What Is Beautiful Mess Effect?

a black and white closeup photo of a crying eye with the iris artificially colored bright blue

It’s a funny thing. I was raised in an environment where crying was forbidden — and a punishable offense.

My mother herself was quick to tears, and that was tolerated of course. I unfortunately inherited a similar disposition. But my own crying wasn’t permissible. Especially not around my father.

Dad was uncomfortable with crying. He considered it a form of emotional manipulation. Though Dad was never one to discuss heavy emotional topics, I was nonetheless able to glean some backstory about this from my mother. And apparently my father’s mother had possibly used crying as a tool for manipulation enough times to have rendered it suspect.

Anyway, I can remember bursting into tears after some perceived unfairness or frustration, only to find my situation considerably worsen, as I was yelled at for the tears.

As I’ve written before, this pattern carried on into my first marriage. The man I married found it painful to see me cry — no matter what it was about. He would panic and the situation would spiral into conflict. So I learned to cry in secret to keep the peace.

It was only after I left New England for the Midwest when I turned 30, moved away from Maine to Ohio, that I discovered a group of people who weren’t horrified by tears. Who didn’t get upset when I’d be vulnerable about feelings. Or be honest about the fact that I didn’t always have everything together.

Instead, if anything they seemed to like me more because of it.

What a Beautiful, Beautiful Mess You Are

It turns out that this phenomenon has a name. I would later go on to learn that it’s called Beautiful Mess Effect. Essentially, research has demonstrated that other people view our own vulnerability more positively than we do.

This tendency can range across a wide array of social interactions:

  • Confessing love
  • Admitting our imperfections about our own body
  • Asking for help

Now, does this always mean that showing vulnerability makes us charming? That being a mess always makes us beautiful?

No, no, it doesn’t.

But what it does mean is that we often feel like such things will make other people form a negative impression of us, and our own expectations are typically much harsher than reality.

And in fact, self-disclosure about something that feels like weakness can strengthen and deepen social relationships.

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Anyway, it was something I wasn’t at all expecting when I encountered my new group of friends, having been conditioned my whole life for vulnerability to be met with scorn.

But looking back, I think they did find me to be quite a beautiful mess.

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It’s something to be mindful of, too. Not everyone who is vulnerable around us is good for us.

You might think that person is a beautiful mess, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best person for you to be close to.

Just something to keep in mind.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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