The iceberg effect (or why you can’t take things at face value)

you can't take things at face value

What’s the iceberg effect?

In a session this week, my client and I were reflecting on what I call the iceberg effect.  It’s the idea that sometimes people find it hard to see past what they can actually see, or in other words, why you can’t take things at face value.

Does Joanne have a beautiful house, a lovely car, an expensive wardrobe? Or Gary, who has a load of friends with a jam-packed social diary? Chances are (unless you have been told specifically otherwise) you think that these people have it all.  What we tend to do is to notice the thing that the other person has that we want for ourselves and that fact becomes the evidence of a happy person, a happy life.  It is not always so.

Have you considered for a moment that the person with a jam-packed social life might be too anxious to be on their own, that when they are at home with not much going on, they feel disconnected from the world or worried about their success or failure as a human being?  Maybe keeping that diary full is exhausting, and the stress that comes with it feels like a burden.  People have lots more going on internally that we can perceive externally.We are all an iceberg to an extent

Think about that man Simon that drives the very expensive car.  He isn’t necessarily driving the car because he has a particular passion for cars.  He might be driving it because he wants to make an outward statement about his success.  Why does he need to make a statement about his success?  Maybe it’s because deep down he doesn’t really feel successful.  Maybe he was once told he’d never amount to much and still feels like that ‘failure’.  Or maybe the car is a just a tool to convince others and himself that he is a success.  Perhaps he does genuinely love cars but the point is, we cannot know for sure.

We all develop strategies to cope with our fears and pain

I think if we could all try and remember that we are surrounded by icebergs – our friends, our families and our colleagues, we might be able to see them as we ourselves are – human beings with vulnerabilities and coping strategies.

Click here to read about helpful coping strategies

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