Must Be Seen As….

Centering and re-equilibrating

Centering and re-equilibrating

One of the reasons I started writing this blog is to make me talk about things that make me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  The vulnerability topic for today has to do with the need to be seen in a certain way.  Like most unconscious drivers, most of us at one point or another, feel we Must Be Seen As something – a terrific parent, sibling, son/daughter, husband/wife, employee, or attractive, smart, creative, sexy, competent, athletic, macho, responsible, logical, ethical, right, or perfect.  You name it.  Nothing wrong with this need, per se.  It’s very normal and can drive us to achieve.  Of course, problems may occur when someone or something threatens our self-perception.

How does this work?  So I have a need to be seen as a good mother and employee.  If someone criticizes my work performance or my kids, then my self-identity is threatened.  I have a choice to either cope constructively (see below) with my feelings of inadequacy, shame, embarrassment, or to go into denial and blame. If my self-image as a great mom is being threatened, I might blame or attack my kids or the messenger himself (you are stupid/unfair/unreasonable/bad), or maybe defend my kids (the other kid started it, she got what she deserved, he was just tired, there is an unreasonable amount of homework).  Conversely, I might just take it out on myself:  I’m a terrible person, I’m unworthy, no one will respect/love me, I’m a helpless victim, and so on.   If at work, I may use the same sort of self-justifications to protect my sacred self-image of the good employee, or merely indulge myself with a good round of self-hate and self pity.

So, does this behavior make me a better mom and employee?  Or worse?  Again, my fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

What Must You Be Seen As?  What happens when someone threatens to unravel your carefully protected self-image?  Do you go into self-hating mode or go into attack/blame mode?  How does it feel?  How do you act?

This awareness of our usual emotional and behavioral response is the first important step to managing our Must Be Seen As needs.  The Arbinger Institute refers to this dysfunctional reaction as going into, or being in, The Box.  Arbinger recommends we find out of Box space: a safe, calming person, place or thing that allows us to feel heard yet open to other perspectives and inputs. I have friends/loved ones that I go to who are supportive, honest and impartial, and who do not encourage my self-justifying behavior.  Even the memory of an aunt who showed me a great kindness when she didn’t have to is soothing.  I also treasure the time in my bathtub or at the river, or perhaps even just a quiet space where I can stop the chatter in my head as a means to restore me to my saner self.

Making a mistake does not make me a bad mom or employee.  It makes me human.  It makes me want to grow and improve.  It makes me realize that I used to make many more mistakes in the past and that I have improved over time.  It humbles me to realize that I have so much more to learn.   Reaching out to those I have mistreated because I’m in the Box is healing to us both.

I’m not saying it’s now easy to feel like a screw-up or failure.  I’m just saying that I’m less likely to go into or stay in that space for long if I own my need that I Must Be Seen As.   And that, my friends, is freeing.

My Age, My Asset

I made the mistake of looking at myself in the mirror during aerobics class.  Chicken wings, muffin top, apple-shape.  Sounds like a smorgasbord, instead of the effects of one too many.

My self-esteem is as good as the next woman, but sometimes I can’t help but cringe when I look in the mirror.   We always hear about the unrealistic expectations of beauty we have that are perpetuated by the media.  I have been no exception to that influence, as you’ve probably figured.  It was much worse for me when I was a teen and young woman than it is now.   I know better, now that I am in my ripe middle age, that these supermodel images are not reasonable standards. That doesn’t stop me from going there sometimes.

Wrinkles, grey hair, double chin, cellulite.

Young men and women these days still seem to have especially high standards for their appearance.    I guess when you’re at your physical peak, it’s natural to have really high expectations.  The problem is, those expectations too easily become unrealistic.  So when young people should most be enjoying their Aphrodite- and Adonis-ness, they are spending their time feeling inadequate.  What a waste of an opportunity to be vain.

“Youth is wasted on the young” – Mark Twain.

Therefore, I wish to tell all the young people I meet  to enjoy their youthful beauty while it last.  Be proud of it!  Wear fun, flirty clothes while you have the figure and the youth.  Enjoy your strength, your good health, your beautiful, full head of hair and skin.  All too soon, it’ll be gone and you’re going to long for that level of imperfection.

Sagging, age spots, dry hair.

As I was bemoaning my lost youthful perfection when I was in my 30’s, it dawned on me that I was making the same mistake I made when I was in my 20’s.   I realized that I would never be satisfied with my appearance if all I did was compare myself to some unreasonable standard (supermodel, 20 year old).  Instead, I should have considered how I was looking pretty good for my age, or even better, compared to a 40 year old.  To only focus on my shortcomings  ensured a constant feeling of inadequacy.

I can make a better choice.

Wisdom, smile lines, inner beauty.

We don’t have to be slaves to our and society’s unrealistic expectations.  We don’t have to constantly focus on what we lack or how we don’t measure up.  We can choose our own perspective and our own reality, and focus instead on what we have to offer.   I now choose to see myself as looking pretty good for a 40-something, and really fantastic compared to a 50-something.  Thirty-somethings are for 20-somethings to compare themselves to; those beautiful creatures not on my yardstick.  I choose as my role models the gorgeous older female celebrities who have chosen to stay real:  Jamie Lee Curtis and Susan Sarandon.

Confidence, poise, character, style.

There are advantages to showing my age.  My grey hair is my platinum highlights, and they don’t cost me $75 at the salon.  I can afford $75 at the salon if I choose to make a change, and I now have the confidence to dye my hair purple if I want.  I don’t feel the need to dress or act to conform to some external standard.     I understand that beauty comes from within and feel confident enough to share that part of myself with others.  I know to look for that inner beauty in others as well.  The reality of my chicken wings?  Well, maybe I should stay in the back row of the aerobics class.

silver sneakers

Aging gracefully