Isn’t it always surprising when one hears about a friend, acquaintance, neighbor, who one day, all-of-a-sudden, unravels? The comments that often ensue are along the lines of, “I never would have expected … She seemed to have everything together … He was so helpful at the last fundraiser … They didn’t air their dirty laundry”. (OK, that last one might not apply in our society as much anymore, but you get the point)
The point is: how much do we really know about anyone else’s experience? We make all sorts of assumptions and come to build expectations on future behavior based on past interactions, but we tend to forget about this thing called a public persona. Almost never are we correct when we apply our own theories to what’s going on in someone else’s life or home based only on what they show us in public. Even close friends who think they have been trusted into the inner circle often don’t have a clear picture.
Every day I see individuals, couples or families who tell one story “in public” yet an entirely different one is playing behind the scenes. There are secrets almost everywhere. The amount of disordered behavior going on behind closed doors is staggering. But what people choose to show the public, well that looks pretty good most of the time.
I worry that our society’s hyper focus on how things look on the outside is having serious negative rebound on our inner lives. Daily, I hear lovely people talk about amazing amounts of fear, shame, guilt, struggling every day under the pressure to keep up the appearance that everything is OK when in reality they are in such pain, it’s heartbreaking. Just because your child’s clothes are new and matching and the latest style, it doesn’t mean that they have a happy home life. Just because your house has 5 bedrooms and a BMW in the driveway it doesn’t mean that you have financial stability. Just because you can fit into a size 0 designer dress it doesn’t mean that you have healthy eating or exercise habits.
I hear both sides pour out their fears and pain every day. The size 0 is really bulimic because their grandfather molested them, the big house is mortgaged 3x and the savings account has $32.00 in it and the financial shell game is killing them so they hide behind half-gallons of vodka in the trunk of the car. The perfectly dressed children go home to fighting and screaming and dinner thrown against the wall. And the neighbors beat themselves up because their house needs painting and they drive an older car, but maybe their inner world is more balanced and peaceful, no dinners being thrown, a healthy savings account, and they’re down 5 pounds with help from Weight Watchers.
Appearances are deceiving. Since when did accountability become a bad word? Being humble and decent and flawed seems intolerable to so many these days. But the inner pressure to keep up might be doing far more harm than we can even begin to know.
So the next time your inner voice starts beating yourself up when you compare your style, house, car, fashion to someone else’s, pause a moment and wonder just how much you don’t really know. Let’s all be a bit more gentle on ourselves and on each other and maybe we’ll see less unraveling.