Up On A Pedestal

You’ve never had delusions of perfection, or you’ve given them up some time ago. Bravo! But what about your perception of perfection in others?

I know that no one believes that others are incapable of mistakes. That’s not the kind of perfection I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind where one believes that another is lacking in character flaws, is a super star, and/or somehow manages to explain away ongoing, egregious behavior. It’s also the kind of perfection that leads one to believe that someone else is better or more important than they are.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with giving your loved ones the benefit of the doubt and seeing their best side every day. I’m all for that. But putting someone up on a pedestal means being blind to their shortcomings as well as their needs.   For example, if I can’t see the shortcomings of my best friend, then I won’t be positioned to help her when she is open, receptive, or even asking to make a change. If she’s “perfect as she is” then I may not believe that she has any room for growth and may unintentionally discourage that growth. In contrast, believing she is “awesome as she is” allows room for growth.

Another way that the pedestal can be a bad for relationships is that it may be a barrier to real intimacy. For example, if you cannot see or understand the things that I struggle with, we can only communicate on a superficial level. I know that it feels gratifying to vilify your friend’s boyfriend when she complains about him. But when the same pattern emerges repeatedly over time and across the different men that she has dated, reinforcing her belief that it’s always someone else’s fault is not helpful.

Another example of pedestal behavior is viewing the other through the lens of who you think they are. I once had a friend who frequently said, “You must think that I’m….” even though I assured her repeatedly that I did not think that way. This type of behavior is a barrier to intimacy because she would not see who I really was, but rather she chose to see me only as she wished to see me.

The pedestal may include viewing another as a super-human who can handle and excel at the impossible and who doesn’t need any help or time off. I have seen this pedestal belief result in completely unrealistic expectations of another. For example, a superstar may be expected to take on an unreasonable load at work, home or school, without any help, sympathy or support. Again, this belief fails to see the person for who they truly are and stands in the way of an intimate relationship.

I’m not at all suggesting that we look for or focus on the flaws or limitations of our loved ones. Rather, I’m suggesting that we:

  • Stay open, curious, and nonjudgmental to whatever struggles, virtues, vices, and achievements that our loved ones bring to us
  • Be supportive without being critical or dismissive
  • Listen carefully when they share their true selves
  • Avoid giving advice unless asked (unlike this blog, but I assume you’re reading of your own volition)
  • View the relationship as a partnership, with both parties having equal standing

If you are lucky enough to have someone who is that special in your life, then do your part to see them for who they are. That super star may not need much, except a sympathetic ear and someone who understands them, flaws and all.

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