Health & Wellness Lifestyle

Fear of Success and The Power of Self-Deception

“Women, like other marginalized groups, internalize countless messages: we do not belong in important places: we do not really count; we do not really shape history and culture.” -Harriett Lerner, Ph.D., The Dance of Deception

Do you ever feel like you want to make a difference in the community around you? Would you like to shift the culture forward, but you are unsure of where to start? Do you find yourself wondering about the necessary changes that need to be made in order to get to the next level? Have you ever considered that for women especially, there’s an invisible weight that comes along with being goal-oriented or ambitiously focused? If you find yourself nodding your head yes, then I cordially invite you to explore your answers through this blog.

Strength-Training Invisible Weights Called Culture and Fear

Last year I took the initiative to read, The Dance of Deception: A Guide to Authenticity and Truth-Telling in Women’s Relationships by well-renowned psychologist Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. (Lerner, 1997). I wanted to know more about the intricacies of the “truth”, the fundamentals that block accessing the truth in our minds, and how women are especially affected by lies and deception in society. The concept of deception is not often discussed or talked about. People often point blame or “throw shade”, but it takes conscious effort to examine the context surrounding situations that hurt us, trap us, or threaten the status quo.

While reading Dr. Lerner’s profound expertise and firm voice in feminism, I found myself unraveling the consciousness of culture that so often blocks women from walking, living, and speaking in truth. Empowered by the question, “Who says?” I began to examine the way society can feed and nurture the act of pretending, how it can be problematic, and the adverse impact of fear on our personal growth.

The Tools of Authenticity, Consciousness, and Non-Conformity

Authenticity

For the sake of pursuing your purpose and achieving your most ambitious goals, it is imperative to acknowledge self-acceptance as the cure to the paralyzing, crippling effects of fear.

  • What are your beliefs about who you are? What evidence do you have that supports those beliefs?
  • Has there been a time where an experience separated you from who you wanted to be? If so, is it possible to accept that experience (absent of self-criticism and full of self-compassion) as an integral part of your story, also known as your truth?

Reflecting on these questions helps us stay grounded in self-awareness and push us closer to authentic living. Reaching for the next level of success requires abandonment of negative self-fulfilling prophecies (i.e. “Everyone knows I am unqualified”), and the adoption of new ones (i.e. “I am capable of infinite growth”).

Consciousness (of the self)

According to Dr. Lerner, it is possible for us to fall asleep to the truth through the mechanism of deception (Lerner, 1997). She describes deception as a tool for survival across species on earth, which is an important factor to consider. However, when we are in pursuit of goals and achievement, deception proves to be a hindrance. Most companies or interviewers have the desire for us to identify our “strengths” and “weaknesses”, but how often are we evaluating ourselves through an authentic lens? Are we truly awakened to the weights that pull us back?

Take the time to consider these four rationalizations that are the culprits to self-deceptive thought patterns (Lerner, 2002): 

  • “It wasn’t my fault.”
  • “I couldn’t help myself.”
  • “It was necessary.”
  • “It’s not that big of deal.”

When I read these rationalizations, I immediately began to reflect on my experiences with more depth and complexity. I started to notice places that I might have dismissed accountability, instances when I resisted forgiveness (of others and myself) and reconciled with any feelings of shame that may have been blocking my self-awareness. Challenging these rationalizations helped me feel more empowered by my ability to categorize them as non-truths, and ultimately see myself more clearly.

With an elevation of consciousness, fear of success becomes less intimidating.

Non-Conformity

During a thought-provoking conversation I had with a male elder in the community, he keenly expressed that the intrinsic nature of women is selfishness. I took minor offense to the comment, kept in mind the context in which he shared his analysis, and persisted to become familiar with his theory. We were discussing decisions that women are commonly expected to make, and from his perspective, women tend to air on the side of self-interest when all is said and done.

(In retrospect, the topic of “women’s decision-making skills” is typical of dominant culture. Due to societal standards, norms, and expectations, women are incessantly vulnerable to marginalization from a patriarchal lens.)

Following the discussion, his harsh assessment stuck with me. At first, I found myself reflecting about the tendency of women to be perceived as selfish. Then, I noticed a divisive cycle, amongst men and women, that stemmed from that frame of thinking. I searched diligently in my mind for a belief that could reframe his argument. Finally, in the spirit of feminism, I arrived at the following conclusion:

A woman’s intrinsic nature is rebellion.

The Antidote of Feminism

Historically, women in society move the culture forward by challenging critical assumptions. Despite systems of oppression and corporate limitations, the consciousness of women (rebelliousness) supersedes and prevails.

I remember traveling to a village outside of Otavalo, Ecuador for a multicultural counseling course during graduate school. Our professors informed us that the women were in the midst of an uprising against machismo1. In support of the movement, we sought out to volunteer at a nonprofit organization called Caritas de Esperanza, which translates to the Spirit of Hope. Remarkably, the founder of the organization was the first woman in history leading their local government. A cultural shift was vividly on the horizon due to her trailblazing rebellion, dedication to future generations, and determination to protect the liberties of women.

Discussion

The chilling reality is the manifestation of a revolution when a woman says, “To hell with this!”. In Lerner, 1997 her feminist voice guides us to question limitations that suffocate authenticity. Women, let’s take the time to reflect on the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are. Is the narrative centered from truth, or masked by fear?

 


Endnote

  1. Machismo- a male-dominated culture that strictly limits the roles of women in society.

References

Lerner, H. G. (2002). The dance of connection: How to talk to someone when you’re mad, hurt, scared, frustrated, insulted, or desperate. New York: HarperCollins.

Lerner, H. G. (1997). The dance of deception: A guide to authenticity and truth-telling in women’s relationships. New York: HarperCollins.

Alyssa Peterson is a School Psychologist who advocates for the academic, behavioral, and emotional needs of children in underserved communities. Currently, she is working to connect a network of survivors to inspire eternal growth and community healing. It is her personal mission to empower, enfranchise, and liberate oppressed individuals and family systems.

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