The Danger of Placing People on Pedestals

Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash

My friend called me out on this recently.

She is the epitome of the path I want to follow as far as work and career are concerned. She is great at what she does. When she talks, she goes all professional and intimidating and this leaves me feeling inadequate. She is confident in herself and her skills. I can’t figure out what my skills are, yet.

And so when I went asking for advice, even though I am not afraid of her and we share a lot in common, including struggles in other areas, I couldn’t help but feel a little timid. When she spoke, I absorbed everything like I was listening to the Buddha. I unconsciously put her so high above me that the only thing I hadn’t verbalised was “Yes, ma’am”, “No ma’am” and “I’m sorry ma’am”. Yet this is my close friend, who I am myself with, otherwise. Then, she called me out on it.

“Stop that”, she said.

“What?” I asked, a little ruffled.

“You are over-compensating.”

I was going to blurt out a defensive, “No, I’m not!”, but I swallowed it. My ego was bruised.

She was right, I was trying and shrinking too hard that I became too difficult to relate to. Whenever I am unsure of myself or feel insecure about a certain area of my life, I tend to talk too much or too little, become defensive or accept blame, listen not to understand but to take everything in as gospel truth, without asking questions. Yes, I had automatically placed her on a pedestal. Fortunately, she is self-aware enough to notice this and knew me well enough to call me out on it. Nobody had done this to me before.

And now as I look back at the times I have placed people on pedestals and how I ended up disappointed, I can’t help but take responsibility.

I blamed the people I had placed way above me for letting me down.

The friend I ran to when I was emotionally bleeding. She was strong and seemed to have her life together. I wanted that. I wanted that so badly that all I saw was a perfect flawless human being who was willing to help me get back on my feet.

Unlike this current friend, however, not everyone is unwilling to sit on the high stool they have been offered by others. If you see them as perfect, they do all they can to hide their imperfections. It feeds into their ego and your desperation, win-win, albeit temporarily.

The pedestal is built on a house of cards. It will come down, inevitably. And when it does, we end up angry and disappointed. The person we counted on to have their life together as we strived to get back up did not have it together. The one we looked upon expecting them to assure us that we were okay and everything was okay, bailed on us. They were not as strong or as perfect as they portrayed themselves to be, or rather, as we made ourselves believe they were.

But whose fault was it? They were minding their business when we found them, then placed high expectations on them, and when they failed, we felt betrayed. Did they betray us, or did we betray ourselves?

I think about the people I have placed on pedestals and expected too much from — parents, spouse, siblings, boss, friend, idol celebrity, mentors etc. It is time to kick them off of it. And each time I see someone placing me on one, I will gently resist.

Relationships thrive on love, acceptance and mutual respect. Accepting we are all human at the baseline is reason enough to love and respect each other. When we need help, we ask for it. The person giving it is no better than us, they are better in that area. We are good in other areas too, but overall, we are all flawed humans.

People die, they make poor judgements, they fall sick, they go through challenges that make them show less than admirable traits. To not expect this from someone, or to act like you are immune to such failings yourself is the recipe for superficial relationships and unnecessary heartache.

Do you want real and deep relationships? Kick yourself and others off pedestals.

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Eunice Gikonyo

Eunice Gikonyo

I write about what I think and observe.