A friend of mine called me to confide in me about how she was struggling in her marriage, and after listening to her story and meeting it with compassion instead of the judgment she feared, I confessed that my marriage wasn’t going so well either. I shared with her the struggles Matt and I have been dealing with for several years now, and her response was, “I would never have guessed that in a million years. You two just seem so perfect together.”
A week later, the same friend called to tell me that she had finally opened up to a few other friends about her marital struggles, and lo and behold, every single one of them had confided in her about their own marital struggles. She said, “Lissa, why have I not known I wasn’t alone? Why have I been suffering, thinking I was the only one whose marriage was screwed up, when I’m surrounded by people I love who are going through the same thing?” We pinky promised to talk openly with people about the ways in which the “perfect” image others might have of us is complete BS.
I was talking to another friend who is also going through a rocky patch in her marriage, and she was telling me how much it pains her to drop off her kids at school and see all the happy mothers with perfect families. I told her all she’d have to do is dig one layer deep to find some way in which everyone in the school yard was suffering in at least a small way. The ruse is the lie that leaves us all thinking everyone else has it together- except us.
Earlier this week, I posted this on Facebook:
I grow tired of people who are so invested in their image that they pretend to live perfect lives, which only leads others to compare themselves and judge themselves as not perfect enough by comparison. Why can’t we all just admit that we’re perfectly imperfect- and that our imperfections and scars make us beautiful and unique and relatable? Just in case I’ve pulled the wool over your eyes, I am FAR from perfect. I’m in marriage counseling. I have hairs on my chin and stretch marks on my butt. I battle my own ego. I can be bossy and demanding. I have to tame my ambition to avoid being a workaholic. So please don’t put me on a pedestal, and please don’t put yourself on one either, since it only distances you from those who would connect more if only they knew that you were as beautifully flawed as they are. Tell us one thing about you that keeps you off the pedestal- one perfectly imperfect way thing that makes you real!
213 of you beautiful people revealed who you really are in response to the invitation. (You can read the awesome responses and add your own here.) Reading everyone’s responses just left me feeling so connected, so understood, so accepted, in spite of my flaws and growth edges. It makes me sad to think about how much of my life I wasted feeling lonely and disconnected because I was too busy trying to project some sick, twisted image of perfection. I was so afraid people would reject me if only they knew who I really was that I presented this sanitized version of myself in order to try to please people. Of course, it backfired. Not until I finally stripped off the masks and revealed who I really am under the false image I was projecting did I actually start to attract the love and acceptance I so desperately desired.
I’ve written a lot about the poison of perfectionism. (Read The Pressure To Be Perfect, 5 Tips To Help You Recover From Perfectionism, The Dark Side of Perfect, and Permission To Be Imperfect). I think I keep writing about it because giving myself permission to be imperfect is a constant practice. I try, but then I forget, and I slip into old patterns. We really do teach what we need to learn, and being a recovering perfectionist is no easy feat.
I used to think that my perfectionist tendencies drove me to be a better person. Now, looking back, I realize that all they did was imprison me in a fortress of loneliness and “never good enough.” It’s so much more liberating to be able to say to myself what I’ve always tried to say to those I love- “I see that you screwed up. I know that you’re trying to do better. But I love and accept you just as you are right now, and I don’t need you to be anything other than who you are.” Phew. What a relief.
Imagine if we all stripped off our masks. Imagine if we said, “To hell with being polite; we’re just going to be real.” Imagine if, instead of lying and saying, “Fine” when someone asks how you are, you could honestly say, “I just got my heart broken and it hurts. Plus, I just took a creative risk, and I failed. But thank God the apples are ripe and sweet and make the most luscious sound when they fall to the ground at harvest time.” Wouldn’t that make your days so much more interesting?
It’s sad that we make ourselves so heartbreakingly lonely by thinking that we’re not like the others, when the others- they are all just like us. As I was thinking about this, I came across this Timothy Leary quote shared on Facebook by my friend Glennon, and it perfectly expresses what I was just feeling. Basically, there’s no such thing as “normal people” because they’re all just like you, only some are playing the game more than others. When you release that illusion of separation, the loneliness just dissolves…
“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “have a nice day” and “weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?” Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…”
Will you be brave enough to be yourself, to strip off at least some of your masks, to reveal to us who you really are? Will you tell us one imperfect thing others might not know about you? Can you look at your imperfections without shaming yourself over them? If you can’t do it publicly here, will you commit to finding even one person you trust and telling him or her? Every single one of us has something we wish others would never find out. But until you tell us what it is, how can we prove to you that not only will we love you anyway, but that we’ll actually love you MORE?
To those of you who are already living out loud, high fives and HALLELUJAHS. To those who are still hiding behind masks hoping others won’t find out that you’re imperfect, will you join us and stop pretending to be someone you’re not so we can see that really, you’re one of us?
We’re all in this human thing together, my dear. And we’re all just trying to do the best we can…
Loving you just as you are,
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.