I Don’t MEAN to be a Fraud... I Think?

I often wear masks, play roles, and project images of who I want you to think I am. Does that make me a fraud?

Several years ago I preached a message at my church in which I was brutally honest about how I have a complicated relationship with truth. Meaning, things such as deception, manipulation, and lying all come fairly natural to me.

This is true for most (all?) of us who identify as a Type Three on the Enneagram. In fact, if you know a Three and they don’t acknowledge how easy/natural it is for them to bend the truth, then, well, how perfectly meta is that?

Lying, deceit, manipulation… it’s all gross, of course. 🤮 But then again, all our shadow sides are, so try not to judge me for mine, mmkay? Thanks. (Unless you’re a Type One, in which case you’ve been judging me the entire time. You Ones are as good at judging as I am at lying! Aren’t humans fun?)

I begin with this little confessional because last week I wrote about the song “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, and how it was the First Dance song for my friend’s wedding the other day. The hook of the song declares, “I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies: this is me.” In the article, I reflected how challenging those lyrics are for me because the truth is that I often am scared to be seen (as the real me), which leads me to cover up with masks and project certain images to the world of who/what I want them to see instead. 🤡👹👺💩

Today, I want to continue that line of thinking.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A couple days ago I met a new friend for the first time in real life.

We’d connected online during the past year of quarantine, and eventually discovered that we don’t live too far from each other. A post-vaccinated meetup for Happy Hour seemed like a grand plan.

Now, due to the pandemic, I’m very out of shape when it comes to “meeting new people.” Which added a fresh layer of anxiety on top of my already “meeting a stranger for the first time” nerves.

Thankfully, he proved to be a fantastic human and we hit it off real good. I think I’ve got a new friend. But as I drove away I did that thing that I imagine many of us do (especially those of us in the Image Triad) where I played back the previous 90 minutes in my head to evaluate how it went. More specifically, how I did.

  • Was I attentive enough?

  • Was I a good listener?

  • Did I talk too much, or not enough?

  • Did he feel seen, valued, and appreciated?

  • Did I say smart things?

  • Does he think I’m cool?

  • Should I have licked my fingers so much after eating the chips and guac?

(Wait, is that what dating is like?? I met my wife in middle school, so I haven’t really gone on many dates in my life. Ooof, sounds exhausting.) 🥴

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on all this... on my thoughts from last week about my fear of being seen for who I really am; about the experience of meeting someone for the first time and being curious about what sort of impression you left; and about how it is that I can so easily drift in to performative mode and project a certain version of myself—sometimes to the detriment of the real me.

And the thought occurred to me: am I fraud? 🤔

WHAT IS A FRAUD?

Fraud can be defined as:

an intentional deception for the purpose of obtaining some valuable thing or promise from another, and/or resulting in injury to another person.

Let’s break those three elements down.

  1. Intentional: meaning, there is (probably conscious?) intent to confuse or deceive.

  2. Deception: meaning, at play is a misleading falsehood.

  3. For the purpose of obtaining value, and/or, resulting in injury to another person: meaning, you’re trying to get something from someone, and in the end there is a negative impact on another person.

A fraud, then, is someone who purposely pretends to be someone they are not, or to offer something they cannot provide, which then results in their gain at the expense of another’s loss.

Bernie Madoff is a fraud (fun fact: according to the website I linked to above, about the Enneagram, Bernie Madoff is a Type Three! Yay).

Enron was a fraud.

Donald Trump, I believe, is a fraud (both as a businessman and then as a president).

But… am I?

IN CONSIDERATION OF ME BEING A FRAUD

When I talk about how my insecurities (which manifest as projections and mask-wearing) combine with my performing various roles for people, I think it’s worth asking if such behavior rises to the level of “fraud.”

After careful consideration, I don’t think so.

And I sure as heck hope not.

Let me try and break it down.

First, it’s not entirely conscious. Most of our shadow selves—those parts of us that come from a trauma informed and/or survivor based mentality—are operating at a pre-conscious or sub-conscious level. I don’t typically sit there and think, “Okay, so now I wanna be this kind of person, which means I need to say this and do that.” 

Second, is there deception involved? Again, I don't believe so. Or at least, not entirely. Which is to say, even though I can make distinctions between the masks I wear or the roles I play with the real/actual/true me, it’s also not entirely fair or accurate to say that there is nothing real or true about said masks and roles.

