Showing-off and pretending… where do we draw the line?

Those who are familiar with the Bengali culture will probably be aware of the notion of showing-off, or pretending that we’re doing better than we actually are. It’s something I’ve seen happen in my own family as well as others, from the beginning of time. In fact, you see it in your day-to-day life outside of this culture as well. Some good examples would be where a mum exaggerates her child’s success and achievements, just to make it out as if her child is a genuis and better than other people’s kids. Or when people get into crippling debt whilst throwing the most lavish wedding, just to show off to their family and friends that they can ‘afford’ the finer things in life.

Unfortunately, this has just become the norm, but it has lead to my distaste of this behaviour, which has been building up inside of me for a while. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this in my posts. But it’s only recently that I realised just how tired I am of keeping up appearances. I didn’t even realise how much this behaviour was ingrained in me. People pretend to be okay when they’re not, pretty much every single day. Some people feel like there’s no point in sharing the truth with others because they ‘won’t get it’, or it’s just the sheer energy that’s needed to explain your feelings. Or it can even be the fear of being judged once you reveal this.

I’m probably making this into a bigger deal than it actually is, but truthfully, I’m exhausted. Just to give you a mini life update, career-wise I wasn’t very happy at the beginning of last year. Then in the middle, things started to look up… and now we’re back to square one again. It’s the nature of the type of work I do, which isn’t something out of the ordinary or difficult, but it’s not something the older generation of Bengali’s understand. So I ‘dumb it down’ into terms they should understand, but they still don’t really get it. Basically, they’re not impressed by it or vaguely even interested. The younger generation on the other hand, think that I have the most awesome job… so go figure!

Whilst I was (and still am) going through my ups and downs, I had to always put on the brave, positive face. People are like ‘wow, she’s got a cool job and is always doing amazing things’, but what they don’t see is what is happening behind the scenes. Stress, long days, unclear career path/prospects/progression, and then me in general being a ball of mess. I’ve mentioned before how lucky I am to have such incredible friends; they are like my little supporters cheering me on from the sidelines. They are also the ones who have had a stern word or two with me to tell me to stop going overly above and beyond with little return. But they don’t entirely understand… it’s just the expectation of the field I work in. My friends have secure jobs in industries that people are more familiar with; the general 9 to 5. And I know they want the best for me, but they don’t understand why I ‘choose’ to sacrifice sleep, especially for those who may not appreciate my hard work.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is, it got to a stage where I felt like I couldn’t complain or have a moan about my situation anymore. People think the answer is to find a way out. They’ll say things like ‘why don’t you look for another job that’s more 9 to 5 and less stressful?’. Again, I know they mean well, but if that’s their answer, I’m not interested. This is when the mask comes on. Unfortunately, this has meant I’ve had to do this in front of a few friends too. Overtime, I naturally started to put the mask on in front of everyone. People ask me how I’m doing, and I only talk about the good and exciting stuff because I don’t want to go into it.

However, I’m just tired now. I’ve always had to be like this with my family since the day I moved out, because if my parents got a whiff of struggle or weakness, it could be used against me at a later date. They may even see this as an opportunity to take back some control of my life, and there’s no way I’m letting that happen. But when you do this in front of friends, they understandably think that everything is okay.

I’ve always been the listener and advice giver in my friendship circle. I had to mature very fast growing up, so I’ve always observed everyone around me and learnt from their life choices; even if I hadn’t been through those situations myself. People tell me that they feel comforted by my words and advice, and show real appreciation, which felt pretty damn good… until it didn’t.

A handful of my good friends, those who happen to be a few years younger than me, are going through things that I’ve been through myself or have a good understanding of. They turn to me for advice, which brings them comfort. When they said they felt happier after talking to me, or felt enlightened in some way (sorry, I’m not trying to sound big headed here – these are literally their words), I used to thrive off this. And after a while, I realised it was happening more and more. And then I was going through all of my own crap, but I didn’t feel like I could talk to them about it, especially as they looked up to me. It lead to me pretending that everything is great with me and I am always here for them. But the truth was, I was getting more and more stressed out.

It was the same group of ‘repeat offenders’, and in a way, I felt a sense of responsibility towards them. Overtime, I became their mother-like figure (again, their words) and so I went above and beyond to hear them out, work with them to find solutions, and put an action plan together, with me doing the final checks and prepping them to tackle the issues they faced. I have invested a lot of time and effort into them, at the expense of my own happiness and wellbeing. I get this from my mum; she puts peoples wants and needs before hers. Sometimes we couldn’t understand why she would go out of her way to do something for someone who’s not even close to her, but she loves it. And I realised it’s the same thrill that I get from helping others.

But the truth is, it started to effect me negatively. I ended up taking on other people’s stress, on top of my own, and that’s really not healthy. It also lead to me not looking forward to catching up with certain individuals, and in the end, feeling a sense of resentment. And I hate myself for feeling this way, because it’s not their fault. They have no idea what’s going on with me, because I’m the one that kept it to myself. But I found that I started to dislike talking to people in general, and just didn’t keep in touch with my friends as often, and then slowly started to pull away from being the usual me. Some people noticed and checked in on me, whilst others were busy with their own lives. It’s only when my best friend told me that I need to stop prioritising other people’s problem over mine, that’s when I realised this was a problem. Up until that point, I was a ball of mess on the inside and couldn’t understand why.

