Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Why we may feel gloomy when others are praised (no, not jealousy)
OK, when I had the idea for this blog I decided that transparent honesty may be the most effective way to inspire and encourage others who read the reflections. This comes at the risk of looking mean, small or bad at times, but that's the way it goes. It makes me feel really sad to think of other people going through what I went through, and making themselves feel even worse by keeping quiet about it. The photo up above, for example, makes my heart ache. That's why I risk speaking out with a way of looking at jealousy that others may find helpful.
Has this scenario happened to anybody before? You hear a friend receiving lavish praise for an achievement or job well done. You add your own, "Fantastic!" or, "Well done!" and while part of you means it, you're aware of something nasty-feeling eating you away inside. You keep your mouth shut because it's something you'd never want to admit to anyone. You shy away from analysing it. You guess it must be one of those twisted partnerships of bitterness and jealousy, so you just want to thrust it from you. (I think jealousy is one of those taboo emotions we never want anyone to associate with us, so we try to press the lid down on it as tight as we can.)
One day I thought, Running from this thing and pretending it doesn't exist isn't making it go away. Maybe I need to face the monster, give it the attention it wants, to help put it to rest.
So when I did look at it more closely, it surprised me to see that its features weren't quite as disgustingly horrible as I'd expected. Oh, jealousy was there alright, but there was something bigger and arguably more pitiable at the roots; a brittle and fragile self-image. I realised that I'd grown up with the impression that life was an endless quest to prove my worth. The equation I grew up believing was baby of family + school nerd + shy kid = wimp who really needs to work even harder to prove herself worthy of praise. I had to hear the words, "Well done, you've done a great job," to allow myself to bask in the luxurious feeling of achievement. Hearing those words spoken to others while I was standing there seemed as if the speaker was silently reproaching me for falling short.
There was what I'd call a 'double subconscious assumption' going on. I subconsciously felt that they were subconsciously judging me and finding me lacking in some way. Is this crazy? You bet! Miserable, complex creature I was. So to me, the words, "Wow, (Billy or Jane) writes fantastically.... speaks inspiringly ... has great kids ... knows how to look after people....etc" meant that they were actually saying, "and you don't!"
When I finally saw this beast for what it was, it was far easier to exorcise it. I think you have to know what you're dealing with before you can tell yourself, You're doing that thing again! It doesn't mean that and this isn't even about you at all. Something that happened at church years ago was eye-opening too. A pastor was preaching a message about people who dare to step out and make a difference, mentioning several congregation members as examples, while I sat there with a churning stomach feeling like scum. Over morning tea, I mentioned to him that I found his message convicting, and he casually replied, "Oh, well you're already doing it, with your books and your children." It stunned me to think that people might not actually be thinking critical thoughts about me.
Sometimes old-timers' advice, although we may think it corny and cliched, is actually sound because it's stood the test of time. "Face your demons" may be a good example. It also showed me that I was misdirecting my focus. My Bible tells me we're aiming to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant," when we've finally finished our sojourn on this earth - so the desire to please and impress is built into our human blueprint - but getting sidetracked into hearing the words from anybody all the time makes us sad and sour people. "I'm working for an audience of One" may be another of those wise old terms that help when we really take it on board. And remember, a bit of compassion and love with no strings attached from yourself may be just what you need.
You're a wonderfully unique creation of God, full of potential and worthy of kindness and respect, regardless of what messages you seem to be receiving from others. On the flip side of the coin, others are too, so you can feel free to give them admiration and praise without needing to feel that your own position is threatened.