She had encountered one of the more devastating kinds of loneliness in existence: that of being in close contact with someone to whom she was a nonperson, and who thereby rendered her invisible and of no consequence. Dorothy Gilman (1990)
Many people are suffering from a malady that is widespread but seldom mentioned. It is particularly prevalent among successful, accomplished professionals, both men and women, whether single or married. This hidden problem is responsible for lowered motivation, moodiness and mental and emotional unclarity. It often leads to a feeling of “what’s the use” low level depression. It is a cousin of loneliness but it has distinct features of its own.
It is the deep-seated need to be truly seen, heard and understood by another.
When we ignore our need to be accepted in favor of identifying ourselves as strong, independent and a man or woman with a mission, we slowly begin to create a split between our thoughts and feelings. We build an image of ourselves through high-minded thinking while distancing from our fears and apprehensions until they are buried out of sight and out of mind.
At first it seems prudent to hold a strong discipline over our fears and the emotional roller coaster that can come from listening too earnestly to them. In our quest for more, bigger and better results however; we can get caught up in pretending to be better than we are and then investing all our energy in promoting that pretense.
Here is the difficulty that arises.
Underneath who we pretend to be, lives who we are afraid we are. When we habitually run from squarely addressing our fears, we begin to lose touch with some of the subtler but extremely important aspects of being authentic and real. We take ourselves far too seriously. We lose the ability to laugh at ourselves. We keep our distance from everyone by never allowing ourselves to come down, let down, open up or disclose what isn’t working for us.
Image building and the maintenance of it requires vigilance and a constant shoring up of that image by analyzing what is good, bad, right or wrong and how to figure it all out and fix it fast so that the performance goes on as usual.
An antidote to living an isolated, image driven existence is to foster the ability to debrief often, with at least one trusted person. There is an inexpressible comfort in feeling safe enough to neither have to weigh your thoughts or measure your words in the presence of another. When you can pour out everything in whatever order it comes and know that you are being received and accepted, the dragons and demons of the mind have an opportunity to be freed from the dungeon within.
The inner recesses of your mind can clear and be renewed and restored to health and vitality. At the heart of true self-worth and authenticity is the knowledge that we are lovable without having to qualify for that acceptance. We need each other to mirror back, as one conscious being to another, that we are seen, heard and accepted.
The cultivation of the dual values of kindness and acceptance given freely to others has profound rewards.
We begin to allow a more graceful and easy self-management style to take root within us. Our intention is fueled by a warmer and softer approach to our affairs, our lives and ourselves. We begin to discover that too much brilliance has its disadvantages. Being the smartest, quickest and wittiest may raise a laugh in a crowd but often beheads budding trust in friendships that could be better cultivated through quiet acceptance, inviting warmth and generous doses of kindness.