A reader asked me, after my last post, what the difference is between engaging in reciprocity and people pleasing. This is a great question, and it gave me the subject for this week’s post.
First, I want to answer that question.
Reciprocity minus authenticity equals people pleasing.
If we’re engaged with others authentically, we naturally have things to offer out of our true selves. At its best, reciprocity is a dance between real people with real-person strengths, weaknesses and needs.
People pleasing is an indirect plea for love, acceptance, approval or attention. It’s all about trying to get something back, not about giving out of the abundance of true self. We people pleasers don’t believe we have anything authentic to give that anyone wants, so we watch and listen carefully and try to play a role we think will please.
The opposite of authenticity is pseudo self. I explored pseudo self when I went through life coaching, but a Google search will provide you with the history and background of the term. Wiki has a good page about it.
Essentially, pseudo self is a survival mask that many of us start making as very young children. The construction of pseudo self is so deeply rooted in pain and fear that by the time we’re adults we can no longer tell the difference between the mask and our authentic selves, and the mask has all the power.
This kind of pseudo self is not like the superficial mask we all wear occasionally for social occasions, work occasions and family reunions. For the most part, we know that mask is a mask. Everyone around us wears one, too. Those masks are called manners and social skills (at least in polite conversation).
The survival pseudo self is a much darker mask. Think man in the iron mask. We create it and don it to survive, but over the years it becomes so much a part of us we can’t tell the difference between our flesh and the iron. It tortures us, but we don’t know how to take it off, and if we did know, how could we dare to do it?
Our culture in the United States is deeply committed to keeping that mask firmly in place because our culture is based in capitalism and conditional love, and the foundation of capitalism and conditional love is the belief that we need to be different than we are. We need to buy things to be. To be what? Fill in the blank. Just to be. What do you want most? Love? Sex? Money? Power? Whatever it is, a half hour of commercial television will help you start a list of the things you need to buy to achieve it. Everything on that list is another rivet in the iron mask of pseudo self.
We are so brainwashed by this as parents, teachers, partners and human beings we unconsciously perpetuate a paradigm of conditional love. We relate to one another through competition, power-over, and all the things we need to be okay. We withhold love, affection, friendship and the “like” button. We’ve created a culture of pseudo self.
Being does not arise out of buying. We’re all born with the power to be. We have access to that power all our lives. Nothing can take it away from us, but we can be trained to surrender it. We are trained to surrender it, and we do.
Many of us are actively taught from childhood to create a pseudo self. Telling little boys not to cry or play with dolls, telling little girls to be “nice,” telling women to sit down and shut up, telling anyone they should say, believe, eat, vote for, wear, be interested in, or want anything is supporting construction of pseudo self.
However, the pseudo self can be challenged. The iron mask can be broken down and removed. There are people who show us the way to authentic self, but it’s a stony path, because it means challenging the foundations of our culture and beliefs. It means challenging a lifetime of behavior and the expectations of others. It means breaking rules, and most people are not tolerant of those who break rules.
The post I wrote last week is an example of challenging pseudo self. Think about this. I’m a perfectly ordinary middle aged woman living in central Maine. My stats show I have about one hundred readers. Not even half of those readers know me or have ever met me, and I don’t know them. Only one or two readers have actually commented on the blog, and I have seven subscribers, most of whom are not friends or family.
Yet it took every bit of courage I had to post that piece. I broke just about every rule I’ve lived my life by when I did so. I challenged what I was taught about being attractive, being intelligent, being kind, being nice, being a peacemaker, being womanly. All this because I dropped the mask and expressed my frustration, my anger and my passion and used the word “fuck.” Repeatedly. In front of around one hundred people, most of whom are strangers.
I had a sick stomach and crying jags. I felt panicked and anxious. I didn’t sleep well. I haven’t been able to sit still or relax. For three days, I couldn’t even log on and look at stats and so forth, or do any behind-the-scenes work on the blog.
Letting the iron mask of my pseudo self slip was horrifying, but I also noticed a feeling of relief. The rebel in me celebrated. I dared. I allowed myself to be. I wrote the real truth about how I feel. Everything on the blog is written from the heart, but only the civilized half! The last post came from a different part of me, the strong survivor part, the primal female part, and that’s the best part of who I am. It’s also the least socially acceptable.
I usually feel like a mess. My life often feels like a cluster fuck, to use my favorite expression. If that’s too much for you, then substitute car crash, train wreck, or something you feel is more appropriate! I try really, really hard in life and my intentions are wonderful, but I’m not perfect. Not a perfect daughter, mother, sister, friend or partner. Not a perfect writer, blogger or anything else. But I am. I’m someone real. I refuse to live the rest of my life in my iron mask.
At the end of the day, when I’m dead and over, I don’t want a wake, a funeral, a party or a nice obituary. I want someone to be able to say:
“Damn, that woman was real!”
For more on pseudo self, check out this link.
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I’m listening. Loving what you’re doing here. Thank you for your honest self.
Jane: Thank you for reading! Please feel free to chip into the conversation at any time. I’d love to know what others are thinking/feeling/doing with these issues. Jenny
Thank you! I celebrate your bravery and the honest wisdom of your words! (My sister just used the term “pseudo-self” so I had to do a little research and look what a gem I found here… Only the daring deserve happiness. You are heading in the right direction. 😉
Cheers to that.
I’m glad you found this post useful. Pseudo self is not one of our greatest strengths or most attractive qualities as human beings! It’s a hard thing to step out of, though. Thanks for reading and commenting!