“Denial has caused many of us to bury our positive abilities along with our character defects. Some of us were afraid that if we owned our abilities, people wouldn’t think we were humble. We would also be responsible for living up to our potential perfectly.”
J. Keith Miller, A Hunger For Healing
Even before I was a Christian I knew humility was a virtue, though I thought humility meant ‘thinking less of myself’ (rather than ‘thinking of myself less’). I hid or denied my positive abilities because I thought to confess them was prideful and wrong. Although I ‘knew’ I was a bad person I tried to maintain a positive image with others because I was afraid that if other people thought I was prideful they might start ‘sniffing around’ to see what else was wrong with me. I adopted a ‘false humility’ by dismissing and disbelieving most of my positive abilities to convince people I was ‘humble’, hoping they would approve of the mask I wore.
I still have a tendency to ignore positive praise and focus on my negatives. In the past six months there were times I received feedback from my peers, both positive and negative. In all cases the positive feedback far outweighed the negative, but it didn’t matter. I immediately dismissed the positive feedback as irrelevant and focused all of my mental energy on ‘fixing’ the negatives…which really meant fixing the perceptions of others, not actually fixing the root problems. For example, people said that I was generous, kind, loving, and loyal. When I read those things I half-nodded and felt good about myself for about five seconds…until my eyes got to the part of the page with negative feedback. There I saw things listed like: Critical, impulsive, and ‘too hard on himself’. The negative feedback (in my mind) invalidated the positive feedback; it didn’t matter how many positive things people said about me because they were also saying negative things about me…I wasn’t perfect! I had to be perfect (or so I thought) and I remember thinking of ways to appear less ‘critical’ and ‘impulsive’ rather than consider how I might get to the root of the problem. And as far as being ‘too hard on myself’…fuhgettaboutit! In my mind, if my friends knew half the things I’ve done they would know I was not being hard enough on myself!
The final statement from Miller is also absolutely true: I live under the false pretense that if I confess my abilities I will have to execute on those abilities perfectly. I know I will not be able to pull off perfection, so I deny my abilities instead. For example, my Ministry classmates and professors tell me I have great leadership and preaching skills and potential. But there is a part of me that is afraid of taking on leadership and preaching roles because I know I will not be ‘perfect’ at them. That part of me is afraid that once people see I am not a ‘perfect’ leader and preacher, they will see through the rest of my façade and realize I am not a perfect Christian, husband, father, or son.
Do you struggle with masks and perfectionism?