I’m trying to kick the habit. I put people on pedestals and it’s not a good thing. First, because they don’t usually know they’re up there and second, because when they come tumbling down – the landing is never smooth.
There is always a defining moment, the moment when I look into their eyes and think, Who are you? How did we manage to be friends this long and I didn’t know THIS about you? It’s not the friend’s problem that they’re not the person I imagined them to be, but I still feel betrayed.
Dr. Robert Epstein says it’s a common problem for women who form emotional attachments more readily. “The key concept is Confirmation Bias,” say Epstein, Harvard graduate, professor, author and the former Editor-in-Chief of Psychology Today.
“It works in all kinds of situations, including romantic relationships and close friendships and generally it means when you have a certain belief or bias, you selectively pay attention to the facts in order to confirm the bias.”
Biases are formed based on interactions but are also influenced by beliefs. Where the beliefs come from in the first place is an entirely different story but once there is an attachment or an emotional bond between two people, the beliefs kick in and the bias comes along with that.
For example, you like Sarah because she reminds you of so and so, is stylish and has accomplished amazing things in her career. Obviously someone who doesn’t share the same bias can form a totally different opinion of Sarah than the one you have. So if someone asks you why Sarah is dowdy and unmotivated, you won’t get it because it goes against your bias. Even if farther down the line, Sarah does something horrible that doesn’t fit your beliefs, you’ll likely end up back where you started after some time goes by.
Biases are even stronger in romantic relationships, where the beliefs and emotions can be that much more charged.
“There is another thing that happens in romantic relationships,” says Epstein. “And that is a kind of blindness that occurs when there is a very strong attachment, especially a strong passion. There are good studies showing that people become blind to the characteristics of their partner. If your mom is saying, `Are you crazy? That guy?’ It’s because you really are.”
I asked if the behavior was related to poor self-esteem. Epstein said it didn’t strike him as a major contributing factor but, Dr. Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist who also graduated from Harvard disagrees, “We’re all given to idol-worship at times, you can’t place someone on a pedestal without giving up some awareness of your own strength and virtues.”
The more helpless and powerless we feel over important events, Malkin argues, the more prone we are to idol-worship, “Strictly speaking, we don’t so much lift people up, as lower ourselves to make our idols seem larger than life.”
Both doctors do agree that the problem is more common among women. In a society that tends to favor men over women in the allocation of resources and power, women are often more prone to put people on pedestals.
The best way to avoid it says Malkin is to focus on your own accomplishments and strengths. Build up your self-esteem with a variety of interests and supports. The more powerful you feel, the less likely you are to fall prey to worshipping gods with clay feet.
Who do you “put on a pedestal”? Why?