"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Fear of Being Found Out

How harmful to my health is my fear of being found out? I wonder what it would be like if you could quantify the extent to which our fear of being exposed burdens us and drains us (I'm visualizing the scene from The Princess Bride in which future years of Wesley's life are being "sucked away"). This question came to me while running, probably because I was thinking about how while exercise energizes, it also depletes (especially considering I was running up a fairly steep hill at the time).

Emotional/mental stress—in addition to physical—is draining. Pressures like work, family, deadlines, projects, money, conflict, etc all can have the effect of sapping one’s energy, one’s spirit (which of course affects the body as well). I wonder specifically about the fear of being “found out” or revealed. Having the truth of who we are exposed. I think this phenomenon takes different forms in different people, but my assumption is that most people deal with this “stressor” in some way. That is, the stress derived from the fact that who we actually are may not exactly match who we want to be and how we want to be perceived…and that people are going to find out.

Maybe it has to do with appearance, and so we dress a certain way to hide our imperfections. Maybe it’s some kind of awareness, and so we act like we know about something happening in the political or entertainment world, lest we appear out-of-touch. Maybe it’s listening, and so we pretend like we heard someone, for fear that we’ll seem disrespectful and unreliable if they realize we didn’t hear them. Maybe it’s clever conversational maneuvering when we’re obviously wrong, where we try to twist the discussion in a way that makes us think we’re showing the person that we are actually right, just in a different way (“that’s what I meant!” or “I know” or “right, that’s what I was saying when…”).

Maybe this thing, whatever it is—lack of authenticity, insecurity, a need to prove ourselves, the desire to be respected—comes out in the various facets of life. Perhaps we hide our mistakes at work to appear competent and not threaten our livelihood or potential advancement. Perhaps we are fearful in school when a subject is being discussed we know little about that we’re actually behind the curve and thus don’t really have what it takes to be successful. Perhaps we don’t admit our failures in marriage because humility often feels uncomfortable and we don’t want to give someone power over us.

Maybe this thing happens in religious culture, where it seems there could be a lot of pressure to “be” a certain way. You’re not feeling what the pastor tells you that you should be feeling? “Fake it ‘til you make it,” a friend once said, describing his church experience. You’re bearing the weight of “sins” you feel like you can’t admit because even though people tell you it’s safe, you’re worried they’ll judge you and look at you differently, maybe even exclude you. You’re surrounded by a certain way of speaking, praying, a certain level of enthusiasm, a particular personality type, a particular form of self-expression, so you try to adapt to that particular religious culture so as not to seem “behind” and, in so doing, lose that sense of “come as you are,” replaced by “act like you think you’re expected to act.”

It seems there are a lot of instances in life where people feel like they have to in some sense “hide” themselves, because they think what’s there is unattractive, unlikable, inadequate. We may not have what it takes, and we don’t want others to know we don’t have what it takes. We may be embarrassed, and we don’t want to feel those emotions. We may hurt someone, and we don’t want to hurt anybody. We may have to reveal to the world that we’re actually not as smart, attractive, skilled, virtuous, reliable, or competent as we want them to think we are…and that we’re actually very fallible, weak, filled with contradictions, unrefined, unskilled, and limited. And maybe we don’t want to admit that to ourselves or anyone else.

And so many of us (though maybe not you) live in a certain amount of fear, the fear of being exposed. People might find out we really don’t have the waistline our clothes make it seem we do. Or that we lack some basic life skill that for whatever reason we never really picked up. Or that we aren’t really that familiar with that one hip but not yet overly popular band's music. Or that we don’t really understand more than basic, surfacy arguments for why one economic theory is better than the other when we make our pronounced political statements on Facebook. Or that we are severely addicted to some vice we can't give up (and, maybe worse, don't really want to give up). Or that we aren’t really that patient or peaceful of a person even though we can hold it together for a while in public but then start to crack once you’ve hung out with us for a while and gotten to see a fuller picture of our true character. Or that we don't know the answer, or a lot of the answers.

Inauthenticity. Not letting others see the real us. I wonder how much healthier we would be if we didn’t live with this kind of fear. I wonder how much healthier our relationships would be if we didn’t live with this kind of fear. I wonder how much freer we’d be. I wonder what is more damaging to life-long health: smoking cigarettes, eating too much sugar, or hiding.

1 comment:

Jeff Borden said...

The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner ...wonderful book.