People love to pretend. We pretend all sorts of things like knowing what we're talking about and knowing what we're doing, like knowing what happened in the past and knowing what's going to happen in the future. We pretend things don't bother us, when they do. We pretend we aren't late, when we are. (Ask someone who is late if they are late and watch what they do.) We pretend we have more income than we do, and we end up in debt.
Ask someone who IS late if they ARE late and watch what they do.
But what's worse is we love to pretend that we're not pretending! We often go to amazing lengths not to admit it. Likely, the reason for this behavior stems from our innate needs to “look good” and to “be right,” no matter the cost. Even if intellectually we know that the truth will set us free, it doesn't seem to make a difference in having us fess up. We'd rather pretend to look good than to tell the truth.
One of my favorite pretense stories is of a man who, as a teenager, pretended he was sick one day so he could stay home from school to hang out with his girlfriend. He moaned and groaned and said his stomach hurt, when it didn't.
His parents, believing his pretense, were so concerned that they took him to the emergency room. There, for fear of getting in trouble, he continued his pretense, and was promptly diagnosed with appendicitis. Rather than admit he was pretending, rather than look bad, this young man actually went under the knife! The costs associated with having the unnecessary surgery were not enough for him to outweigh looking good, so he didn't tell the truth. And off to the operating room he went.
Inside his body cavity, the doctors found his appendix to be un-inflamed. However, they removed it anyway, since they were already in there, and they sewed him back up. The whole thing was medically chalked up to bad gas.
For decades, the man kept this secret. He never told anyone the real reason he had his appendix taken out, or the part about the bad gas. In order keep up the pretense, he'd tell people the whole story, including all the juicy details: He had to have his appendix taken out because he'd gotten so sick one day that he had to be rushed to the hospital. And then he'd “proudly” show off his scar.
All the while, though, his self-esteem was taking a hit. Every time the word appendix came up, every time surgeries, emergency rooms, hospitals, doctors, staying home from school, or scars came up, he'd feel the shame of his pretense. Still, the cost of that shame was not enough to make him quit pretending.
He'd feel the shame of his pretense, but yet, the cost of that shame was still not enough to make him quit pretending.
It wasn't until decades later at a weekend workshop, where he was learning how much people love to pretend, that he finally admitted the truth. And the reason he did it? He was willing to tell a room full of strangers his big secret because he was sure that his was the biggest pretense in the whole room, and that would make him look really good!
To his surprise, finally acknowledging the truth set him free. He no longer felt shame, his integrity was restored, and his honesty made him look good -- genuinely good.
To me, the saddest thing about loving our pretenses so much is that we really believe they make us look good. From the outside, from the perspective of others, what truly makes us look good is when we are honest and authentic and can be trusted to tell the truth. Even when it's hard.
What are you pretending? Have you pretended it long enough?
Caren Field (MA, LLPC) is a professional individual and couples counselor with a Master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and has been in private practice since 2007. Her latest project, a series of workshops called Liberating with Honor, is designed to teach people how to heal themselves (and others) from past injures and how to set themselves free!
Register for the LWH workshops via teleconference HERE.