Our deepest fear is that if we reveal our true selves we will be rejected.
Our society encourages this anxiety by bombarding us with tons of glossy magazines claiming to have the secret to perfection: perfect beauty, perfect fitness, perfect diet, perfect relationships.
What message does this send? That if we fail to achieve these things, that’s what we are: failures. Unworthy of attention, unworthy of love.
So we feel the need to cover ourselves in layers of protection: foundation, mascara, blush, lipstick…if we had portable airbrushes we’d likely be constantly glossing ourselves over, too. Like a little magic force field to keep away judgement. (Friends who know I’ve never been much of a makeup girl will hopefully forgive me this cosmetic analogy!) We are afraid that if we let our weakness show through the cracks, we’ll be turned away. Not good enough. Alone.
In fact, this false veneer of perfection forms a wall that keeps others out. The pretence of having no real problems intimidates and alienates others, because everyone has some kind of struggle, and wants to be understood, not judged. Being unwilling to reveal ourselves to others makes us unsafe for others to be honest with us, and blocks the development of authentic friendship, which is based on loving acceptance and trust.
Instead of acknowledging our weaknesses and mistakes, and trying to improve and make amends, we deny them, suppress them, and inadvertently, trap them within ourselves. This makes us feel worse then ever. And carrying all this heavy baggage makes us even more afraid to be discovered. We are haunted by all the skeletons hidden in our closet, if you’ll forgive me the cliché. We become like Scrooge’s partner Marley, who is weighed down by the chains of his guilt for past mistakes. Having never acknowledged his faults and made amends, he is frozen in regret.
I always tell my kids that it’s better to be honest and admit they messed up, than to pretend they didn’t make a mistake. My three year old interprets this in a funny way sometimes:
Me: “Who cut a hole in this?”
Her: “Not me. It was my hand that did it with scissors.”
Me: “Can you please tell your hands not to do this again?”
Her: “It wasn’t the one hand–it was playing Lego–only the other hand.”
Me: “Well, you’re in charge so tell that hand not to do it again.”
It’s natural to deflect the blame, especially when you’re three, but the mature thing is to fess up.
Even though it’s humbling and hard, saying sorry it’s actually very freeing, both for ourselves and the one we apologize to. We can let go of guilt and they of resentment. Truth gives us a fresh start and wipes the slate clean: it is lies that trap us in chains. We have a hard time believing this, because our society can be very harsh and judgemental, and the media loves to glorify the gory details of people’s mistakes. Thank goodness I’m not famous and subject to that!
Sometimes we project our human pettiness onto the divine. We imagine some kind of Zeus waiting in the clouds, ready to zap us if we don’t hide under a bush after making a mistake. But I think this is our biggest mistake–not realizing that we can reveal our true selves and still be loved. That we can always start over again and again, and that the only real failure is giving up on ourselves.
For me, when I apologize after messing up, instead of a thunderbolt, I hear a gentle voice of love. Here’s my interior conversation:
Me: “Hi God. I’m sorry. I messed up again.”
God: “It’s ok, I know.”
Me: “I was trying but…I guess I’m still me, and I just manage to screw things up sometimes.”
God: “I know, and I’m still me, so I still love you.
Me: “Thanks for loving me no matter what. You are amazing.”
God: “And so are you. I made you remember? Don’t give up on yourself. I never have.”
I think if we can rest in the assurance of being loved exactly as we are, we can have the strength and hope to struggle to keep growing, and become even better. This is what true love is, what true friendship is: it inspires us to become the best person we can be. So listen to that cheesy eighties song, and let your true colours come shining through, cause they’re beautiful.