solitude

A friend of mine called me to confide in me about how she was struggling in her marriage, and after listening to her story and meeting it with compassion instead of the judgment she feared, I confessed that my marriage wasn’t going so well either.  I shared with her the struggles Matt and I have been dealing with for several years now, and her response was, “I would never have guessed that in a million years. You two just seem so perfect together.”

A week later, the same friend called to tell me that she had finally opened up to a few other friends about her marital struggles, and lo and behold, every single one of them had confided in her about their own marital struggles. She said, “Lissa, why have I not known I wasn’t alone? Why have I been suffering, thinking I was the only one whose marriage was screwed up, when I’m surrounded by people I love who are going through the same thing?” We pinky promised to talk openly with people about the ways in which the “perfect” image others might have of us is complete BS.

I was talking to another friend who is also going through a rocky patch in her marriage, and she was telling me how much it pains her to drop off her kids at school and see all the happy mothers with perfect families. I told her all she’d have to do is dig one layer deep to find some way in which everyone in the school yard was suffering in at least a small way. The ruse is the lie that leaves us all thinking everyone else has it together- except us.

Show Us Your Imperfections. I Dare You.

Earlier this week, I posted this on Facebook:

I grow tired of people who are so invested in their image that they pretend to live perfect lives, which only leads others to compare themselves and judge themselves as not perfect enough by comparison. Why can’t we all just admit that we’re perfectly imperfect- and that our imperfections and scars make us beautiful and unique and relatable? Just in case I’ve pulled the wool over your eyes, I am FAR from perfect. I’m in marriage counseling. I have hairs on my chin and stretch marks on my butt. I battle my own ego. I can be bossy and demanding. I have to tame my ambition to avoid being a workaholic. So please don’t put me on a pedestal, and please don’t put yourself on one either, since it only distances you from those who would connect more if only they knew that you were as beautifully flawed as they are. Tell us one thing about you that keeps you off the pedestal- one perfectly imperfect way thing that makes you real!

213 of you beautiful people revealed who you really are in response to the invitation. (You can read the awesome responses and add your own here.) Reading everyone’s responses just left me feeling so connected, so understood, so accepted, in spite of my flaws and growth edges. It makes me sad to think about how much of my life I wasted feeling lonely and disconnected because I was too busy trying to project some sick, twisted image of perfection. I was so afraid people would reject me if only they knew who I really was that I presented this sanitized version of myself in order to try to please people. Of course, it backfired. Not until I finally stripped off the masks and revealed who I really am under the false image I was projecting did I actually start to attract the love and acceptance I so desperately desired.

Overcoming Perfectionism

I’ve written a lot about the poison of perfectionism. (Read The Pressure To Be Perfect, 5 Tips To Help You Recover From Perfectionism, The Dark Side of Perfect, and Permission To Be Imperfect). I think I keep writing about it because giving myself permission to be imperfect is a constant practice. I try, but then I forget, and I slip into old patterns. We really do teach what we need to learn, and being a recovering perfectionist is no easy feat.

I used to think that my perfectionist tendencies drove me to be a better person. Now, looking back, I realize that all they did was imprison me in a fortress of loneliness and “never good enough.” It’s so much more liberating to be able to say to myself what I’ve always tried to say to those I love- “I see that you screwed up. I know that you’re trying to do better. But I love and accept you just as you are right now, and I don’t need you to be anything other than who you are.” Phew. What a relief.

Imagine if we all stripped off our masks. Imagine if we said, “To hell with being polite; we’re just going to be real.” Imagine if, instead of lying and saying, “Fine” when someone asks how you are, you could honestly say, “I just got my heart broken and it hurts. Plus, I just took a creative risk, and I failed. But thank God the apples are ripe and sweet and make the most luscious sound when they fall to the ground at harvest time.” Wouldn’t that make your days so much more interesting?

You Aren’t Like The Others- But You Are

It’s sad that we make ourselves so heartbreakingly lonely by thinking that we’re not like the others, when the others- they are all just like us. As I was thinking about this, I came across this Timothy Leary quote shared on Facebook by my friend Glennon, and it perfectly expresses what I was just feeling. Basically, there’s no such thing as “normal people” because they’re all just like you, only some are playing the game more than others. When you release that illusion of separation, the loneliness just dissolves…

“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “have a nice day” and “weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?” Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…”

Will You Join Me?

