Impression Management Versus Authenticity
When I joined a group a few years ago and it was time for introductions, I stayed within the allowed three minutes and managed not to engage in my old game of “impression management.” For me that mean: Say something that will make everyone laugh! or Say something so deep or authentic-sounding that people will be impressed! It was difficult because I was used to doing my best to manage the impression of myself that other people walked away with.
Impression management is about using words, possessions and time allocation to convince others I am more or different than what I really am. It’s scary on several levels. It means I want others’ approval so much that I can’t just be myself. It isn’t OK to be who I am. It means that I can’t trust God to do whatever is appropriate concerning my reputation. I must “help God out.” It creates bondage as we become enslaved to cramped schedules and others’ expectations. To be all things to all people means we have to squeeze in another appointment or errand. This seems like no big deal, except that we’re so rushed and distracted that our true authentic self of love and truth doesn’t have space to show up. Worry over our inability to do all this creates anxiety and fear.
Trying to manage what you think of me is a form of insincerity, even duplicity: what you see (impression) is not what you get when you know the real me. We are misleading people to think we are more clever, more witty or more spiritual than we are. Then we have to live up to that or risk disappointing them. At times, impression management is about trying too hard to be sincere because our simple speech is not enough. At its worst, it’s about exploiting opportunities and people so we can get what we want from them. Such a life is exhausting because we’re working against what is real and we’re not truly loving people (but only using them). It lacks the tranquility and authenticity of simplicity of life. In fact, that’s one way we can tell when we’re doing it: I’m losing a sense of peace within. What am I up to?
So these days I’m finding that speaking simply (to “let my ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ be ‘no’,” Matt 5:37) without impression management is easier. We build relationships more naturally because we can simply be and transparent without posturing. We are the same person in every situation. We always act in character, never working behind a mask. It’s easier to love others because we no longer try to manage them with convincing words to get them do what we want them to do.
People also find us easier to be around when we live in simplicity and authenticity of speech. They don’t have to guess what we’re really like or what we’re really thinking because we are refreshingly absent of pretense or affectation. The real me has the chance to connect with the real you. I want to keep moving forward to be content to be my unadorned self—the authentic self who does not need to impress anyone, but who also continues to experiment with trusting God more in all situations.
Grace and peace,
©Jan Johnson The above is excerpted and adapted from chapter 4 of Abundant Simplicity
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