Since I’m on a roll with ways in which we seem to be connecting with and honoring others while not actually doing that, I’ve got a couple of more for you: “You’re perfect” and “I’m so proud of you”.  I mean, what could be wrong with being seen as perfect or having someone be proud of who you are and what you do.  Nothing at all if that’s actually what’s going on.  I’m all for it.  In fact, if anyone out there has a spare single heterosexual male who would like to think I’m perfect and join me in living the life I deserve to have, please let me know. 😉

However, these very things that seem so wonderful can actually be indicators of disconnects or ways in which we are being silenced, dismissed, or forced into a preconceived role. For instance: have you ever noticed that “I’m so proud of you” is a conversation ender?  I mean, do you continue talking about what you were talking about after a statement like that?  Not usually because it would be socially awkward and make you seem like a narcissist and be about bragging.  So, knowing this, it’s good to watch when and how people use this phrase.  If you’re only halfway through a sentence and this gets whipped out, it’s not really about you or your exploits, it’s a way for the other person to change the conversation without looking rude.  If someone says they are proud of you without having any idea what it is you’re doing the phrase should be investigated.  Because what are they proud of if they don’t have any clue what is going on in the moment?  Are they randomly proud?  Do they know you at all?  Or are they just saying that so they don’t have to listen to anything you have to say?  Is this a preëmptive conversation ender so the floor is open for them to speak?

“You’re perfect”, which includes my children are perfect, my family is perfect and other configurations of the same can be wonderful expressions of love and connection.  We usually hear this around infants and young children, in particular from grandparents.  As an expression of love and joy and relationship we know that underlying the expression is the reality of the person not being perfect, but that being ok.  Statements of perfection become distancing when we don’t have that underlying message.  When someone says that another person is perfect (without being a mean girl or a snarky someone having a bad day or planning revenge in some drama) we can sense that there is something off.  People who claim to have perfect children don’t actually know their children.  People who claim to have perfect marriages aren’t actually married because in reality no marriage is perfect, although they can be glorious and beyond our wildest dreams fulfilling, part of the miracle is the organicness of the partnership, the breaking and the fixing, the artistry of the life built around imperfections.  Claiming that someone is truly perfect is not a statement about them, it’s an indicator that the person speaking is out of touch with themselves, the other, or more likely both.

In these cases the person speaking is usually talking not about you, but about a cardboard cut out of you that they would prefer that you be holding.  And this is one way to know whether what is being said is creating and reflecting connection or is a means to disconnect and distance yourself.  If you could set up a cardboard cut out, fully body picture of yourself in front of this person or in this group, walk away, and not have their be any difference in how they act or you think they wouldn’t even notice, then there is disconnection.  If they would immediately notice, stop what they are doing, ask what was wrong, and then laugh and make a game out of taking pictures of your cardboard you in various activities and outfits, then you’ve got connection.  And that’s imperfectly perfect.