Will you be brave enough to be yourself, to strip off at least some of your masks, to reveal to us who you really are? Will you tell us one imperfect thing others might not know about you?  Can you look at your imperfections without shaming yourself over them? If you can’t do it publicly here, will you commit to finding even one person you trust and telling him or her? Every single one of us has something we wish others would never find out. But until you tell us what it is, how can we prove to you that not only will we love you anyway, but that we’ll actually love you MORE?

To those of you who are already living out loud, high fives and HALLELUJAHS. To those who are still hiding behind masks hoping others won’t find out that you’re imperfect, will you join us and stop pretending to be someone you’re not so we can see that really, you’re one of us?

We’re all in this human thing together, my dear. And we’re all just trying to do the best we can…

Loving you just as you are,

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24 Comments

  1. Hrmmm… makes me think about my first few years of motherhood. Being perfect, when really I was far from it.

    Reply
  2. Hi Lissa
    I have a dillema about this…I try to show some bits of the shadow part of me but it seems that a lot of people reject that (just like they do with their shadow bit) and label me the moany one or the negative one. It seems to me that people only want to hear success stories. And then I find myself hiding again and feeling more disconnected than ever…it’s a fine line. How do I cross that without too many bruises? How can I be real in a world that craves perfection?

    Reply
    • Start with the safe people Elena. Invite them to be real with you in response. Demonstrate safety, compassion, non-judgment. See how it feels. At some point, you’ll get brave enough to risk the rejection from those who want you to fake perfection. The truth is, you don’t need their approval, and if they reject you for being who you are, that’s a perfect screen to filter them out of your inner circle. The only ones you want to let close are the ones who love you unconditionally. But you won’t even know who those people are until you start telling them the truth and seeing who sticks…

      With love
      Lissa

      Reply
  3. This is beautiful. In general, I think we certainly do tend to focus on the “highlight reel” of others that we see, and assume that we are alone in our struggles. We all go through hard times, and it really would be nice to live in a world where we aren’t afraid to share these times and confide in each other!

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  4. Thanks Lissa. I have a cookie monster in my belly. It screams all the time, and I don’t always have the will power to shut it up. I run to make up for it but I know it would be much healthier to eat less sugar.

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  5. I hide my sexuality away in my body, under layers of “baby fat”, c-section scars, hairy legs, ubiquitous blue jeans and clothing that’s never too tight right around my belly… All of that hiding makes me feel like a walking abdomen, like it highlights the area that I’m trying to obscure. I feel like I know plenty of ways to “rescue” my body, but I don’t do them because I’ve forgotten how to deal with the attention a more “sensual” me seems to garner. And so… I have a profile picture that is from more “perfect” days before children did their dance inside my body – and even still, my stomach is not showing there either!

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  6. Oh, Lissa. Today one of my readers told me I am courageous. Me? I almost cried, because I hide behind a pseudonym in order to write the truth. Every day I am afraid one of the people who hurt me will stumble over my words, recognize me, and come knocking at the door. My courage … comes from encouragement, and I’m thankful for people like you who teach me there is a hopeful life beyond my self-protective walls.

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  7. I pull my hair. It’s called trichotillomania. I’ve done this since I was oh, 7-8 years old. I’m MUCH older now.

    Most days you wouldn’t know the difference. Creative hair-styling. Some years I have it whipped and some days I’ve pulled furiously. When I was younger, less “in control” and less self-conscious I heard puzzled and judgmental remarks from others. So much shame.

    I’ve since learned it’s “impulse control disorder” and have tried different meds at different times to “treat” it. Varying levels of success. Behavior modification stuff seems to help the most.

    I’ve only told a few friends, EVER. And only because the side effects of the meds were obvious and needed to be explained. I’ve even had mental health professionals brush right past it when I brought it up. If they aren’t even comfortable with it, what hope is there for me to accept myself?

    If you would meet me, you would envy my hair. I get compliments regularly. And every comment makes a slight cut into my heart because I know “the truth.”

    I go back to your post, Lissa and read: “Can you look at your imperfections without shaming yourself over them?” Big breath. I can’t imagine how free I would feel without this shame.

