Outward Competence Nearly Killed My Soul

“I didn’t let myself fail.” With those words my tears flowed freely. I had been numbly staring out the window while sitting on the couch next to the man I hope to one day marry. Two hours into a conversation about our future plans those words slipped out of me. The tension between us evaporated. He pulled me close and let me begin to talk through the tears. I finally could admit to myself and to him what I had been trying to ignore.

I had moved to Japan two years before. Moving overseas was quickly followed by my life coming completely undone. It finally had become clear to me where everything had begun to go wrong. I had never given myself the freedom to learn, make mistakes, or adjust. I had placed the expectation on myself to be perfectly competent in the culture from day one. I put on a smile to mask my fear. I made sure no one saw evidence of my tears. I didn’t want to cause more trouble to people who were already busy. I wanted to be seen as competent not as a burden. The culture I was living in praised those tendencies and magnified my resolve not to fail.

On the outside I created a façade to make people believe I had it all together. I was going to grit my teeth and not show anyone how hard it was. Eventually, I figured, my inside would match the outside. Except it didn’t. It never would.

On the inside I was dying. Stress was taking its toll physically. Spiritually, it was a dark time. As a result of spending so much time lying to myself, my relationship with God was no longer based on honesty. Emotionally and mentally, I was a shell of my former self.

By God’s grace, the man sitting next to me that day has seen through my façade from the beginning. He knew the face I was showing the world did not reflect my heart, yet there has never been a hint of condemnation in his words or actions. He gently and persistently has refused to let me settle for less than what God intended. His unwavering tenderness has given me the courage to be honest and to begin to change.

Honesty was like ripping off a bandaid. Change is a lot more painful. I can finally admit I have constructed an elaborate façade. If I stop there, I have achieved nothing. In fact, I may be doing myself even more harm. If I stop there, I am acknowledging the lie without showing anyone the truth.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how many people had come to love the same façade which was killing me. When I started to deconstruct the illusion I had created, many started encouraging me to put the façade back in place. I do not fault anyone but myself for this. I had so convincingly constructed a distortion of reality it was hard for many around me to believe it wasn’t authentic. I am learning to be okay with disappointing people.

If I could write a happy ending right now, I would. I’m not there yet. Change is a slow process. It has meant saying “yes” to certain activities which intimidate me. I have also had to say “no” to responsibilities others were confident I would take on. I have become a tourist in my own city and explored sites I had never gotten around to visiting. I have had to humble myself and ask for help. I have needed even more humility to admit how far I had gone from where God wanted me.

I don’t know if I will ever get to a point where I won’t struggle with the desire to put the façade back in place. I do know something has changed deep inside of me. The part of me that was dying has found a spark of new life. When I began to pull down the façade, this new life was allowed to grow.

I will fail. I will never be perfect, but I have hope in the God who makes all things new. He will not abandon me where I am. He will continue to give me the strength to change. I can not help but be filled with joy, for He is faithful.

What response have you gotten if you have tried to dismantle part of your façade?

8 Comments

  1. Malia September 29, 2015

    Thank you for writing this in the middle of your story, which is a bold testimony of the good growing out of that initial death (taking off the facade) even as your new life may still be in seedling form. How very difficult to have others nudge you back toward your invented self–I pray you’ll be tenacious in your truth pursuit.

    “Spiritually, it was a dark time. As a result of spending so much time lying to myself, my relationship with God was no longer based on honesty.” This part of your writing has really sunk in for me. Lying to myself may seem like it only affects me, but you’ve laid it out bluntly–and you’re right. A facade also masks my faith, and maybe this is the best example of how much denial plays into these alternate personalities. Fake it before God who knows me better than myself? Wow.

    Your story has encouraged me to take a hard look at myself, to weed out lies and to be unafraid of failure. This is such a gift. Thank you, Emily.

    1. Emily Smith September 29, 2015

      Thank you. I sat for a long time with the sentence you quoted highlighted and my finger over the delete button. Like if I didn’t write it, I could somehow ignore it. Amazing how the brain works (or doesn’t). It isn’t the easiest thing to admit you haven’t been honest with God, but he already knows. I left the sentence. I’m glad I did.

