Three Zones: Self, Other, Idealized Other

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One thing is clear when you start to study psychology in any meaningful way: We’re all a bunch of hypocrites.

Well, not all of us, all of the time. But generally, speaking, it’s normal to have double standards. A different set of expectations for yourself and your own behavior versus the behavior of others.

I can see a lot of you shaking your heads as you read this. Because you are fair minded. Well, maybe you are. Could be, could be. But an awful lot of people think they are but actually aren’t. And that’s because of a little something called the fundamental attribution error.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

The fundamental attribution error is one of the most interesting phenomena in social psychology. Essentially, it’s our tendency to explain the actions of other people by their internal characteristics and assume things about their personality based on it, rather than by anything externally or situationally that could be happening to them.

We’re late because we got stuck in traffic. They’re late because they’re irresponsible or don’t care about being on time.

Generally speaking, when it comes to messing up, we’re much harder on other people than we are on ourselves. And we’re more likely to cut ourselves slack than other people. To not fully internalize the blame when it comes to us but exercise a double standard where it’s easy for us to blame others (although it’s worth noting that people with depression tend to lack most forms of positivity bias and instead demonstrate a phenomenon known as depressive realism).

It’s an incredibly common bias. A place where we explain the behavior of others — as different than our own.

I Personally Had an Additional Other Zone: The Pedestal

I have made the fundamental attribution error myself. But I found I not only had practiced a double standard — once upon a time, I practiced a triple standard, whereby I had one set of standards for myself, a second for others, and a third for idealized others, a.k.a., the pedestal.

When I admired someone and deeply cared about them, I gave them even much more laxity and leeway than I’d give myself. I put them up on a pedestal. They could do no wrong.

Yes, even in circumstances when they were acting pretty shady and recklessly, it would be very hard for me to see it. And entirely easy for me to explain it away with benign attributions.

Pedestalling other people is frankly something that carried on for a very long time — even after I started assertiveness therapy (people pleasing had affected and infected my life in very undesirable ways).

I frankly fought the idea that I should stop pedestalling people. It was part of my idea of love for a very long time. and I didn’t see what harm it could possibly do.

What finally changed my mind? Being on the other side of the pedestal.

I Did NOT Like Being Pedestalled

Yes, really. I went on to date someone who put me up on a pedestal very quickly. In the beginning, it was intoxicating, almost magical. It feels good to have someone admire you. To heap praise on you.

But I didn’t enjoy being pedestalled for very long. Because I quickly discovered the dark side of it. My admirer thought of me as being perfect — even though I’d never claimed to be such a thing (I’m really not; I do my best, but my best isn’t everyone’s idea of best). And when I deviated in any way from their idea of perfection, they would become confused, despondent, disappointed.

It was incredibly weird. A huge amount of pressure. This pressure ended up ruining what could have been a perfectly good relationship. (My admirer was also very invested in continuing to pedestal me, no matter what I said, exactly the way I had behaved myself in the past pedestalling others.)

Suddenly, I could see the error of my ways. People had tried to tell me repeatedly in the past, but I never understood until it happened to me.

Once I recovered from feeling silly and guilty for pedestalling people in the past, I took away a powerful lesson. And I looked to my existing and future relationships with fresh eyes.

I Still Have an Idealized Other Zone. It’s Just More Realistic.

Does this mean I got rid of my third zone? No. Truthfully, I still have an idealized other zone. It’s just more realistic.

It doesn’t resemble a pedestal anymore. Instead, it’s closer to how I treat myself.

Maybe that isn’t for everyone, but to me? It feels like real progress.

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This post is part of a recurring feature called Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser. To see the full series, please click this link.

Featured Image: CC BY – Inti