The problem with perky

I’ve been called perky, bubbly, expressive, even–just yesterday–“sunshine in human form.” Most of the time, I am terribly flattered when someone chooses to encourage me with words like these (I think the “sunshine” analogy is quite possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me).

But there are days when I might hide a hurting heart with a great big smile. Or perhaps I just a few hours ago yelled at my daughters or snapped at my husband. On days like that, when someone compliments me with words like these, I feel like a fraud. Worse, I feel like I’ll disappoint people if they know the truth. Many times, I have tried to confide in someone about my hair-trigger temper, and they have dismissed it with a wave and words like, “Oh, you could never be like that. I’m sure you’re exaggerating.”

I think it’s wonderful that people are encouraged by my smile and whatever else it is they see in me (believe me, I often wonder). I don’t want that to end. But I wonder sometimes what other people are hiding.

I have two dear friends who have gone through major heart break within the past year. In both cases, I was stunned to discover the depth of their pain, and the many years they’d been concealing it.

One friend is perky, like me, which gives the impression that her life is bright and happy. In reality, there are layers of darkness in her marriage that nobody would ever suspect.

My other friend is like clear, still water. She is the best listener I have ever known. But with all of her calmness and listening and counseling others, she had never shared the pain and unsteadiness in her own life.

And now, I wonder, how would things be different if I had known more about my friends than what I let myself see on the surface? It is so easy, especially in the Christian community, to believe that everyone is coasting along just fine. And when we believe that everyone else is fine, when in actuality they might be horribly depressed, or struggling with addiction, or cherishing a secret sin, how does that make us view our own troubles?

I am not sure what the solution is. I am careful not to reveal too much (even on this blog) about my marriage, because it is much too easy for women to get together and harp on their husbands, which does nobody any good. But the other extreme, to let it appear as if everything is peachy, leaves us utterly alone in our struggles.

Let’s figure this out together. What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “The problem with perky

  1. I never knew a listener better than your mom.

    Internalization can be the pressure cooker without a safety valve.

    Expressiveness is the is the exposure of the heart, which is not always received without judgment. (why else would it be so poignant of a statement, “You can’t handle the truth!”)

    No ‘person’ is an island.
    Realism vs. Cynicism, not all know the difference.
    Everything is relative, especially a hurting heart.
    Misery loves company/empathy/support/understanding.

    Good luck in finding the balance.

    oh yeah, I think you are doing a fantastic job with your insights.

  2. Our society is not one that respectably enables people who are stuggling to seek help, so yes, probably everyone/ each individual in our lives are dealing with troubles: financial; psychological (depression, addiction); legal (divorce, business, property ownership, child or property custody/ rights); and/ or interpersonal (family or work releashionships that seem cumbersome and not easily resolvable). Ultimately these topics are inter-related, as problems with one usually lead to problems with others. SHAME is a deeply ingrained societal and christian judgment that influences individuals NOT to share their struggles or ask for help from others. Our quick to judge society that quickly calls “pariah” before gathering all of the facts further impresses on individuals that hiding difficulties is the most nobel way to cope. To close with your theme, the “Perky” people and positive facade we put on for those around us fuels our individual/ internal belief that each of us is a single individual with troubles, and, contrarily, our friends, peers and colleagues are not saddled with similar troubles. This belief furthers the lack of openness/ honesty and candor about what we are each struggling with as individuals.

    The solution for this change is unclear. Over the last 30 years many organizations have formed to build support groups for every conceivable trouble. Despite these efforts to organize, improvements in managment of these troubles and personal needs does not seem to have been improved. What is the new way?

  3. Anonymous –

    I agree that there are societal issues involved, but I think there is individual culpability as well, springing from our own pride and desire to seem as if we have things all together. I think it’s part of who we are as humans. We don’t have to leave it that way, but we have to recognize that tendency in ourselves in order to intentionally fight against it.

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