For example, I am (or can be, at least... just don’t ask my kids) a funny person. So when I’m cracking jokes and presenting as “the Funny Guy,” sure there is a sense in which that’s not the “real-me,” but it’s also not not me. Same with some of the other roles I play such as the Intelligent Guy, or the Compassionate Guy. While I may perform those roles from time to time, they are nonetheless real parts of who I actually am... I think. Whereas, if I only pretended to care, then I guess Compassionate Guy would be more of a deception. Yet I know deep down I really do care about and care for people. While it’s true that I might be guilty of sometimes overplaying that card, or over performing that role (because I might really want the person to think of me as a compassionate individual), I still think there is enough realness within me that resembles or embodies compassion so as to render it separate from what might otherwise be called deception.

The third element of fraud, where a person seeks to extract some gain and/or inflicts some harm on the other, is a bit trickier for me to sort through. On the one hand, it’s easy for me to dismiss this as not happening. I am not performing roles and projecting images because I’m trying to get something from you. Rather, I’m doing it to both protect the vulnerable part of me that is insecure, and because my ego enjoys being viewed in a certain way.

However, I suppose there might be a way to explore this phenomenon that identifies things such as “respect,” “admiration,” and “love” as assets that I’m attempting to extract from you. While I may not be swindling you out of your retirement like a Madoff, or scamming you for your vote like a Trump, I might still be seeking to acquire your admiration through any and all means necessary—including performing as the Intelligent or the Empathetic Guy.

But if that is a fair or accurate description of what’s happening, it still leaves the question of the existence of negative impact or harm for you. Again, upon first consideration I don’t know that my performing roles and wearing masks is necessarily a threat to your well-being in the same way that a legitimate swindler or huckster might be. And yet, if you walk away from an interaction with me and think, “Wow, that Colby guy is really kind and thoughtful and respectful,” and then later down the road you experience me in a different light and either catch me on a bad day or just a really human moment where I’m neither kind nor respectful, maybe you’ll end up thinking like you’ve been duped? Whether you have in actuality or not can be debated, but you might feel a certain way about it nonetheless.

Anyway… perhaps I’m overthinking all this, but in the end I suppose it might be a tad exaggerated to think of myself as a fraud.

That’s a relief. 😅

YET I STILL CAN FEEL THAT WAY

And yet, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes feel like I am.

When I get all wrapped around the axel of, “Wait, was that actually me I was presenting back there? Or was that some overly-polished version? Or some contrived semi-sorta-me projection?” it gets confusing in my heart and mind. So while I submit that perhaps “fraud” is too strong and not accurate enough of a term, I still wish I was better at just being me around others.

And yet, here I am. 39 years old, doing the best I can.

Some days it’s better than others. Some days I walk away from an interaction thinking, “That felt really genuine. I feel like I really showed up today.” Other times it’s more, “Good gravy, what was that?! Try hard, much?”

And I want to practice kindness to myself, too. Because as I said above, it’s not that I’m not anything like the roles I play or the masks I can don. I know I’m not a total impostor. I’m just a scared, insecure, and confused human who isn’t always convinced that people will like him for who he is.

Not to mention, I myself am not always sure who I am. That’s a game I’m still trying to find the instructions for, let alone win.

So if you and I have ever met in person, or if you’ve ever watched one of my live shows, or listened to one of my sermons, please know that while you may not be getting the 100% unvarnished absolute true version of Colby Martin, you are at least getting someone who is honest and aware enough to know that often times he presents very carefully crafted images of himself to the world… and he’s working on it. 😬

And, know that those images are—at their purest—a decent facsimile of honest, true values that I hold in my heart.

My hope is that with each passing year I discover more and more about the real me. And then, in response, may I also continue to move the needle away from projecting false selves and wearing masks, and toward increased vulnerability and sharing of that real me with others.

In the meantime, while I’m a work in progress, I hope you trust me when I say,

I don’t mean to be a fraud... I think?

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NOW FOR A REAL MIND TWIST…

If you read all the above, now consider this: at the bottom of the page for the Enneagram Type Threes (at the link from above) there is a section about how Type Threes can practice personal growth.

Here’s the first bullet point. I’ll bold the section I want to point out.

For [Type Three’s] real development, it is essential to be truthful. Be honest with yourself and others about your genuine feelings and needs. Likewise, resist the temptation to impress others or inflate your importance. You will impress people more deeply by being authentic than by bragging about your successes or exaggerating your accomplishments.

So now the question you have to ask yourself is this: is this article, in which I confess to just how gross I can be, merely another attempt to “impress people” by being “authentic?” 🤯

WHEN DOES IT END?!?!


Your Thoughts?

Do you fret about first impressions?

Do you then replay it over in your mind afterwards and evaluate yourself?

Are there ever times in your life when you feel like a fraud? If so, what do you do about it?

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