I don’t know how I ended up like this, it just happened gradually until it became all consuming. Just having that one conversation where I confessed how I’d truly been feeling, changed everything. She made me see what I was doing to myself and how other people’s problems aren’t my problems. I know it seems obvious, but when you’re in it, you can’t see it. It just made me wonder why I had done this for so long and pretended to be okay? I personally feel like it’s slightly a cultural thing… pride. You only show your best side. But what has this cost me?

In my last post, I spoke about how much pressure I felt after being called a role model. I wasn’t doing that well, so I didn’t feel like I deserved that title. So now I understand why I felt this way.

This has unintentionally turned into a long post, but my question to you is, why do we (or you) pretend that everything is okay? Why do we show-off even when we don’t have the means to? I’m curious to know if you relate to this topic.

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4 thoughts on “Showing-off and pretending… where do we draw the line?

  1. Javeer Miah says:

    Every time I read your post, It’s always like reading passages of my own life and struggle that I’ve gone through. I completely understand the feeling of what you went through helping others in every way possibly, even financially when you aren’t even doing well to support yourself.

    I think the reason we pretend everything is okay is that we don’t want to burden anyone else with our problems. Perhaps we’ve taken the Islamic understanding that Allah will not burden you with more than you can handle too literally or have missed the obvious that one of the ways to alleviate that burden is by simply asking for help. I know myself for a period of time was afraid of asking Allah for help. And that was really stupid of me. But I just felt like I never deserved it. These were of course ploys of Shaitan but when you’re in that slump it gets to you.

    As for showing off with flashy weddings, clothes what not. That’s a different matter in itself. Perhaps it’s more of case of the need of validity. Some people just really need others to recognise that they have flashy style even though we all know they live in a council house and their toilets are broken lol.

    From the sounds of what you mention about your work. I’d probably assume you’re in marketing or something related to that. Only assuming that cos it’s similar to my struggles as a graphics designer. I worked for a charity first and I done a ridiculous number of hours for peanuts. Then I left and went on as freelancer and found myself struggling financially for a couple of years. This was the hardest period of my life. I struggled for a long while without many of my cousins and extended family realising. It’s during that time I developed a habit of binge watching all these shows and anime. Then one fateful night, I ran out of things to watch and wasn’t sure what to watch. I heard of a anime show called One Piece from when I was younger. So I decided I’d give it a shot. Seeing that it was 800+ episodes I knew I’d at least have something to watch for a while if it was good. But what I did not imagine could happen did happen. I guess me being a creative individual I resonated with these cartoon characters more so than most people would. Whatever messages and morals they’d project I would relish and appreciate them. I would even let it reflect into my own character and behaviour. And that’s what happened. The main protagonists character and lines were all in grounds of “Never Give up on your dream”, “Is your Dream not worth struggling for?”, “I will become strong, so I can protect everyone”. These main motives that sprung from the main character made me ask questions to myself what is my dream and objective and why am I in this slump. It was literally the next few days that I got my act together and then found a job where I work as a contractor for a TV channel producing graphics and video animations all while working from home.

    Funny how a little change in attitude spurn from a cartoon helped me change my life around.
    Though I did have a bit of a finance issue during this period, my attitude towards everything changed and was ever so more positive and in the right direction. Since then I’ve gotten myself out of the debt hole I dug myself in and now I’m looking forward to the “new world”.

    And yeah, I know this was meant to be a short comment. But as you mentioned before. Typing down is very therapeutic. And it’s kinda humbling when you think back about where you’ve come from.

    One final point I forgot to mention. It’s about why we help others even at our own expense. It’s cos we’re cut from a different cloth as them. There are those who are lead and then there are those who are leaders. And a true leader is one who sacrifices himself for others well being.

    • Hi, thank you so much for taking your time to share your story with me. It’s taken me a few days to process because firstly, life happens, but secondly, I was really taken aback by how similar our life situations and career choices have been.

      I’m glad you could relate to my ramblings, because sometimes it does feel like these things only happen to me and it’s a very lonely process. And you definitely hit the nail on the head – I don’t want to burden others with my problems.

      I laughed so hard at your take on people who show off with flashy weddings, living in council houses with broken toilets – too funny!

      Isn’t it crazy how we can look for an answer or a sign in some things but not get anywhere, then all of a sudden, you find it in the most unexpected place? I appreciate, reflect and think about the positive and inspirational messages in things, however, I don’t feel like I’ve ever taken something in to the point where it has changed my life… I’m still waiting for my ‘ah ha!’ or ‘eureka’ moment. I definitely need to get out of my own slump, which is why I’m trying to change my attitude and start afresh, and hopefully will see the results soon. I admire that you have a skill like graphic design, which is always in demand (in my experience anyway) and something I wish I could do. And it makes me happy to hear how your life turned around – it gives me hope and I truly wish that you are happy too.

      Your final point was really nice to hear – it certainly made me feel better about the stresses of the past. I don’t regret being there for people, I just regret not taking better care of myself in the process. But, we live and learn!

      • Javeer Miah says:

        Well what can I say. I kinda enjoy what you have to say – it’s always a nice read.
        And I’m sure I’ m not the only one who can relate to your ramblings. If anything your sentiments expressed are pretty much how many people of the pre-millennial age feel.

  2. […] I was talking about all those people (including myself) who pretend that everything is okay, I mentioned how I find it hard to talk to people about my problems. And I found this to be […]

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