I feel I haven’t earned the position I have at work or awards I’ve won, etc. (There aren’t many.) I feel more afraid to pursue different interests or projects because I don’t feel like I’m “good enough.” Writing for this blog is actually a perfect example. I often feel guilty writing about yoga, mindfulness, gratitude, and self-improvement, which are the topics I primarily want to write about. As I write, however, I am filled with hesitation and self-doubt.
Who am I to preach to anyone else about these things? Even though I fully believe in the mindset and habits that I offer for others to practice, I am still not able to fully embody those values myself. I worry that by even discussing these topics I am misrepresenting myself to the people that read my blog. It makes me feel dirty and dishonest.
Somehow I’ve managed to push through that self-doubt here. I continue to write despite feeling like I should make myself perfect before opening my mouth and giving advice to others. I know that no matter how much I work on myself, I am never going to feel good enough, so fuck it. I’m not claiming to be an expert or that anyone should pay attention to the things I write. I have to remind myself of that fact often.
This mindset of self-doubt has kept me from pursing a lot of different projects in the past though. Whenever I would contemplate making a YouTube channel, for example. Or when I’ve considered trying to write a book, make a website, or start a podcast. I shoot myself down before I even get a chance to begin. I feel unworthy of the attention and potential praise these goals might bring me before I’ve even gotten them. I also tend to minimize anything I am really good at. If something comes easily to me or if I excel at a particular task, I insist that is just because it IS easy. I don’t feel I should get credit for doing something so simple, even if it’s not simple for most people.
I wanted to go to yoga teacher training for at least a year before I actually worked up the courage to do it. Even then it was only because a friend from work was going to the training. I knew my practice was more advanced than hers, so for the first time I thought that maybe I was ready to become a teacher. When I got to the actual training, to my great surprise, I had a far more advanced practice than anyone else there! It really made me wonder, if these people thought they were good enough, why didn’t I? Even now, teaching a class every Saturday, I still feel out of place and uncomfortable leading when I have so much doubt about my own ability.
I guess what it comes down to is a fear of being thought of as arrogant or conceited by others. We have no control over the way others perceive us though. It’s a waste of energy to worry about things like that. What’s important is that we’re doing our best. I’m not claiming to be perfect, and it’s not my responsibility if someone else misinterprets my intentions. All I can do is be who I am and have fun doing it.
Whether I like someone or not, it’s really important that they like me. I have an overwhelming desire to be liked by anyone and everyone I encounter. Even if I hate someone, I will be devastated if they hate me back. I really have no idea why I care. For the most part, I don’t like people anyway. Why does it matter so much to me whether or not I’m liked? Perhaps it has something to do with anxiety and my fear of confrontation. It does seem safer to be friends with everyone in that regard.
Today I’d rather talk about the problem with people pleasing in general rather than my own pathology. People pleasers like me try to become whoever they believe the other person would like them to be. Sounds simple enough. But how can any of us really know what someone else wants? We may spend years cramming ourselves into a false persona when the person we are doing it for would have preferred who we really are. Or maybe they secretly find us extremely annoying, but mask their true feelings out of politeness. No matter how hard you try or how “good” you become at winning people over, you can never really be sure of what someone else wants. Knowing this, your best bet is always to just be yourself. You’ll never be able to make everyone happy. But if you remain true to who you are, at the end of the day you’ll at least have your integrity.
Otherwise what happens when you are in a room full of people? Whose needs do you cater to? You may find that the person you are with friend X is someone that friend Y would utterly despise. Then what are you supposed to do? I suppose in that situation I choose the persona that fits more closely with who I really am. Any backlash from the other party is buffered by knowing that I have the friend I prefer there to have my back. Yet you always run the risk of being found out as “fake.”
That term always interests me. What does it really mean to be fake? I always hold true to my main beliefs no matter who I’m talking to. We all have slightly different versions of ourselves that we present for different situations or occasions. At what point does it become fake though? We all have to be a little fake in order to conform to societies standards.
The biggest issue my people pleasing has caused me is when it comes to my work. Social work is not a great field for people pleasers like me. No matter how atrocious the parents or clients I deal with are, I desperately want them to like me. I once brought cigarettes to an old man I worked with while he was in the hospital, because I was afraid he’d be mad at me if I didn’t. I really struggled the other day not to agree with this mom who was outraged that she got in legal trouble for giving her 10 year old daughter a tattoo! These types of situations are incredibly hard for me to navigate.
As someone who is probably on the autistic spectrum, I learn most of my interpersonal skills from direct observation. I think the only reason I’m as good at blending in as I am is because I watched so much TV growing up. It may not be the best reference for real life situations, but it does give you a good idea of how to talk to people in a wide variety of scenarios. I am always eager to observe someone else in a situation that I would have no idea how to respond to. Luckily I’ve gotten the chance to watch our therapist at the office for the last few years and learn from her. I would love to be a fly on the wall of her therapy sessions and meetings with the parents so that I could absorb even more.
At the end of the day, however, no one is going to be liked by everyone. No matter how good of a communicator you are. Eventually we all have to accept that we just aren’t going to get along with some people. Rather than continuing to practice the best ways to be liked and accepted by others, I’d like to spend some time finding out how to like and accept myself. Maybe ultimately that is what makes a people pleaser, someone who needs external reassurance in order to feel okay with themselves. Unfortunately any positive feedback rings hollow when you’re simply playing a role.
I realized that I prefer damaged people. People who have made mistakes. People who are still struggling. People who are like me. There is a bubble of tension that seems to burst when I am in the company of these people. I feel like I can breathe, like I don’t have to hide who I really am.
Around most people I feel like I am putting on a show. I play my character, repeat rehearsed lines, and smile wide. It’s not that I’m being completely fake. That character I play is made of parts of me. I just edit out all the parts I fear I’ll be judged for. Maybe everyone is doing this to an extent. But for me it feels like I spend the majority of my time in this character. It’s exhausting to be continuously moving these marionette strings.
When I find someone who I know has suffered or is currently suffering, I feel an immediate kinship with them. I gravitate towards these people. I feel comfortable around them. I feel like I can finally be myself without fear of judgement. I feel understood.
I wish I was able to feel this way all the time, with everyone I interact with. Maybe no one would look down on me or think critically of me if they knew who I am. But it’s that fear of not being understood that causes me to keep most people at an arm’s length. And while wearing this mask makes me feel more comfortable and safe, it also keeps me from truly connecting with the majority of the people in my life. It doesn’t really mean much if all the people that like you don’t really know you.