The Pain of Pretension - An Encouraging Word

Pretension is a learned behavior. We are not born with it, but the learning process begins early. An infant learns that certain behaviors bring approval while others displease important people in the infant's constellation of relationships. Learning what is acceptable and what is unacceptable is a child's way of adjusting to the world. This is a valuable process, but there comes a time in the process of maturation that pleasing others is not a healthy primary goal. There are many things that are appropriate in childhood, but inappropriate in adulthood. In the great love chapter in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), the Apostle Paul speaks of this with crystal clarity. "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways".

There comes a time in every person's life to lay aside childish ways, claim one's identity and grow up. The time and place for this is not always clearly defined, but wise parents watch for it, and when it comes they help their children become adults. Fortunate is the child whose parents are wise and perceptive about this.

It is a nice gesture to intentionally do things to please others, but it is unhealthy to develop a pattern of pleasing people in order to gain their approval and acceptance. Beware of relationships that are conditional. Any relationship that requires you to sacrifice your identity is a form of emotional slavery. It is unstable and unhealthy. Don't go there, but if you are already there, come back.

Many romances develop with one or both parties on their best behavior, doing things out of the ordinary to insure the favor of the other. Brief courtships often do not allow enough time for two people to see each other beyond their "Sunday self". When the honeymoon is over, and the behaviors designed to impress are dropped, and the real person behind the romantic mask shows up, there is often trouble in paradise. Many marriages do not survive the shock. Pretension in brief courtships results in many divorces, or at least unhappy marriages.

How many people do you know who are trapped in a life of pretension, afraid to be themselves for fear of losing the approval of people in particular important relationships? You may be one of them. I cannot tell you how to move from pretension to honesty without the risk of alienating people who "bought what you were selling", and who may become upset when they discover that is not who you really are. You have to decide which is the most painful: to go on living a lie, or to break the bonds of pretension and risk the displeasure of people in your constellation of relationships who for their own personal reasons want to keep you just like you have been pretending to be. There are people who will be threatened by seeing you get out of the cage and spread your wings, for fear you will leave them and never come back. These are people who will put all sorts of pressure on you to get back in your cage. Can you handle that? You can be free, but freedom does not come without costs.

Let me tell you a secret. The sooner you learn this secret, the more quickly you will be able to obtain and sustain a sense of belonging. People will admire and respect your for your correctness, expertise and strength, but they will identify with you, love you, and have a sense of oneness with you when you allow them to see your hurts and weaknesses. People will love you and let you into their world when they discover that you are as human as they are. If you hide your humanity with a sophisticated veneer of correctness, pride and pretended strength, you will never be admitted into the sacred inner sanctum of the lives of other people. If you have a longing for belonging, learn to be yourself. Don't let pride stand between you and God, or between you and other people. Admiration and respect are fine, but there will always come a time in which you would trade all of that for just one little bit of genuine love, acceptance and belonging. All of us are instinctively afraid of people who have never made a mistake. Learn that lesson about life as soon as you can. Barriers between you and others will begin to dissolve if you can give up pretending.

Psychologically and theologically many problems lie in store for those who seek acceptance through pretension. The word that Jesus came to bring is that God accepts us just as we are. We need not pretend that we are better or other than who we really are. Since God accepts us as we are, we can move through life with the hopeful expectation that people will accept us as well.

When we can trust the loving acceptance of God, it will give us such a secure sense of belonging where it really counts that we will be able to survive other rejections that may happen to us from time to time.