NORMAN — If you want to get into an argument with a woman, compliment her.
Say she did an excellent job on her project, on her assignment or with her fundraiser, then watch what happens. Whether you’re applauding her for the skillful handling of a complex situation or cheering her for the quicksilver nature of her problem solving, she will nod, offer a tight-lipped smile and proceed to explain, in earnest, why you’re wrong.
“My team did everything.” ‚ ”If only I had another week!”‚ ”Are you kidding? I’m nowhere near my expectations.”
She’ll keep talking, too, apologizing and offering details. Men back away slowly, scratching their heads and swearing never to say another word. Other women murmur soothing noises because we understand.
I offered soothing noises today. For three years, a close friend has been writing a novel. Her publisher sent an email that included the glorious phrase:”It’s terrific. Consider the book accepted‚” as well as suggestions for a few changes for the final chapter. She forwarded me his note. I focused on “terrific” and ‚”accepted,” but she focused on his edits as evidence that she was not, and probably never would be, good enough. She feels lightweight, amateurish, and as if she’s been caught pilfering rather than earning her success.
She suffers from what I call “achievement dysmorphia‚” or the sense of disconnection women experience when our manifest accomplishments and our sense of unworthiness don’t line up. It isn’t quite the impostor syndrome — it’s not about faking a persona — it’s about a reluctance to accept victory and enjoy even an earned sense of triumph.
Cue Doris Day singing “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”
Over the years, we’ve learned about body dysmorphia, a recurrent, relentless dissatisfaction so profound it compels a woman to diet, exercise or scrub her face compulsively because she can’t stand her appearance.