“Tell me what you brag about and I'll tell you what you're lacking,” goes a popular saying that some have ostracized by relegating him to annoying truths. Prisoners of the dictatorship of appearance, victims of a consumer society in which the more you have, the more you are, it is easy to fall into the trap of worrying too much about showing a social image of success and happiness, forgetting our authentic well-being.
Seduced by the siren song of social networks, which promise a successful and flawless virtual identity, we can get to prioritize our social image so much that our true "I" ends up relegated to the background, where it languishes in the unhappiness of what could have been, but was not.
The Erostratus Complex: specialists in the art of pretending
It was the year 356 before our era when, on a warm moonless night, a man named Erostratus sneaked into a temple, grabbed a lamp and brought it close to the cloth that wrapped the statue of Artemis to burn it. Thus he destroyed the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
His hand was moved by fame. It had no other purpose than to be remembered by posterity. Today the "Herostratus complex" is used to indicate those people who seek to excel at all costs, who want to stand out and always be the center of attention, but instead of developing their qualities and skills to bring value, they destroy or build a fictitious personality.
People who prioritize appearances have not developed all aspects of their self and need to resort to a fictional character to make others believe - or affirm the belief to themselves - that they are successful and important. To achieve their goal they do not hesitate to invent or excessively embellish situations of all kinds that allow them to convey the idea of a happy and successful life.
These people flaunt their material possessions shamelessly and often also boast about their romantic relationships, because for them they represent a further achievement. They never have problems, their life is just perfect. In fact, they sometimes come to believe so much in the character they built that, even as life is crumbling around them like the fragile house of cards that it is, they refuse to acknowledge it.
Where does the desire to pretend to be what we are not come from?
Underlying the fiction is the need to be accepted and loved, as well as to feel that we are important. When we are young, we soon realize that "good behaviors" are rewarded in the form of affection and acceptance, so we begin to adapt to the environment to get the approval we need.
In the adult stage, this adaptive response can become a neurotic pattern. The person who lives on appearances depends almost entirely on the opinions of others, so he constructs a fictitious image with which to obtain the acceptance he needs.
The problem is that he often ends up identifying himself with that image. What was initially a survival response ends up becoming an excessive adaptation and the person decides and acts seeking the approval of others, forgetting about himself. She forgets to build a life that makes her feel good, to create a life that looks beautiful from the outside.
Ultimately, this pursuit of other people's approval hides a deep fear of being rejected and losing affection. These people think that if they show themselves as they are, if they are authentic, others will not accept them. This means that they do not accept some of their characteristics, but instead of undertaking an inner work to change them, they simply decide to hide them. Therefore, every pretense is the reflection of a lack, a frustrated goal and / or an inner rejection.
Whoever lives to appear forgets to live
People who live by appearance have not developed a good awareness of themselves, do not have solid self-esteem, but are emotionally dependent on the judgments of others. This leads them to lose connection with themselves, are unable to identify their own needs and lose sight of goals in life because they just seek approval by building a mask to hide behind.
As the French writer La Rochefoucauld said: "we are so used to disguising ourselves in the eyes of others that we eventually disguise ourselves in ours." In fact, normally these people remain trapped in the mask they have built, victims of superficiality and appearances, without being able to establish solid and deep relationships because they always hide their true selves and relate through an invented personality.
On the other hand, maintaining that image of perfection isn't easy. The person who wants to be faithful to the character he has built has to undergo constant control and supervision, so he experiences enormous self-inflicted pressure that can make him explode at any moment. And that is not happiness.
Thus, the more we pretend, the further we drift away from achieving what we pretend. It's a psychological double bind because the more we worry about pretending to be happy, the less time we will have to try and find out what makes us truly happy.
How to escape from appearances in the society of appearances?
We cannot deny that social pressure exists and that we all want to be accepted. However, we must assume that not everyone will approve of how we live or what we think. This doesn't mean we're worth less, it just means we're unique. The search for acceptance and adaptation ends where they begin to corrode our identity, pushing us to become something we are not.