Pedestal Syndrome

*** I wrote this piece about a year and a half ago as part of my Master Coach Training. Recently I felt compelled to send it to a couple of friends. And, when I reread it I thought, “What was the big deal about this?” rather than cringing like every other time I’d read it. So I figured it was time to pull the trigger.

And, if you’re wondering about “Kate” — we’re cool.****

I wanted her to like me, really like me—Sally-Fields-at-the-Oscars like me. I hired Kate to mentor me. She had everything I wanted as a coach; a booming practice, supreme confidence, and mad coaching Kung Fu.

My new coaching gig was by far the most challenging thing I’d ever done. I was spending a lot of time curled up in a ball under my desk–I’m not being figurative. If Kate liked me and told me I was a good coach, preferably repeatedly and effusively, that would mean I was indeed worthy. I began a campaign of attention-grabbing that made Britney Spears’ head shaving incident look mildly needy by comparison.

I was in the grip of Pedestal Syndrome again, the phenomenon of glomming onto someone you admire and dysfunctionally hero-worshipping them. If you’ve ever put someone on a pedestal, chances are you’re already cringing in memory of your clingy behavior and cringe-worthy antics.

I was acting like a lovestruck 12-year-old. I would send Kate emails and immediately overanalyze everything I said. The grown up equivalent of “Does she like me?” and “OMG I’m so lame!!!” Truth be told, I was not acting very grown up. And, like any obsessive 12-year-old, these questions would keep me up at night, my mood soaring or plummeting with every response—or non-response.

You know you’ve got a case of Pedestal Syndrome when you spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about your object of worship and more importantly, what they think of you.

You may find yourself:
– Working overly hard to be funny and charming.
– Oversharing intimate or shocking details of your life.
– Obsessing over the meaning of their every move.
– Making their actions about you.
– Analyzing everything you say.

If this sounds a little creepy and stalkerish, you’re right. That’s the irony, the whole idea of putting someone on a pedestal is to get them to like and approve of you, but by doing it, you become less likable.

I was looking for approval and confidence in the wrong place. I didn’t believe I had these qualities so I desperately wanted someone else to tell me I did. But, when you’re looking for approval from someone else, they could back up a truck filled with approval and dump it on you and it would never be enough.

Approval is an inside job.

Until you believe you are worthy, no amount of external approval will do.

Recovering from Pedestal Syndrome isn’t about knocking your object of worship off the pedestal, but about raising yourself up and standing tall as an equal.

Here’s how to raise yourself up and make that pedestal disappear.

1. Spot It, You’ve Got It
Usually “Spot It, You’ve Got It” is used to explain the idea that what we find annoying in others is what we don’t like in ourselves. But it’s also true for positive qualities. If you are hero-worshipping, realize that you are drawn to those qualities because they are innately present in you. The reason I was drawn to Kate is because I’m a strong, confident, highly insightful woman who has her own kickass coaching Kung Fu. I was using Kate as a mirror, only I couldn’t see my reflection.

Cultivate belief in yourself. Instead of focusing on how great your object of worship is, start finding evidence that you already have the qualities you are waiting for the object of your adulation to bestow upon you.

2. Mind Your Own Biz
When I was focused on Kate, I was in her business. I raised myself up when I started minding my own business.

When you mind your own business, you are focused on what you can control. For me this meant continually bringing my straying mind back to me. Getting back to my business meant creating my own opportunities, seeing and congratulating myself for my own wins and focusing on my healthy and supportive non-Pedestal relationships.

3. Gain Perspective
Putting someone on a pedestal blinds you from seeing who they really are. All you can see is your story about them through the filter of your own skewed perception.

When I removed the filter of making everything she did about me, I could see that she had a full life and other things to think about. She was not interested in coddling my emotional needs. She was very aware that I had put her on a pedestal and was not playing my game. My ego put me at the center of her universe when I was actually a small satellite.

Gain perspective by starting to see that your object of worship’s behavior might not be about you. Might they be human too? Might they have their own insecurities and problems? Might they be focused on something besides you? Is it possible they’re intimidated by YOU? These kinds of questions are the beginning of the shift.

You rise up as an equal when you:
– Understand that you put this person on a pedestal because you’ve spotted qualities in them that you already possess.
– Stay focused on your own business and start actively finding evidence for your own worth.
– Gain perspective by seeing your object of worship as a flawed human being, just like the rest of us.

Stand up within yourself, give yourself all the approval and attention you’ve been waiting for someone else to hand you. You will see the world with clearer eyes. You may not decide to continue your relationship with your former object of worship, but if you do, the relationship will be right-sized—eye-to-eye, human-to-human, heart-to-heart. Equal.