      Even writing about facade, I still had a hard time being real. I knew it wasn’t going to make everything in my life look pretty, but I still wanted to make it look a little less messy.

      I finally decided if it encourages even one person, then putting everything in there is worth it. I’m glad it could encourage you.

  2. Danielle B. September 30, 2015

    thank you for writing this! I’ve been learning this myself this year. I’ve hidden behind the mask of perfection and having it together… And it has been lonely. To keep the façade I had to keep people from coming too close, so they wouldn’t see how messed up I was. As I’ve been learning to drop the façade and be real, I’ve had friendships deepen. Thankfully, people have been happy for this change and thank me for my openness! Still a work in progress and I’m thankful for the reminder in your writing!

    1. Emily Smith September 30, 2015

      Lonely. Isn’t it? So lonely and isolating.

      I’m so glad you’ve found the courage to start being honest and allowing people to get close. It isn’t easy at all. Supportive people are so critical. I am so thankful for the core people I have had around me who recognized what was really going on and supported me. I don’t think I could have done this on my own.

      Praying you are able to continue to let people close enough to see the real you. Thank you for sharing a part of your story here, also.

  3. Davita September 30, 2015

    Emily,

    Thanks for this piece. Reading it felt very timely as I have recently (in the last couple weeks) been challenged with the same struggle. I fear removing the façade for fear of rejection but to not have an open and honest relationship with God is painful. And a friend/mentor reminded me that God has brought me to a place surrounded by people who truly care so not all will ask for the to return of the façade. Still it’s hard to disappoint people as you point out.

    It’s a scary step, one I applaud you for and pray for the same courage from our Father. We fail but our God never does. He desires a life of freedom for us which is a life of surrender and vulnerability. How I desire this frightening freedom with Him beside us, knowing that it is His joy, His laughter, His strength ready to wash over us in place of the façade. 

    1. Emily Smith October 1, 2015

      Fear can be so strong. I hear you in this. It is not an easy process. Even admitting the facade is there is a huge step.

      As hard as it was to disappoint people or feel like I was disappointing people, it was a lot more temporary than I expected. In the end most people have liked the real me better. Stronger, more alive, more filled with grace and joy. It just took an adjustment period for all of us. (And a period of time where it was very clear I was  not okay)

      I pray you are able to have people around you who will continue to encourage you and affirm you as you slowly deconstruct the facade you have created. Your heart, your open honesty before God and others, your passion and joy are all gifts to your community. May you have the courage to risk and share the gift that is you.

  4. Ellie October 1, 2015

    “What I hadn’t anticipated was how many people had come to love the same façade which was killing me. When I started to deconstruct the illusion I had created, many started encouraging me to put the façade back in place. I do not fault anyone but myself for this. I had so convincingly constructed a distortion of reality it was hard for many around me to believe it wasn’t authentic. I am learning to be okay with disappointing people.”

    wow, yeah, this is such a big thing. I had a mini-meltdown in Bible college a few years back for these reasons and everyone was like “oh but we thought you liked running (insert 6 activities) and I’m sure you can still carry on doing X” – I never knew I was projecting this aura of competence – I thought other people could see straight through me (still do!) and it was hard to say, “no, I can’t do it”..

    I think there’s still a bit element of this unconscious “success projection” in my life and I’m still surprised when people think I have things all together. I’m trying to be more conscious about openly sharing the broken bits and bits I laugh at and have in common with other muddy, muddled-up human beings and I find it goes better. (But I still don’t quite get how this “polished facade” is in place in the first place..)

    Glad we’re in this together at VA!

     

  5. Emily Smith October 2, 2015

    Oh, yes. People tell me I project all kinds of confidence and can be slightly intimidating on first impression. Internally, it is closer to dazed and confused and hoping I don’t mess up too badly. I’m still working on that disconnect.

    When everything was falling apart, I had a number of people tell me to “think happy thoughts” and trust God. I’m pretty sure my response was something gracious (or not) like “This is not Peter Pan and I’m not trying to fly to Neverland. It is going to take more than happy thoughts and pixie dust.”

    What I couldn’t explain was I was trusting God. I was trusting that he loved me for who I was more than what I could do. I wasn’t trusting in my own strength, because that just wasn’t working anymore.

    Amen! So glad we are all in this together.

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