Demeanor, (n.): outward behavior or bearing (e.g., a quiet, somber demeanor). Synonyms: manner, air, attitude, appearance, look.
The past few weeks have been chock full of failures, frustrations, rejections, and struggles. But you wouldn’t know it if you came over to my house for some coffee and a brief conversation. While nothing drastic has happened I’ve faced unusual emotional ups and downs, and even a bit of insomnia from the stress of a few unique situations. And I don’t know that you would ever find out, if I didn’t choose to be open about them.
You see, I’ve spent most of my adult life choosing to be calm and collected. My demeanor somehow tells everyone that I am not just fine— but that I’m thoughtful, humorous, open-hearted. It says that I don’t really need help. It says I’m content. It might even say that I don’t have much to complain about.
But this is far from the truth. Find me after a day of work or fighting maddening traffic, and I’ll have a hard time saying anything positive to anyone. Catch me in that moment when I’m frustrated beyond consolation that something isn’t perfect– and I’ll be anything but composed or collected.
Usually, for better or for worse, I get the chance to collect myself before I interact with other people. By the time I’m in conversation with a friend over coffee, or working with my next student, I’ve got it all under control again.
I’ve written about how perfectionism has stolen joy in my life, and how pushing those high standards on myself has damaged my relationship with others. Eventually I snap– goodbye, eloquent and thoughtful self, and hello, monster.
The weakness of a confident demeanor
Recently, I’ve been feeling as though it’s hard for people to come to my aid. I have yet to ask for feedback on this, but I’ve always tried to come off as steady, empathetic, and independent. As much as I like to be available to my community, I don’t take full advantage of the community that’s made itself available to me. And then I wonder why, when I think I’ve asked for help, I don’t hear a resounding yes.
I think we all try to be our best selves– or at least an image of our best selves– when we’re around people whose opinions matter to us. And that often means putting a mask over that vulnerable, ugly, struggling person who’s afraid of being found out. We do this so naturally that we start believing that the personality we attempt to exude is who we really are– wholly, entirely, who we are.
While I’m no advocate of being our worst selves with others– or by sharing our misery with everyone who crosses our path– I do think we should be aware of what our demeanor says about us. Is it true? Or do we need to occasionally open up about the truth?
My demeanor certainly doesn’t tell all– and sometimes it tells the opposite.
6 Lies My Demeanor Tells The World
1) All my thoughts are composed and logical.
Absolutely not. My thoughts are a jumbled mess in my head, but a lot of it gets worked out before I share them. While my demeanor communicates that I process quickly and logic proceeds from my mind, that is far from my lived reality.
2) I am perfectly content with my life and don’t feel anything is lacking.
Nope. I struggle with contentment as much as the next person, but I’m too proud to complain about it most of the time. I want to stand fully behind my choices, and give thanks for everything I do have, but there are days when I feel that my lot is not sufficient.
3) I’m not needy.
Actually, I am. But I don’t want to be difficult to be around, so I won’t demand too much from you. The truth is, I’m an extrovert who runs to the nearest human being when I’m faced with a hardship. Of course I usually start off the conversation with an eloquent thought from a previous crisis– leading you to believe that I’m just there to say hello. Plus, I have a weakness for anyone who is foreign, who plays the guitar, or who does kind deeds behind the scenes.
4) I practice everything I preach.
I wish. Everything I “preach” is representative of a goal I have, a journey I’m on. It’s not something I’ve completely grasped or accomplished, though sometimes my confidence makes it seem like I have all my values lined up and under my belt already.
5) I’m completely comfortable with who I am, how I look, and what I’ve accomplished.
Generally yes, but sometimes no. I still struggle with desiring to perform, look good (better), and get more done. Sure, there’s an ease in my voice when I talk about these subjects, but ease is hardly how I always feel.
6) I am confident in what the future will bring.
Not at all. I struggle with fear. I fear so many things that the list is too long to name here.
Strange, isn’t it? My demeanor is part of who I am– but it also somehow lies about who I am. Casual conversations leave out the details (as they sometimes should), but I also choose not to share those ugly, imperfect pieces with friends who have offered their listening ear.
Vulnerability, on the other hand, is a challenge because we can hardly ever predict the outcome. But it can also bring about a richer, deeper experience of community that we would otherwise miss.
I need to practice expressing the truth in simple, unembellished ways.
I need help.
I‘m struggling with this.
I can’t do this alone.
No masterful conclusions, no funny stories, no analogies or analyses– just the raw, undigested truth.
Our demeanors can draw people in and give them an impression of who we are and who we’d like to be. But it’s really in the relationships where we can tell the undressed truth that we are truly known, loved, and supported.