“You have such a beautiful life,” a friend once said to me.
I almost congratulated myself. She didn’t know. I had done such a good job of faking, this friend did not know how dark and deep down desperate I was.
For I had all the tchotchkes, the frequent flyer miles, the beautiful homes, but for years, I had only been going through the motions: role playing the part of a certain type of wife, a particular kind of mother, all the while wondering, when was this going to flip? When was life going to become real, so when I wake up, I like myself?
I’d been embattled in my marriage, over thinking, pondering, and seeing no way out. My life appeared enviable, gilded, but I was actually living in a tiny gray space with a grim view of life and what was possible. Living within this tiny space with me, making it all the more suffocating, was this desperate need to Break Free, to be relieved of the hurt and confusion of everyday; and also, this incredible sense of Shame. I couldn’t get over myself. How dare I think I deserved more? Break Free and Shame dialogued but mostly fought inside my head.
Colliding feelings coupled with conflicting thoughts . . . it’s what happens to us sometimes, especially in relationships. We see no way out. The emotional pits against the intellectual, the psychological against the practical, and you talk yourself out of a decision, only to repeat, reverse, and over think issues that are rarely ever resolved. Break Free and Shame fought until these conversations erupted and I could no longer delude myself that no one else saw. A storm that had only been on the horizon, brewing I thought, was suddenly rocking the babies in the treetop. My daughters were in this squall and it wasn’t their fault.
Whatever I had been telling myself, self-justifying for years was one thing, I realized, a separate thing, something I would, or at least should investigate deeply at some point; but right now, on a different front . . . I had to slap myself in the face! I had to put on battle gear, make up. I had to pretend. I wasn’t crazy about who I was. I wasn’t loving what I had done to my children, or the implications that maybe I had failed with my life, failed as a wife, failed at the labels I abhorred but wore. I had to fake it in an entirely different way. I had to pretend I could create something different . . . .
Often in divorce coaching, a client arrives at a place where she has grown acutely aware — not only of her weaknesses, her fears, her wrenching limitations — but also paradoxically, she is beginning to uncover her strengths. These strengths might be behaviors or attitudes that have critically served or even saved her in the past; but they are always a result of something deeper and more profound: her most deep-seated values. Her strengths make sense with something that is fundamentally true to her and how she envisions her life should be. When our client arrives here we are excited to be with her for we can literally see feelings clicking with ideas and her body changing. She shifts. She is starting to self-connect. She is learning:
1) She would not be alive and kicking today were it not for these intrinsic strengths — these skills, attitudes or behaviors — that have allowed her to pick things up and breathe . . . to survive until now.
2) She is discovering that if these strengths have truly served her, then by some measure she has ALREADY faced and overcome obstacles in her past.
3) She realizes that if this is true, then she is not as helpless as she fears. She has a track record of overcoming adversity and harnessing these strengths now can help her do it again.
But make no mistake about it; doing it again can give you vertigo! Taking that brave step requires confidence. And almost in a vicious circle again, it becomes clear that projecting confidence when you feel your worst, as when you are getting divorced, sounds impossible. And truthfully it is. For a long time, a lot of us have to fake it.
How to fake it
The way I chose to start over with my life was to rely on a strength I knew worked. It was to take my apparent, incredible ability to fake and play act, and to turn it on its head. I had to pretend I was confident when I started visiting lawyers. I had to pretend I could speak about the “unspeakable” — divorce. Later, when it seemed the theater would never end, I had to pretend I was confident in learning to . . . pay my bills, parallel park a car, and apply for my first job since I was a kid. I reminded myself that hadn’t I faked everybody out before? And as I began to move forward, inch by inch,“Hey, I got this,” is what I literally said to myself.
Based on her 30 years of research studying human evolution, mating, and psychology, Cultural Anthropologist Helen Fisher recommends that people “project confidence” when they are going out into the world. In particular, Fisher is counseling us about dating. But her words make sense for anyone starting over. “Positive attracts positive,” Fisher says. But she acknowledges that confidence is hard, especially if you can’t find anything about yourself that’s likable:
“And if you don’t like yourself, suggests Fisher, “act as if” you do. “Better yet, create a phrase that you can repeat to yourself in the shower, in the car or anywhere else, something like “I love being myself because I am ____________. Find something you honestly like about yourself and repeat it. Make sure this recitation puts a smile on your face, a lilt in your voice and confidence in your step (Why Him, Why Her, page 207)
We like Fisher’s suggestion, not only because it’s grounded in science and how humans have learned to adapt to change, survive and grow, but because it syncs with what we know happens in successful coaching. Once a client has grown self aware and can identify a core strength in herself, we can explore and test it with her, and then help her develop a mantra, a code, or a phrase to help remind her of it.
“Hey, YOU got this.”
Reminding yourself of your power and strength by uttering a phrase and pushing your way through, even if you are faking it, helps your brain to develop a mindset of positivity and “can-doism.” It’s like pulling out a crib sheet or flash card to remind yourself: you have vanquished dragons in the past, and behold! You will slay again!
For our client Millie, a forty-something mother to three and CEO of her own company, reminding her of her “leather pants” as she faces various bumps and twists along her divorce road is the subtle cue that suddenly shifts her into a different gear, a different mindset where she can access her brilliant, problem-solving capabilities. Millie starts tearing apart an issue differently when she feels in control. “Leather pants,” stops her car so to speak, and leaves her “Wavering Self” by the side of the road.
For you to try
Read Fisher’s words again and remind yourself of something you like about yourself, a strength. Think about where you last displayed this strength and what the outcome was. Now frame this story and give the strength or story a name so when you are next challenged and your stress starts climbing, you can pull this strength out and raise it in the air. Just mentally touching this sword without removing it from your sheath might be enough for you to say, “En garde!”
We’re unblushing fans of Dr. Helen Fisher for all that she can teach you about yourself and how — going forward — you can connect more meaningfully with others who are, or who are not like you. Catch my business partner, SAS Co-founder, Kimberly Mishkin in this recent video with Dr. Helen Fisher and Your Tango Relationship Experts, as they discuss another angle, if opposites can really attract? And if they can, what things must you be mindful of to not only maintain but also nurture these quirky relationships.
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