Ever feel like everyone else at the party is at ease, and you are the only anxious one? Or do you ever scroll through social media and think that you are the only one having a shitty day or year? Does it seem like everyone in class or at work “gets it” without the struggle you go through?
It’s really not true — as a therapist I can tell you that loads of competent, high-achieving, and seemingly “together” people are twisted up inside with anxiety, worry, and perfectionist despair. Even when you know that intellectually, you can still get swept away in the feeling that everyone else is floating through life with ease, while you are frantically paddling to stay afloat. So you put on your game face too, pretend that you are fine when you are not.
There are a million perfectionist worries that cause us to mask our pain and put on a perfect face to the world. Maybe your reason is fear of looking weak, losing opportunities, being a burden on others, or something else. The root of all these concerns is the same, though: fear of rejection. We so desperately want to be liked, accepted, hired, promoted, admired, loved, that we do anything to appear perfect (and therefore lovable). So you post only positive stuff on social media, and you only ever answer “great!” when someone asks “how are you?”.
What we forget is that stress, struggle, sadness, worry — these are all universal experiences that connect us to each other as much as (or sometimes more than!) happiness. It’s scary to share this stuff with someone else, but that vulnerability you feel, that’s the gas that fuels connection.
So here’s an experiment: next time you are with someone who feels trustworthy, try answering the “how are you” question honestly. Look your friend in the eye and share the bad stuff along with the good. It feels scary at first, but there’s a great exhale at the other end, a feeling of relief at dropping the act and being real. And the feeling of connection between you two will be far more memorable and meaningful than the surface contact you would feel with yet another “I’m great, how are you?!” conversation.