Repersonalizing the High Status

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In studying dissociative disorders, I came upon depersonalization, a symptom where someone feels detached from themselves, either mentally or physically. The world begins to feel dreamlike, or less real. For someone experiencing depersonalization, this may feel the case all the time, whereas a highly anxious person may feel familiar with this state if, for example, they have social anxiety and freeze up around people they don’t know very well. But even less anxious people have spoken of seeing themselves in third person or feeling like time has gotten slower when anticipating embarrassment, especially in front of someone they want to impress. In these cases, we are not only feeling separate from ourselves, but we are also detaching the public face from the real person in front of us.

When I was in college, I was part of the local poetry scene. I remember standing in line waiting to get in to a show, when a hooded figure jumped out of the van parked out front, took a picture of my bag, and disappeared back into the van before I could say anything. After the show, I found out that this had been none other than featured poet Buddy Wakefield, world poetry slam champion, and one of my personal favorites in the world of performance poetry. He apologized for startling me earlier, and asked me a question about my bag, which had a squid on it. Turns out, he was a fan of squids.

I don’t remember exactly what I said (some stupid comment, I think, about squids being like sea ninjas). What I do remember is feeling almost like I had left my body. All I could think about was how amazing it was that Buddy Wakefield liked my bag, that we were both into squids, that he seemed so down to earth, so humble, for a world champion. But in the process, I lost what would have been a good opportunity for connection. If a fellow show-goer had expressed interest in squids, I probably would have asked them what made them interested in squids, if they had a favorite species, or if they’d seen any at the local aquarium. Because Buddy Wakefield was someone I saw as famous, high status, I was less curious about his experience as a person, and in a sense, I depersonalized him.

It turns out, high status people have a lot of conversations with fans who see them as more of a figure than a person. Picture the host of a big event, surrounded by people commenting on the food and decor. Less often would they hear remarks on their social stamina, or offers to help out! I’m not telling you to make up compliments, nor am I telling you to look for flaws in your heroes. But the people we look up to often have traits that don’t contribute to their status, whether these people are celebrities or well-respected acquaintances. A model may never get told they’re smart, and a writer might put more thought and research into the background of their stories than they get credit for. That friend-of-a-friend who you think of as collected, sharp, and brilliant, may long for the day that someone calls them awful for telling a particularly bad pun.

Not only are the high status among us people too, but putting them on a pedestal only results in more alienation, which pushes that pedestal further up. It perpetuates itself. It relegates beloved figures to lone wolves. This separation gets more and more drastic as we forget or refuse to wonder what’s going on inside the minds of the people we look up to. They may go so far as to feel cared for only as far as their worth as deemed by the public, while we feel inadequate, and thus unworthy of their attention. Each longing for connection with the other, but making no movement forward. If you want to fix that, you have to start by working on repersonalization.
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