    Reply
    • Marta,
      Thank you for being brave. Frankly, I don’t give a flip whether you pull your hair out or not. I’m sure your hair is enviable anyway.

      I chew the inside of my lip sometimes. I don’t know why. I once had a cyst and it got bumpy there inside my lip so it’s kind of an irritant. Dentists are always commenting on it. I keep thinking maybe one day I won’t chew the inside of my lip. But it’s been twenty years and there I am- still doing it.
      There are 100 things I think I should or shouldn’t do. And yet I do them- or don’t do them. So bite me.

      Thank you for expressing truth. Isn’t it refreshing????

      With love
      Lissa

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      • Tears, tears, tears. I don’t know if I would use the word, “refreshing,” in regard to speaking this truth, but I would say that speaking this “secret” is creating an opening.

        As I read your response, I felt a glimmer of feeling “normal” in this imperfection. Lots of other stuff started bubbling up. I think I have a lot to unpack with this one. Journal time.

        One BIG ah-ha is realizing just how much energy I have put in daily hiding this from others, and pushing down the shame. I have taken this “assignment” I’ve given myself so for granted. I CAN ease up.

        Thank you, Lissa.

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        • Yes dear. Ease up. Pull your hair. Accept yourself, warts and holes in your hair and all…

          You are lovable, just as you are…

          Reply
  8. Knowing that all beings suffer and that we suffer in similar ways allows us to realize that it is normal and allows us to face our own reality and deal with our own problems as they occur rather than letting them magnify in the lens of our own fear until fight or flight becomes the only ways to respond.

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  9. What a beautiful message, Lissa! I have been working on embracing my imperfection for many years, and my website Link to Yourself is based around that same thing. Accepting who you are. Loving every little part of yourself. Releasing all of that tension that is keeping you stuck.

    I am a klutz of epic proportions. Don’t give me something nice, or I will lose it or find a way to accidentally damage it. When I’m in the kitchen it looks like a 5-year old had a food party in there. I don’t catch on to puns or movies. After watching Oceans 11 I sat there asking my husband “um, so what exactly happened?” I’m also completely incapable of watching horror movies or I get terrible nightmares and flashbacks.

    But at the same time as I’m a royal disorganized mess, I’m also extremely creative. I doubt this creativity would be there without this messy grasshopper brain of mine. Yes, I stink at being detail-oriented, but I am really capable of seeing the big picture – within anyone and everyone – and helping them see it too. Sure, I have terrible long-term memory, but I’m capable of really focusing on whatever’s on my mind at the present moment. I can drill down deeper than most people I know who can remember something that happened 10 years ago.

    Your imperfections aren’t just there. They are supports without which your wonderful qualities could never exist. You can hate yourself for your imperfections, or you can embrace them, and learn how to manage them. Most importantly, you can appreciate them for the vital role they have in your life – that of supporting your strengths, and teaching you to take life just a little more lightly.

    Thank you so much Lissa for this reminder. You are such an amazing person – I love reading everything you write and can’t wait to hopefully one day meet you in person.

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    • Thank you for sharing Laura. I love how you shared your imperfections but then didn’t forget to tell us about your awesomeness. I was just thinking before I read this that I need to write a follow up post that invites us to celebrate how much we ROCK!

      I too am a klutz. And a slob. Thank God I can finally afford to have a housekeeper that follows the cyclone of Lissa around the house, undoing the damage I cause when I plunder and strew. I no longer apologize to people who come over and see what a slob I am. I just say, “Welcome to my chaos.” People laugh and respond by saying things like, “Ah, no wonder you’re so productive. You don’t bother to do the dishes!”

      When I eat at the dinner table, there’s always a circle of food around my plate afterwards. My mother calls it “Lissa’s corner.”

      And when I talk to my friends, I get so deep and curious and obsessive that my BFF calls me “a project.” Other friends laughed when they heard that. They agree- Lissa is a project. Okay then.

      But like you, I am a creative flame. I spark hot and furious and leave beauty in my wake. I love hard and deep and passionately and genuinely.
      If I was neat and orderly and less of a project, I’d lose the good stuff. I’m the whole package. And so are you. And so are all of us. Thank God.

