My recent post on compassion fatigue and martyrdom pulled the curtain back on a few of my less-than sparkly thoughts and feelings. It pushed me to drop my party face; that shiny, polished, put-together image that I like to trot out in public situations. Publishing that post was terrifying and had all my slimy green monsters of self-doubt yelling at a piercing decibel “STOP! Or you’ll PUKE!”.
I posted anyways. And my keyboard is fine.
My green monsters of self-doubt were silenced by the waves of positive and affirming feedback from friends and strangers. I soaked in the loving vibes and ego-booting compliments for three glorious weeks.
The other day Patricia, an insightful womyn and thoughtful nurse, mentioned to me a subtle theme she had noticed in her own thinking as she responded to my post. Now that it is week four and I have gently returned to earth after a stint amongst the clouds, I could heard it too. It was emerging in a number of comments like this one:
“I had no idea you felt that way! You are always so patient and together. I thought it was just me that felt frazzled and cranky.”
Sound familiar? Have you ever looked at someone, their work, their accomplishments, their relationships, and thought with awe (and perhaps a little bit of spite), “They have it all together and I’m a hurricane of procrastination, exhaustion and inner turmoil”?
I sure have.
Gazing at people I admire I believe in their party face. From the outside looking in, I accept that their public self is their true, complete, pulled-together, daily self. I watch with amazement as they seemingly float through life and I tell myself that their reality, unlike mine, must be soaked in enlightenment.
In contrast, I know my own internal world in gritty detail, with all of its petty thoughts and shaky self doubt. I see my own faults with exacting clarity and from the inside looking out, I assume that everyone else can also see my wobbly self confidence and crabby attitudes.
I call this thinking outside in - inside out. The whole process only takes a moment, but in its wake I am often left paralyzed, believing that I’ll never measure up in comparison to everyone else.
It’s this outside in - inside out comparison that Patricia and I were hearing underneath the compliments. Over the last three weeks I’ve seen too many people offer me lovely words and then sigh, look into the distance and visibly deflate under the pressure of this comparison.
This comparison is a nasty mind trick we’re playing on ourselves. We can only ever know someone else from the outside, where we enjoy a panoramic view of a person, based solely upon what they choose to share with us. The sticky details of their lives are blurry and some parts, the ones many of us carefully tuck out of sight, are lost to the haze of distance.
In contrast, we always know ourselves from the inside, including all the up-close details of each crusty bad mood and surly thought. These two perspectives are created by vastly different sets of information, yet we mistakenly equate our long distance view of someone else with our zoomed in perspective of ourselves. It’s like comparing a rose bush with a single flower: only at close proximity can we see the thorns.
If we’re all crumbling beneath the weight of outside in - inside out thinking, who’s going to get on with work of making peace a verb? Believing that our distanced view of someone is accurate and comparing ourselves to this glossy perspective is dangerous. We smooth over each others’ struggles, while harshly judging ourselves. It fools us into believing that we are hopelessly lacking. We loose faith in our capacities. Sighing deeply, we step back and leave the work to someone else.
Let’s make a deal. I will keep sharing posts like this, despite the nausea and risk to my keyboard, that pull back my party face and gives you a glimpse of my icky green monsters of self doubt.
In return, we all have to practice naming outside in - inside out thinking when it starts to crush us and we have to practice remembering that behind every shiny, admirable person there is a real humyn struggling through moments of frustration, irritation and exhaustion just like we are.
I don’t think the world needs more glossed-over heroes.
We need more real people that wrestle with all the sticky, humyn details of living.
We need us.
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