BY MARYBETH GRONEK
Do you have auto-reflex cringe moments? I do. One of them is when people are heavy-handed with self-proclamations:
Here’s why self-proclamations make me cringe: they are usually inauthentic. People who *are* a certain way don’t talk about it. They just are it. For example, people who take dating seriously don’t tell me about it, they live it. They communicate regularly and pursue me. They send meaningful and well-crafted text messages. They call. They show up. They put in the effort. Their actions — not their words — inform my opinion of them.
Adjectives are best used to describe others. When people use adjectives to describe themselves I get skeptical. Integrated, self-aware individuals manifest who they are without the need to tell people how to view them. They just show up that way and leave others to draw their own conclusions. They show, not tell.
As soon as someone tells me they are “direct” or “kind” or [insert your own adjective here] I know there is a gap there. It is a line spoken to convince themselves (more than me) that they are indeed that way.
Lies are loud. They have to be. They know they are wrong & their self-consciousness won’t let them stay quiet. They must perpetually assert themselves lest others discover their fallacious nature. The truth, on the other hand, sits quietly in the corner. It is not self-conscious. It knows what it is and does not need to convince self or others. The truth is secure.
I don’t think people do this maliciously. Self-proclamations aren’t as bad as bold-face lies. They are low-impact, subconscious ones. Either the actions of someone who doesn’t see themselves clearly, or someone who has been making strides in a certain area but not quite where they want to be. A work in progress. It’s not so terrible. It is insecure, though.
There’s another thing self-given adjectives reveal besides insecurity — a desire to shape the narrative. To control the way others see us. Whenever I catch myself using an adjective to describe myself to others I pause and ask, why did I just do that? 80% of the time it’s an insecurity and a red alert to hone in on that area and take actions to either grow in that space or lean into acceptance. 20% of the time, though, it’s me recognizing I want the other person to see me in a certain way, and our interactions thus far haven’t yet matured for them to see me in that light naturally. Hence, I’m trying to *speed up* a certain conclusion about me instead of letting it happen slowly and organically.
When I first realized I was doing this, I was embarrassed. It uncovered a fear of mine: I wanted people to get to know the *real* me as soon as possible, lest they think I’m too vanilla and leave. I’m so cool and unique, don’t go! A fear of being misunderstood, and consequently, a fear of abandonment. In a weird way, it’s its own sort of insecurity. And then I heard a quiet voice: Slow down, MaryBeth. Give people time to get to know you. To discover others is a bloody gift. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about relationships. People are meant to be unraveled — beautifully and reverently unraveled. Give other people that gift.
Embarrassment soon led to freedom. Because that’s the encouraging thing about fear — it can always be conquered.
So now I show up how I want to show up and let others draw their own conclusions. It’s an odd, yet contented feeling. Sitting with the potential of being misunderstood by sojourners who pass in and out of my life. Expectant for those who stay and uncover who I am. Not everyone has to be “right” about me. Few will. Others’ premature or false conclusions of me don’t have to align with the reality of who I am. And I’m learning to be okay with that.
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