      Reply
      • I love that! Instead of Lissa’s corner, I have Laura’s piggy face – I usually end up with food on my forehead too (it would probably take a PhD scientist a while to figure out how the food even gets there in the first place). Ahh, a project, I love that! That’s the way I am, too. I’m slowly growing more comfortable exposing my obsessions to the world and not apologizing for it. And the more I do it, the better I feel. So I’m obsessive, curious, and ADD. So what? Get over it. 🙂

        Thank God, indeed. We’re all wonderful creations in this world. Sometimes I look at flowers and wonder if they engage in the same self-shaming thoughts we do. How funny would that be? Maybe we’re all flowers, and we just need to see the beauty we really have. Thank you for replying!

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  10. “There are no perfect human beings! Persons can be found who are good, very good indeed, in fact, great. There do in fact exist creators, seers, sages, saints, shakers, and movers…even if they are uncommon and do not come by the dozen. And yet these very same people can at times be boring, irritating, petulant, selfish, angry, or depressed. To avoid disillusionment with human nature, we must first give up our illusions about it.” – Abraham Maslow

    https://rainbowinmyclouds.wordpress.com/

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  11. Okay here goes. I never thought in a million years I’d write
    something like this. I never open the door to be supported. I am a middle child
    and a Libra. So, I’ve spent my life keeping everything balanced for anyone who
    needed it. I’m always the one who keeps dancing even after the needle rips
    across the record. I’ve always gotta keep all the plates in the air.

    I knew when I was at least 7 that I was going to help people. I had a dream about it then. A man came to see me and told me I’d be like Moses and lead people from harm. Then I saw the man in my dream sitting onthe porch of a store alive and in real life. Even at 7 I knew that was lofty and I still don’t believe I’ll do something that spectacular but I know I am here to help people.

    My life is different from most people. I have been with the same man since 1997 and married to him since 2001. We never raise our voices to each other. We have never been in an argument. He is the most amazing person I know. Our house is so peaceful that when people come over they even comment on the calm. They tell everyone they know how calm our house is. It happens all the time. Even when we have people over we sometimes all end up doing our own thing with quiet music going in the background. It’s just always relaxed.

    When my children were younger and visiting friends homes I had to explain why not everyone lives like we do. They weren’t used to things not being calm and peaceful.

    I had a co-worker tell me that the only time she feels calm is when she is with me and she is not the only person who has told me that they feel better being around me. I know I have this gift but I’m not sure how to give it away. If I could, I’d wrap it in a bow and give it to anyone who needed it.

    I think I’m a great wife, mother, friend, family member. I feel so good about most of my life but I’ve still never felt like the work I do has anything to do with who I am. That one has always eluded me.

    I know all of this makes me sound so full of myself. I don’t know how to tell the story except to own it honestly.

    I’ve tried blogging but I never have many followers. I have always lived my life in a way that if it’s suppose to be it will be and so far that hasn’t opened a door. I still keep doing jobs that just seem to come up organically. I’ve never had a job that felt like it was aligned with who I am except when I worked with children. It makes me think that maybe my gift is only for those who come into direct contact with me and not for the masses. When I have thoughts like that I tell myself that if that’s what it is I should just keep doing a job I don’t really care about and try to uplift people in any way I can. I try to be satisfied with that but I’m not.

    I’ve thought about teaching a class but I don’t know how to get that going and I don’t think I could ever push myself passed whatever has blocked me up to this point. I know I have a block and I honestly cannot see a time when it will be gone and out of the way.

    If you want to know how to live in peace and get along well with your spouse I could start a school. If you want to know how to follow your passion I have nothing to offer.

    Even though I think I give good advice, I’m unable to see my own path clearly.

    I don’t even know why I am writing this except that I do feel that if I do the thing that I’ve never been able to do in my life it might break something free. That thing is that I never totally give in and I never ask for help. So, if you read this and your stomach is not turning from this pile of tooting of one’s own horn maybe you have some thoughts or words of wisdom.

