What makes you afraid?
Is it heights? (Count me in…) Could it be spiders or snakes? Being called on to read in class when you were a kid – or put on the spot even now to give an opinion?
Maybe you’re socially anxious; everyone else seems so comfortable with themselves and the thought of going to a gathering where you’re not sure who you’ll know makes you want to throw up. So you’ll find a reason why you can’t attend. Pretty soon you know you’ll run out of reasons to avoid parties or get-togethers. But you tell yourself, “I’ll go next time.” And you promise yourself you will.
And the next time never comes.
Maybe you’ve been deeply hurt after your partnership ended and are afraid your vulnerability will show. You’ve heard your ex is out having a wonderful time and seems better off out of the relationship. Or you’re divorced and you don’t know how many people believe the horrible things your ex is saying about you. So, you begin watching Netflix non-stop or use your children’s activities as a way to “keep so busy I just don’t have time” to do other things. Gradually, those children become the only life you have. You seem happy – devoted to your role as a parent.
You’re far from happy.
Maybe you don’t want to see people because you look in the mirror every morning and begin the self-loathing monologue that your therapist says is something else you should stop doing. But you’re struggling to stop; that belittling voice has become the first one you hear. It’s familiar. It almost keeps you safe – or feels as if it does. That shameful voice may be familiar but your therapist is right. You know she’s right. But what in the hell else is there to believe but what that insidious voice has to say?
You can’t find any particularly kind thing to say about yourself that you truly believe. So you scroll or you blindly go through your morning routine – it’s too hard to change.
Maybe you strap on a smile when you head to work and know you’re going to use every ounce of strength you have to stay in tight emotional control. And you do. Day after day. You totally avoid looking nonplussed or confused. You must have the answers; you must look the part. You must exceed what others expect of you.
And you must never let anyone see just how lonely you are, even when you’re surrounded by those who truly care about you.
What seems to be is so often… not what it seems to be.
The Power of “Seems”
And yet, we believe our projections onto others as if they’re true.
Everyone but me seems comfortable.
Everyone but me can create a really great relationship or can weather being hurt and seem to jump right back into life.
Everyone but me has self-discipline and if they set a goal, they seem to be able to stick with it.
And the last one?
I can’t let anyone know what’s really going on with me, because I must appear – I must seem – to be great. Even if I’m secretly bombarded with thoughts of wanting to simply disappear. To vanish. Or to end my life.
So, you could be projecting your own beliefs onto someone else – believing the evidence you present yourself instead of challenging your assumptions and finding out if your assumptions and projections are accurate.
They’re better. They’re comfortable. They don’t have any struggles.
That’s not simply wrong. It’s a bunch of bull.
It’s true of course that someone else may not struggle with the same things you do. So, if you compare yourself to them, you’ll come up with the short end of the stick.
But if I’ve learned one thing as therapist, it’s that everyone – e v e r y o n e – has struggles that they are dealing with.
Or, as in perfectly hidden depression, you could be trying to control things from the other end – going through intense maneuvers to attempt to control what others know about you or how you “seem” to them.
And that, my friends, is a set-up for intense loneliness and despair. Because if you’re too good at it (which some people are), people will think they know you. But they don’t.
And that’s very lonely.
What’s the answer?
Three steps to help you challenge your beliefs…
- Catch your assumptions. Sometimes, you can make them so easily that they’re hard to catch. Slow down your thoughts and really take an objective look at them.
- Challenge those assumptions. Do you have someone on a pedestal? And what makes it true that you have absolutely no strengths?
- Actively say aloud another belief. (so you can hear it) “I”m not the only one at this party who’s nervous.” “I can take one small step at a time back into the world, even though I’ve forgotten how to ‘be single.’ “It’s not that I don’t have self-discipline, and that voice is unkind. I don’t want to be unkind to myself today or any other day.”
And all of you who want to control how you seem to others?
Here’s what those three ideas would sound like for you.
- Catch your assumptions. “My worth lies in what I get done today.”
- Challenge your assumptions. “My value is not in what I do but who I am – and who I actually am. I am lovable the way I am. I can get things done – and well – but that doesn’t define me any more than what I know my struggles are.”
- Say your new belief out loud. “I can be known for who I am. All of me. And I will not need to disappear. Because I will feel connected in a deep way to those I trust.”
You can change that boulder of self-doubt that’s lodged in your heart and mind.
One assumption and projection at a time.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
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