Mandy has been working in the mental health field for more than eight years and has worked with a diverse group of clients. These range ...Read More
It worries me, it really really worries me. We go about our daily routines with a heavy load in our minds. It might be to do with losing weight, getting older, being lonely, family dilemmas, stagnant career progression, debt problems or any one of a myriad of troubles that life lands in our “deal with this challenge” inbox. Yet, despite all this stuff that exists below the surface, when someone says, “How are you?”, we are most likely to say “I’m fine!”. Now, I get that it would be odd if we went around complaining and wallowing in self pity all day long. Who would want to be around that? But there is going to be a downside to all this suppression, denial and other defense mechanisms that we all employ to help us cope with our daily lot.
We do our best to avoid dealing with the discomfort that is a natural part of being human. We use avoidant coping to deal with challenges in life. Long term denial can lead to self sabotage and an inability to know what is real and what is fabricated. We justify all sorts of things to ourselves in order to live a life as free of internal conflict as possible (see my blog post on cognitive dissonance).
Sure, we can try to dismiss our thoughts and be more aware when we are using cognitive distortions such as catastrophising, negative filters, personalising or black & white thinking in order to minimise the emotional impact of too much pretending but I have witnessed, over and over again, clients trying too hard to explain away life challenges that cannot effectively be explained away. Typical symptoms of too much pretending:
Do you display any of these behaviours listed below?
1) Weight gain or weight loss
2) Road rage
3) Projecting anger and insults onto others ie. internet trolls/bigots/narrow minded people
4) Easily angered by minor events
5) Addictions such as gambling, smoking, drugs, alcohol, excessive shopping, excessive pornography/sex, excessive exercise…
6) Frustration at the success of others
7) Withdrawal, anxiety and/or depression
8) Being excessively busy/finding it difficult to spend time alone
9) Lack of self awareness
10) Lack of self efficacy
11) Excessive unrealistic self belief
12) Emotionally unavailable
Too much pretending is inadvertently encouraged in school. Being two faced and appeasing the company you are with is what many kids do in order to be popular. Fit in, don’t be different and definitely don’t be yourself – these are messages that modern school dynamics unwittingly teach. Schools are like acting academies. You learn to do what you must to not be bullied, not stand out and to be popular. It’s just “not in” to tell others you don’t like something that goes against the consensus…and so the conditioning begins.
Counteracting too much pretending
Learn to express yourself and talk about your feelings. When someone asks how you are, you don’t need to give them your life story but if you aren’t “fine”, say so. If the person doesn’t really want to know the answer, they shouldn’t ask you.
Accept that being human means experiencing hurt, self doubt and sadness sometimes. Being happy and elated are also part of being human – we should embrace both equally.