There's something not quite right.
Something just isn't sitting well in your gut.
You can't quite place it exactly, but there is something wrong between the words and something else.
We've all hidden something about ourselves from others. We're all tempted to “spin” to protect ourselves from some vulnerability or difficult situation.
Sure, I have plenty of hidden parts, thank you. My recent intimate relationship with death has led to a great deal of mind spring-cleaning. In so doing, I've come across three common fears that cause us to hide some of our authenticity: rejection, exposure and vulnerability.
Fear of being rejected
We don’t want to let people see what we’re really like because we fear disapproval. We fear rejection.
The easiest way to avoid rejection is to make sure that you're not in a position to be rejected. If I don't ask you for help, I don't have to worry that you will refuse. If I do the job myself, I only have to rely on myself. Much safer.
If I don't ask for your opinion, I won't have to deal with your disapproval of my thinking.
And yet. In my mind, I'll still be wondering what you think about my idea, or if you think I've done that job well. Even if I don't actually know you, but catch you looking in my direction.
Why do we fear the opinions of other people, even people we don't know? Because we all have a deep, burning desire to be loved. Actually, we need to be loved. The feeling of being loved, and loving, is the result of oxytocin production. It's the hormone that encourages mothers and babies to bond. It is the hormone that increases the desire to gaze lovingly at your partner. Oxytocin indices a feeling of trust.
If I think that you are rejecting me, not only do I not get a dose of oxytocin, i get an extra dose of cortisol and nor-adrenaline – our favourite stress and fear chemicals. Thus I can have a fear of being rejected that causes me to think that you are rejecting me, which increase my fear of rejection. And all I wanted was to feel loved.
And what matters, is what I think you think. What I think you mean by what you say or do, not necessarily what you actually say or do.
So, to be on the safe side… perhaps it's better not to expose myself to your rejection…
Fear of being exposed
Nobody minds their strengths being revealed. We have no problem with our positive capabilities being exposed. But when it comes to our weaknesses and insecurities, we would prefer these remain behind lock and key.
Anyone who exposes our inadequacy is in danger of experiencing our wrath. Even (or perhaps, especially) when it is your spouse reminding you of something you thought was safely stowed in a black box, buried deep.
I've worked with many senior leaders who are desperately concerned that anyone will find out that they haven't actually got it all together.
Indeed, one of the first questions I get from senior leaders is about confidentiality. It shows a strong need to be open and honest and to dare to expose themselves to someone. We all benefit from talking about our real selves. To admit that we have weaknesses. In these days of Facebook ‘friends' it's difficult to keep true and trusted real friends. And if you're used to hiding things from your spouse, you have to find someone to talk to eventually. All good news for the coaching industry but less so, I think, for society.
Our pride is at stake when we are exposed. In the brain the chemical principally responsible is serotonin. With it, we feel good, proud of our achievements. Without it we feel none of that and instead feel anxious, and stressed, and fearful.
The real mark of a great leader is someone who exposes their weaknesses, confesses them and asks for help in those areas. But won't that make me vulnerable? Sure it will…
Fear of being vulnerable
Anyone who's been hurt in their past is scared that it might happen again. And since that is everyone, that means we are all fearful of being hurt again.
The worse the hurt, the worse the fear.
The deeper you were cut emotionally, the greater the anxiety.
So we build defensive walls. We develop self-protective habits. We become more and more inauthentic and end up pushing well-intentioned people away because they might, just might, hurt us.
As this vicious cycle continues, we have more anxiety and more stress, which makes us sick and we end up hurting ourselves. The very thing we were trying to avoid, we end up doing to ourselves rather than risk anyone else doing so.
Our brain wants to experience the dopamine high of joy and happiness. With a fear of being vulnerable, we replace that with stress and anxiety, poor health and low productivity.
Of course, a quick fix to all of these is to replace the lack of our ‘happy chemicals' with artificial stimulants.
Gorge on chocolate to feel better about ourselves. Inhale artificial joy in nicotine or drown those fears in a bucket of booze.
You want to be a more effective leader and shepherd, which means being close to people. Being close to people means taking the risk of being exposed, rejected, and hurt. But in the end, it’s a risk well worth taking.
If you want to lead, you’re going to get hurt, but you just might change the world in the process.