Are You Wearing Emotional Spanks?

Donning an emotional “everything is fine” mask in our personal relationships is psychological Spanx, making it difficult for authentic connection to develop.

Spanks. Those ingenious undergarment items that smooth our bumps and bulges has helped many of us feel our best. But there’s an emotional kind of Spanx wearing that tends to occur in our personal relationships: the idea of hiding our authentic selves from a potential or actual partner in an effort to be liked.

It’s one thing to want the illusion of a slimmer physique but when we hold back who we truly are in our personal relationships, we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our partner, and the relationship itself.

*Gena just started dating someone.

“I really like this one. I think there’s real potential. But then I saw him on TikTok, throwing emoji kisses and hearts to another girl. Psychologically, I went down the rabbit hole. But I’m not letting him see that. He thinks I’m all cool with his online flirting emoji-fest.”

It’s a couple of weeks into Gena’s dating “Mr. Real Potential.” Two weeks of seeing his online TikTok flirting, two weeks of keeping her angst inside like a muffin top hidden under Spanx. And just like the physical Spanx, the emotional Lycra needed to eventually come off.

“I found myself getting passive-aggressive with him. I couldn’t take not knowing who these girls were that he was online emoji kissing. So, I asked him, ignoring my head screaming at me that I looked like an idiot.”

That inner voice is fear; it’s our brain’s meaning-well-attempt to protect us. But we aren’t in danger when we are honest. Ironically, removing our emotional Spanx is the best thing you can do for everyone involved. Your relationship can literally breathe better.

A dear friend of mine is a bit of a branding guru (https://www.catheynickell.com). She recently had a speaking engagement where she shared her most popular posts on Instagram:

“It’s typically the ones where I share something about me, something personal and authentic. People are drawn to authenticity.”

Authenticity not only boosts one’s potential popularity on social media; it nourishes our relationships. When we, as Brene Brown ingeniously coined it, “dare greatly,” we are showing up in this life, removing our psychological Spanx to experience genuine intimacy.

Shortly after Gena’s confession, her Mr. Real Potential shared that he appreciated her honesty and assured her that it was just playful texting and that he only dates one person at a time.

Could Gena have experienced Mr. Real Potential giving a different answer, one filled with negativity? Judgement? Disappointment? Anger? Absolutely. To “dare greatly” is to know there are risks and to do it anyway. The greater risk is to keep the emotional Spanx on and live a lie with yourself and your partner.

*Names have been altered to protect the privacy of individuals.

The Happiness Test

How we treat others is a strong indicator of how we feel about ourselves

A student stormed into class this week, his own personal hurricane. 

“You okay?” I asked.

He shook his head, his eyes filled with a mixture of hurt and anger. “These kids said I looked like a 3rdgrader. They were making fun of my height.”

Despite our masks, I could hear a snort-like laugh emerge from a girl in our classroom. 

Ah, middle school: the realm where cruelty is often the dish du jour. And at that moment, the girl’s laugh caused the boy’s eyes to tear up.

“You want to know a secret?” I asked. The room fell silent. “When someone is mean, it’s about them. They aren’t happy with themselves.”

The girl who had, just seconds before, snorted a laugh said, “I like making fun of people.”

“Maybe it makes you feel good for a little while, but it doesn’t make you feel so good in the long run. Besides, if you were happy, really happy with yourself, you wouldn’t feel a need to make someone else feel bad.”

The girl nodded slowly. While the mask made it hard to “read” her face, my gut says she “got” the lesson.

Despite most of our readers experiencing life post 6th grade, the Middle School Mentality persists: the colleague who passive-aggressively puts you down at a meeting, the ex who continues to threaten court, the driver who tailgates.

The pandemic has caused an incomprehensible domino effect of loss and change around the world; it is not, however, an excuse to be cruel to others, ever.

If you are choosing to read my work, chances are you can relate more to the boy in my classroom than the snort-laughing girl. You are kind, compassionate and proactively trying to live your best life. 

We are spiritual Russian dolls in this life, living with the layers of who we were at each stage and carrying those perceptions with us along the way. We are the 6th grade boy, horrified and angry by other kids’ cruel words; we may also be the girl who laughs at the pain of others because deep down, we aren’t happy with ourselves.

So, the next time someone snaps at you or cuts you off in traffic, consider the “Happiness Test.” When someone is acting out in an aggressive or cruel way, it’s a reflection of THEM, not YOU. The aggressor or bully isn’t happy with themselves. 

The good news? You don’t have to join them.