    Reply
    • I thought this was lovely and lovingly written and NOT by someone who’s tooting their own horn, but by someone who’s at the end of their road… And just about to turn onto a new one! I could say a lot of the same things you have about knowing your jobs are NOT aligned with what you are “supposed to” be doing, about having the desire from a very young age to help others – I thought I was going to work with deaf children; I ended up marrying a wonderful man with two deaf parents!
      I think this is your way of opening up to letting other people help – and here’s my one gentle suggestion that sprung to mind as I was reading… Have you investigated Skillshare as a place to teach? It may or may not be a perfect fit, but it may open some creative places in your brain.
      With love, M

      Reply
    • Tonya, I love what you wrote. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Martha Beck, and she told me that when I’m deciding who to spend time with, I should seek those who have stillness in them and those who cultivate the stillness in me. You sound like someone loaded with stillness. What a gift.
      Blessings
      Lissa

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  12. I will be brave! Ok, I work from home as an online editor, and when I tell people about what I do they are often envious – I don’t have to commute, I have very flexible working hours which means I have lots of time to devote to my hobbies, and I work with a great bunch of people (online) doing pretty interesting work.

    However for the most part I am home alone, and often miss being with people face-to-face (I make up for it through my hobbies, but still…). I get payed based on hours worked, which fluctuate, so some months I only cover my bills and have to keep to a strict budget. Whilst the work-style is probably nicer than a lot of people who have to work in a regular office (I get to wear what I want, listen to music, snack when I want etc), for me personally i’m not being completely fulfilled by the work ad often yearn for something more, and to be interacting with people more.

    That’s the ‘hidden’ side of what I do, that people don’t get to see. Eeeek.

    Reply
    • Thank you for being brave and telling the truth.

      See…we’re still here 🙂
      With love
      Lissa

      Reply
  13. I just found you from the link Lois posted today. Very interesting post. I’m not sure how to react exactly, because I fear I might suffer from a bit of the opposite affliction. I am quick to tell the world everything that’s wrong in my life, I excel at self-deprecating humor, and if ever I succeed at anything – well, I sorta figure it’s a fluke.

    That being said there’s certainly something I’m hiding at the moment. I have 4 cats. I love my cats. Hell, I love all cats. But at the moment two of my 4 cats are sick, and I HATE it. I feel like I should love caring for them and nursing them, but I don’t. I hate worrying all the time. I hate giving them medication 4-5 times per day. I hate trying to get them to eat. And mostly I hate knowing that they are going to die sooner or later – most certainly sooner in one case, and there’s a dark part of me that secretly wishes he’d just die now and get it over with. And it makes me feel like a horrible person. I LOVE this cat… I love him more than I know how to love any creature… I just hate having to watch him fade away.

    So there’s a big part of me that’s really wondering why I ever decided to get cats in the first place. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know that they were all gonna eventually die – I just hate the reality of it, and I’m sort of swearing to myself that if I live through losing the 4 I’ve got now, I’ll NEVER EVER get another pet again.

    I was at the vet’s office a while back and there was a family with young children who had just gotten a new kitten. I actually found myself thinking that giving a child a pet was the most horrible and cruel thing a parent could do. It seems like the emotional equivalent of adopting a terminally ill baby. Sure… get your kids a pet, it’s a great way to teach them about suffering and death.

    So that’s my deep dark secret at the moment. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to get that off of my chest.

    Reply
    • Oh honey- I feel your pain, especially about the cruelty of giving children pets. We lost two dogs and three “rat-coons” last year. It almost broke mine and my then 6 year old’s heart. I had to teach her how to give animals (and people) permission to break her heart.

      Here’s two of the many posts I wrote about our heartbreak: https://lissarankin.com/how-to-keep-your-heart-open-when-it-breaks https://lissarankin.com/the-fragility-of-life-how-to-love-dangerously

      Sending prayers and blessings your way.
      With love
      Lissa

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      • OK, now I’m sobbing uncontrollably. I love the phrase “permission to break your heart” because it really conveys what it’s like. I think the hardest part of this is finding the line between doing everything possible to help them (all the while second guessing every single thing I do) and accepting that this is something over which I have very little control.

        I commend you for teaching your daughter so beautifully about love and loss. I think the world would be a much better place if more of us could find a way to keep our hearts open and just accept the inevitable pain and suffering that is a part of life rather than building walls to keep it all out.

        Thank you so much for your kind words, you’ve helped me more than you know.
        Hugs to you,
        Cat

        Reply

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