We often do more harm than good when we try to bolster someone’s ego.
People are generally sympathetic and caring. We recognise a fragile ego and try to support it by looking for compliments to give. So we say things to soothe rather than bruise.
How many times have we watched Simon Cowell dismiss someone who obviously to our ears cannot sing, only to have them scream back at him: ‘what do you know?’ and storm off? We have watched other people subjugate themselves to physical pain and suffering only to be told that they were rubbish at it and they shouldn’t have bothered. In astonishment, we heard them declare that the judges were wrong. In their heads, what they were doing was not only good but better than a lot of people around them.
They were supported by friends and family who were trying to be kind, not wanting them to confront the fact that they sucked at what they were doing.
It does not help.
These people continue in their deluded ideas of themselves and inflict upon the world the products of their delusions. And then expect us to be encouraging and supporting as usual. But the products are dire.
How can they not know?
They don’t know because they have been the recipients of others trying to find gentle ways of telling them they are rubbish without hurting their feelings.
So they go through life believing they are what they are not and the belief becomes ingrained. It becomes a central core of what they are.
This is all well and good. Many people go on through life with this mistaken idea of themselves and it does no harm. They don’t hear the sniggers and the snide comments and the complete bafflement of those not in the circle of supporters. They are bolstered from themselves by well meaning people who form barrier between the perceived reality and actuality. No one wants to be the person who tears down the barrier, because in other ways the deluded one is good, kind, thoughtful of others. It is just in this one area. And what gives us the right to deprive them of such joy they get from thinking they are good at what they are not?
The trouble comes when the deluded one is confronted with incontrovertible proof of the delusion. Imminent collapse of the ego! Years have been wasted. Why had no one said earlier? The embarrassment of having inflicted themselves on their friend, colleagues and strangers comes crashing through with the impact of a tsunami. The internal structures of the psyche has been shown to be built over quicksand.
There is no way out. The horror of the years when they thought what they were doing was good but actually was wet bladderwrack squelching and stinking in the sun, clouded by flies, cannot be contained.
The realisation that the critics were right, the friends wrong is immense. It rips through the curtain of self worth. It makes one doubt everything else. If they are genuinely good in another field, it doesn’t matter. In fact it colours that too. How can they believe anyone any more?
We do so much harm when trying to do good.
The idea that a person is better off believing they can do stuff when they patently can’t, is dangerous. We are putting lives at risk here.
More damage is done to a fragile ego by giving them a delusion that can be shattered many years down the line than by the sharp incision at the initial point of contact.
By all means be gentle and direct them into other areas, but please, no more telling them they are good at something when they aren’t. You are condemning them to years of striving in the wrong direction and ultimate embarrassment. It is your ego you are trying to salve with platitudes. You are the one who is trying to be the good person here. You are the superior one deciding the fate of the deluded person. What can it do?
Wars have been fought for less.