Once upon a time there lived a girl whose parents kept telling her that she was the best of the best. She was the prettiest and the smartest girl in class. Best dressed. Most talented. From the best background. The brightest future was expecting her. She would be marrying the most caring and richest man in town and would be making a brilliant career.
When she sang - and she sang badly - her parents would say she was a lovely singer. When she danced - she was told she was the best on the floor. If she wrote a story - and it was mediocre writing - she was told she would make a talented writer. And so on.
That is what her parents kept telling the girl. Maybe they truly believed she was the best of the best. Maybe they wanted to build her self-esteem so she could succeed in life.
It did not stop there. Not only the girl was the best, she was much better than other kids. She made better sand castles, was smarter than other kids, quicker and stronger in sports, could afford better dresses and had friends from more affluent families.
If other kids did not agree with the fact of her superiority, they were labeled jealous, unappreciative, mean or silly. First by the girl's parents, and later on by the girl. Only best kids from best families from best social backgrounds were allowed to be friends with the girl. After playdates the girl was secretly told by her parents that she was better than her best friends who were best of the best.
A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. - Saul Bellow
The girl grew up to be the best, better than many others around her, in fact better than most people she met. She somehow knew she was the best, the smartest, the luckiest, the prettiest and so on.
And for some time life complied. The illusion of superiority was a nice one and was reinforced by careful selection of people who confirmed it. If someone was too honest, they were thrown out of the girl's life as a jealous and unappreciative person who only wanted to bring her self-esteem down. Only facts that confirmed the superiority illusion could make it through the mental filter that the parents had created for the girl. Was she to blame? Not yet, not at that stage of her life.
But then, slowly as it happens first, life started throwing unpleasant surprises at the girl. Her best friend - not as pretty, smart and well off as the girl of course - was happily married, and genuinely happy at that. And the girl was not. First, the girl did everything possible to ignore that unpleasant fact, and she was good - she genuinely believed she was happy in marriage for years on.
As years went on, the girl's career did not advance as much as she was hoping. In fact, it did not advance at all and it could be hardly called a career any more, just a much hated job. The girl's colleagues changed jobs, received training, were promoted and got better money. In the girl's view, her colleagues were stupid, but cunning and knew the right people or slept with the boss to get a promotion. How else could they possibly advance in life?
Self-deception works miracles and sometimes seems to be the only way out when we are caught in illusion. Either self-deception or the illusion will shatter, and to our mind - the illusion is our whole world, our identity, our self. Shattering the illusion equals shattering ourself.
The girl's kids were not as pretty and intelligent as her friend's kids and, to the girl's horror, the kids were not good at maths, or anything else. In fact, they were very laid back students. Surely it was the teachers' fault, so the family changed schools.
Then the husband left the girl for another woman and told the girl he was exhausted to be in a relationship with a self-absorbed demanding partner who only badmouthed other people and did nothing to change herself and her life for the better, but put a lot of pressure on family members to live up to some kind of golden standard.
The girl was devastated. No, not only because her husband left, although that was bad, too. She was mainly devastated because her self-image was shattering piece by piece. Her husband's departure was a huge piece of that self-image breaking off. One would have thought that such life drama would wake the girl up and make her realise that life was now demanding change. The time of gentle reminders and subtle hints was long gone. But the girl was too busy blaming her husband, the circumstances and all men in general. When her friend of many years tried to talk some sense into the girl and maybe reconsider her attitude to people and life, the friend was labeled unsupportive and cruel, a traitor.
Time passed and the girl - now a grumpy sad looking middle aged woman - was growing more unhappy and unsatisfied by the day. To make things worse, her grown up kids were unappreciative cold-hearted self-centered egoists who dared blame the girl for not receiving enough love and attention. Didn't the kids get that their mother was so busy maintaining her illusion of superiority? She didn't have the time and energy to give love and attention to others. She felt that - quite the contrary - others should give her the love she deserved and she could just stand there cold and emotionally unavailable and accept other people's admiration.
Despite struggling with unhealthy self-esteem (thanks to their unaffectionate cold mother) the kids left the home early and found good jobs and built their families. They helped their mother financially but preferred not to stick around because the girl became a very toxic older woman very unhappy with her life and very grumpy with the world. Her few remaining friends felt sorry for the girl but avoided her company. Men were scared of her, the very few who approached quickly ran away. Who wants to be around such a person?
Surprisingly, this story has a more or less positive ending. The girl somehow analysed her life and realised that the illusion of superiority did not serve her well. No one knows if she ever forgave her parents who had instilled the superiority belief in her. But the girl managed to achieve some sort of balance in her life, some kind of satisfaction in her older years. That was only possible if she lived alone and did not interact with people much, at least not too closely, even with family members. She confessed to me that people still annoyed her. She was so much better off living on her own; she wished she realised that much earlier in life, then she could at least have a happier life.
It is quite sad, isn't it? Sad that the girl grew up that way. Sad that she was not strong enough to realise she was living in illusions much earlier in life so she had a chance to change her life for the better. Sad that her kids have to struggle with low self-confidence.
Shallow people believe in luck and in circumstances; Strong people believe in cause and effect. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
And the message of this story? We should always be looking for certain markers in our life, markers that are simple obvious and powerful. Markers that indicate we are living in an illusion.
We have to pretend that we are satisfied with our life
and we have become so good at pretending, that we stop noticing it. It also depends on the level of our emotional intelligence if and when we notice our self-deception. But as years pass pretending becomes harder and harder until we are sick and tired of pretending. Our smiles and laughs become so insincere, our unhappiness oozes from our eyes, our energy levels are not great, and our usual activities and interactions with people do not seem to bring us the same pleasure and joy, or any joy at all.
Our relationships with people are not going well
and some crumble down completely. We are surrounded by people who are not good enough - unsmart or too smart, passive or too hostile, people who do not want to understand us. We do not feel we can trust, respect or associate with our close circle. This is because we have surrounded ourselves with people who reinforce our illusion and these people are not the brave, honest, sincere and smart type. If they were, they would not be confirming our self-deception. Everyone worthy is long gone - we either pushed them away or they willingly ran away because could not stand our selfish attitude to life and unaffectionate manner.
Life is not treating us well, constantly
as if our luck has left us and the whole world is turning against us - from minor events through to bigger life dramas. We are not achieving what we feel we deserve. We keep comparing ourselves to the successes of others and realise that other people - who we thought were not as intelligent, attractive, rich, ambitious and skilled - are somehow advancing in life and seem to be genuinely happy. And our life has become full of unpleasant events which always take us by surprise. We are constantly fighting fires and battles which we cannot win. We do not have as much energy to fight the ongoing battle of life, but we are facing more and more battles, not fewer.
All the three markers become more obviously screaming as we become older. At 30 y.o. we can easily ignore them and blame other people and circumstances. But at 30, we still have energy and space to make adjustments to our character and changes to our lives. At 50 y.o. the blows become stronger and more obvious. But we have already become weaker because we have invested so much energy in maintaining our self-deception instead of advancing and improving our personality. Also, at 50 y.o. we have less room and appetite for movement and dramatic life changes. Life has been giving us indicators that things were not right, so we could see opportunities for change. However, the opportunity window closes down as we grow old, we have limited amount of time on this planet. So if we do not change now, maybe we can wait till the next reincarnation?
The purpose of our lives is to be happy.
Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.
- Dalai Lama