Hi, my name is Paula and I like American Idol. I am ready to admit this which I guess is the first step in my recovery. (Though I don’t think I have a problem because I can stop DVR’ing it anytime I want.)
Like many Americans, one of the main reasons I watch the show is because of Simon Cowell. Simon is a truth-teller. Of course you could argue that it is just his perspective but I would say that, in general, his comments are pretty much the truth.
Simon is the only judge on the panel that I would trust if I were looking for feedback about how others might perceive me. I think that very little of Simon’s ego enters into his comments. He of course hams it up for the cameras talking about the struggles of being so good looking but if you listen closely to his feedback, it is far more specific and descriptive than it is vague and subjective. His feedback is offered in a non-judgmental neutral way.
Parents and other caregivers play a huge role in children knowing themselves. When a baby smiles it is instinct for the mom to smile back. This is called mirroring and it is a key to mental health. Unfortunately, much of the time the mirrors we grow up with are more like funhouse mirrors, presenting a distorted reflection. If we don’t really know who we are it is difficult to help our children learn who they themselves are. As we get older it is useful to seek out those who can provide more accurate and even compassionate reflections.
It is very stressful when you spend a lifetime completely baffled by why coworkers, partners, spouses, children, those interviewing you for jobs, first dates, etc. seem to respond to you the same way. “How come I never get a second date?” “I never seem to be able to get a second interview.” “Why won’t my kids talk to me?”
I recently saw a 60-something woman named Jane (not her real name) for therapy. During our second session she was sharing about difficulties she was having with an adult daughter “I just don’t get why she is so defensive and negative with me. I am a warm fuzzy person and am a good listener.” At this point I was having a hard time containing my laughter.
“Paula, why are you laughing?” Once I regained my composure I asked her if I could give her some feedback. She said, “Sure, that’s what I’m paying you for.” (I love my job!)
I proceeded with the following “Do you really see yourself as warm and fuzzy?” She said yes. I continued, “Are you kidding me? The first time I met you I thought you were cold, guarded, judgmental and kind of bitchy.” “Really?” she answered in a shocked tone. I couldn’t believe this surprised her. This woman has been walking around for years confused as hell about why the world responds to her in a negative way.
I decided to give her a homework assignment. I asked her to go around and poll some of the people in her life, both people she has known for many years and those she has known for a short time. First impressions are often the most accurate. She reluctantly took on the task.
The following session she came in and was excited to report the results of the poll. “Can you believe it, the people I asked (once they realized that I wanted to know and that it wasn’t a trap) told me almost exactly the same thing as you. They said they loved me but found me difficult, defensive, judgmental and inauthentic. This was stunning to me. It hurt for a little but then I felt kind of free. I realized that I have had a huge impact on how others treat me. I know this is kind of obvious but I hadn’t really got it before.”
I only saw Jane for a few more sessions. She made some changes in her way of relating to others and says that other parts of her “difficult” personality will stay “I am who I am.” Freedom comes when we can decide what to keep and release what just isn’t working.
Are you as courageous as Jane? Do a poll in your life to find out how people see and feel around you. Don’t do this if you aren’t ready to really listen to the feedback without judging the messenger. Ask those who have known you for a long time and those you have only recently met. As with any poll, political or otherwise, the more respondents you have the more able you are to detect a trend. Once you gather the data do with it as you wish. You can make changes or not. But once you know, you can’t pretend you don’t.
(And Simon, if you are reading this, let me know what you are planning to do after leaving Idol. If you decide to become a shrink, I am happy to write you a letter of recommendation.)