Put you on a pedestal

I remember being in class 9 when I met my friend’s older brother, who was visiting on his college summer break. I was sitting on the ground on a hot summer day waiting to be picked up after school when I felt a shadow blocking the sun, and when I looked up, I saw a tall man smiling down at me. My friend introduced me to him, and from that instant, I started fantasizing that he was my older brother and building scenarios in my mind where he was protecting me. I also began attributing qualities to him that may or may not be valid. He was perfect, and imagining anything less made me anxious.
As I think of that image, me sitting on the ground (less than perfect) and this larger-than-life (perfect) character perceived by my psyche as looming over me is a snapshot of my years of a deep-rooted idealizing tendency waiting to act out. Over the years, I would find one person in my life to idealize, and he had to be perfect, and my association with that ideal person enhanced my low self-esteem. I would quickly dismiss any ambivalent feelings towards that person, squash any negative emotion that might come up, and reassure myself that I trusted that person entirely and that he would always be around.
Eventually, that idealizing would set me up for hurt and pain as that individual would keep falling short of my unrealistic expectations. Eventually, the ‘perfect other’ would become ordinary, and I would feel empty and shut down for days.
Through therapy, I became aware that in the absence of a nurturing mother who was emotionally available, it was the inner child who looked for the ‘perfect mother’ who could fill the void left by my mother when I needed her the most and my association with that perfect person was a mirror in which I saw a better version of myself. It is almost like the child saying, ‘my mother is perfect, and I am her child, so I am perfect too.’
I was unconsciously transferring my need for the unconditional love expected of a mother to my teachers, mentors, and friends. I started to get a taste of idealizing when I started as a therapist, and clients perceived me as this perfect therapist who would have the answers to all their ‘why’ questions and solutions to all their life’s problems. I started to notice how uncomfortable their expectations of me would make me feel and a protest within that ‘I am a mere mortal, and would you please see me as that.’
I explored my resistance and realized that via idealization, the other is inadvertently setting me up for failure, and devaluation is around the corner. I will fall short of these larger-than-life expectations and hurt their feelings. It’s also interesting how one imagines that by idealizing the other, one is granting the power and control of the relationship to the other. Still, in reality, you are the one who is controlling the relationship. It’s like saying to someone, ‘I know you will never disappoint me, and I need you the most.’ You are provoking the rescuer within the other who will try his best not to hurt you, especially as the need within this idealization is a genuine need to be loved, and unconsciously, the other will respond.
Falling in love is so often mere idealization where one turns a blind eye to the other’s flaws and projects exaggerated positive attributes to the other, and again because this process isn’t authentic and, sooner or later, the honeymoon period is over.
We are all prone to idealization. We all have our vacuums and the tendency to build fantasy castles with princes and princesses. So, when you notice that you are putting anyone on a pedestal and bringing him down makes you uneasy and anxious, that’s your cue to sit with those intolerable feelings and allow yourself to relate to the person in the here-and-now reality as you relate to yourself. Perfection is a fallacy; no one in the world can always be there for us, trustworthy, love us unconditionally, or never change. Let’s connect to others in their humanness, perfectly imperfect.

Zara Maqbool

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool@yahoo.com or her official website.

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