The image you’re projecting may be preventing you from getting the resources and attention you need to create true happiness.
Are you pretending that you’re happy? Putting on a bright face and a smile for the world, when in fact you’re anywhere from vaguely dissatisfied to desperately distraught?
I’ve been in this place, in both my personal and professional life, and while faking happiness can make you feel like you’re presenting your best self to the world, it puts you and the people out there who can help you at a deep disadvantage. I lived through a 15-year dysfunctional marriage that had its bright spots but was, in retrospect, an unqualified disaster. And nearly no one knew. I worked at a job I found dull and unfulfilling and that I should have left years before I was let go from it—and nearly no on knew. I have a friend whose marriage I thought was perfect (because he never let on), until I learned one day it was a dysfunctional, horrific mess. I suspect you all have stories like this, stories and suppressed feelings that no one or if anyone, only your loved ones or closest friends know about. Our sense of shame can be so powerful that it stops us cold from admitting we’ve gotten into an unhealthy situation, become stuck in a dead end, or are just miserably unhappy.
Here’s the thing. It’s fine to have a positive attitude about adversity, to take on struggles and challenges with faith you’ll overcome them, and to steer clear of victim mentality and cynicism. But projecting happiness, satisfaction, success, and fulfillment when you don’t feel these things has the inverse effect of what you intend. You’re worried that people won’t like you if you’re unhappy, if you tell them about your problems, if you admit you feel like you’re drowning or failing, if you come to them with wants and needs. But if everything is always fine—even better than fine—people will mostly ignore you, or at least not worry about you, and focus their time and energy on their friends who are going through something and need support and assistance. Your false projection of emotional stability and well-being leaves no room for anyone to be aware of your real worries, concerns, frustrations, and challenges, much less to help you with them.
Owning up to your failures and sharing them with the world as learning experiences, is the only way to grow. And it’s the only way to let the world know you’re in need of the nutrients, light, and care that will enable you to thrive. If you make your choices to stay in a relationship, continue in a job, or just act a certain way around other based on what others think, you’ll never honor your true self, and neither will anyone else, because they’ll never have a chance to know that self, to experience the real, human, imperfect you.
If people walk away when you share your challenges and frustrations with them, they aren’t your real friends or supporters. They’re takers who ride on your projection of energy, even as you feel utterly depleted. Being there for you when you’re suffering or down or just not perky is the test of true friendship.
So I encourage you, I urge you, to come forward with your complaints, your disappointments, your dismay, your loss of faith in yourself, someone else, all of humanity—or whatever it is that you’re experiencing. Because the truth is it’s all normal, and you’re not alone. Everyone experiences some form of it, but most people pretend they’re not.
Once you open up, the shame vanishes. You can breathe again. And things actually start to change, because you’re finally allowing that change and making room for it.
It’s such a relief to be real with someone who says, “Really? Me, too.”