Impression Management

Therapeutic Thursday on Friday

I meant to start this new Gripping Life series yesterday, but I wasn’t feeling well so here it is today. I’d like to introduce a new mental health or emotional wellness topic every Thursday. Therapeutic Thursday is what I’m calling it. If I were a little OCD I might have had to wait until next Thursday to start, but as you can see, being able to start on a Friday means I’m healthy. *cough-cough* (Just disregard the fact that this thought even occurred to me.)

When we come to realize that someone we know is fake, it’s usually a bit of a turn-off. Most of us are attracted to what’s real, authentic and genuine. What is it about FAKE people that bothers us so much? Are people born fake? If not, then how does fakery evolve? ๐Ÿ™‚

FEAR is the driving force behind most cases of impression management. ย Somewhere along the line we receive and accept messages that indicate that pieces of ourselves, maybe even the whole of us, is not good enough. Who you receive these messages from, (parents, caretakers, other children, siblings, etc.) how often, and for what length of time, will determine just how much of yourself you’re eager to discard. Very few things are more damaging and hurtful than being criticized and judged for who you are. Our sense of self becomes VERY FRAGILE when we are constantly reminded that WHO WE ARE AT OUR CORE, OUR SPIRIT, is unlovable, not good enough, flawed, defective, bad, etc. Ironically, often the people who provide these harsh judgements and rejections were held to the same standards when they were young. They repeat the messages because they have learned that being PERFECT is the only way to survive. So, in essence, when we see parents pushing their children to extreme limits of perfection, we can assume that behind this push is the fear of getting hurt, of being vulnerable. To them, it’s love. They teach perfection for survival. (Many people develop addictions later in life for these reasons – another post for another day.)

Vulnerability, letting your real sloppy, average, regular, flawed, and human self show for all the world to see = DANGER, HURT, CRITICISM, PAIN. The only way to avoid getting hurt is to protect yourself by eliminating the real (defective) parts of yourself and replacing them with socially acceptable parts or more perfect parts. That way, no one can hurt you. Very often, people who are fake, who conform and who present to the world a perfect or flawless image, are afraid of being real, afraid to get hurt. As time goes on they eventually become so removed from who they really are that they panic and become anxious in situations where being real is necessary. (I’ve noticed that fake people have a hard time with creativity. Why? Because they have to make choices that don’t rely on something that’s been done before. Originality scares the crap out of fake people. You’ll see the look of terror wash over them when they realize that in order to create something they have to go without rules, they can’t copy, there’s no right or wrong and people might see that part that they’ve rejected.)


People who use extreme impression management have an external locus of control. Their measuring stick is on the outside. They compare themselves to other people to figure out their worth. They are focused on appearance. They compete with other people to feel better about themselves – if they’re superior, then that means they’re momentarily safe. They live by rules. They are followers. They are insecure and unsure of how to respond in different situations because they rely so heavily on external cues for emotional safety.

By contrast, people who have spent their lives feeling good about who they are and loving themselves, have developed an internal locus of control. They never need to rely on external cues because they feel safest being true to who they are. They are independent thinkers and feelers. (This is what we’re attracted to.)

Each of us falls somewhere on this continuum. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that each of us has had insecure moments in our lifetime. You can usually figure out what sort of things trigger our need to present a false front. I don’t think any of us enjoy being fake, right? But we want to be liked and loved. Well, we can be! The trick is to acknowledge and then reject those old messages from our youth, they’re total crap, and replace them with healthy messages. We need to love ourselves, warts and all. In addition, we need to be mindful that when we see people struggling with vulnerability, when we see people needing to be perfect and getting defensive, we probably should cut them some slack and recognize that underneath their off-putting behavior is a frightened child. By loving one another we can help erase those old stupid messages.