Adjectives and Shame

I recently read an article about what has been called Impostor Syndrome. This refers to the feeling many individuals have that their success is attributed to luck rather than knowledge or skill. Studies reveal this feeling is present in people from every background working in every field. They walk around every day with shame, fearing that they will be found out as fakes and subsequently fired, scorned or removed from their positions.

People consistently compare themselves to others on many fronts. More often then not, they perceive that others are smarter, more capable and confident than they are. This poor internal self-evaluation affects males and females alike. Males are just as likely to have a poor self-evaluation but talk about it less because talking about it can backfire more seriously on them. Women are more likely to verbalize their emotions and therefore less subject to stigma if they do.

Finances are another example of the shame and embarrassment people carry around inside of them. In general, most people in this culture don’t talk about the financial details of their lives with their closest friend and/or family members. Amazingly, you are more likely to have information on whether a friend or relative is using Viagra then you are to know their general or specific financial profile. Does the amount of money someone has determine their worth and value as a human being?

These are just two examples of what I am tempted to call a shame epidemic in our current culture. The Internet has people more aware then ever of how others are living their lives. In addition, we live in a culture of “optimization.” Parents put every effort into optimizing their children for performance to compete for the best classes, colleges and internships. Individuals spend most of their time digitally connected to information sources to optimize their knowledge base. Many are now adept at using Photoshop to optimize their Internet bound pictures. If people aren’t fully optimized, they carry this weight on the inside in the form of shame.

In addition to our fast paced tech culture, might part of this shame epidemic can be attributed to living in a world ruled by adjectives? Companies spend millions on advertising, using adjectives to get our attention in hopes we will buy their products, travel to their destinations or eat their food. They convince us that whatever we are doing, eating, wearing, driving or buying needs be the biggest, best, fastest, highest or lowest.

Menus have always used adjectives to describe the food we order at restaurants. Yet it seems the descriptions of food have exploded in the past few years. Regular mushrooms have become “premium select mushrooms grown in ancient forests.” Bacon is from “family farm raised pigs of only the highest select breeding.” I recently heard of a skincare line with ingredients from a particular plant that has been “harvested during the full moon phase to capture the unique enzyme emitted only during this time”.

Even the weather has been pumped up with more frequent “Storm of the Century” forecasts. Sometimes it seems as if “Tracking the Storm” tagline with exploding PowerPoint graphics are used when merely a sprinkle or flurry is expected. Hundreds of cable channels and twenty-four hour news cycles require adjectives on steroids to get our attention.

Living in this culture of optimization and adjectives, are you adopting this same unrealistic approach when it comes to how you perceive yourself? How can you know where you truly stand amidst all of this pumped-up inaccurate hype? Long term shame and poor self esteem can lead to depression and anxiety. Be conscious of the negative self talk in your own head when comparing yourself to others. Likewise be wary of using steroid injected adjectives on yourself during your own internal self-evaluations. Instead, spend time in honest balanced self-reflection, relying on close trusted friends to ground you. Be the grounding realistic friend for others as well. Your self esteem will thank you.

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