The shrink test said he was motivated, creative and flexible. Surely this thing wasn't talking about my husband.
After 23 years of selling his soul to corporate America, my formerly big-bucks-earning man left his job to spend quality time contemplating his true purpose in life. Part of the discovering himself process included a whole battery of shrink tests.
As I read the assessment of the flexible, energetic guy who could "change directions quickly based on new information," I thought, "I can't believe it, he lied on the test!"
The person described in the report bore little resemblance to the always tired, often morose guy I'd been living with for 18 years.
I wanted to be supportive, I really did. I know he has his finer qualities, but this test was way off the mark.
For once, I kept my mouth shut. Instead of telling him we should get our money back for this obviously-flawed assessment, I asked him what he thought. "I think it describes me to a T," he said.
Nodding and smiling in a nice, wifely way, I silently wondered, "How can a guy be so clueless about his own personality?" And then he handed me the other report. "It shows how I behave under stress," he said.
Ahhh. Moody, distant, withdrawn, "quits when frustrated and often takes things too personally." Now that was my man.
As I contemplated the two reports I had an epiphany: Maybe he really is that creative expressive guy, but he's been under so much stress over the last few years I didn't even know it.
And maybe it's not just him.
Do we ever really know anyone? Or is everybody walking around so stressed out, the personality we see on the outside has little resemblance to what lies buried within? The positive report rang true for my husband because it described what he had always known himself to be. What I had assumed was his grown-up personality - uncommunicative, grumpy and tired - wasn't his personality at all. It was his response to 12-hour days, heavy travel and years of mind-numbing corporate crud.
And now that he's rid of some of the stress, the creative, exciting person he'd always been on the inside is finally showing himself to the rest of the world.
That other guy - the stressed-out one who dragged himself through the door every night and never wanted to do anything fun - wasn't the real person. He was just a collective bunch of anxieties looking for a place to land.
Everybody has different responses to stress and none of them are too pretty. My husband withdraws. I prefer the control-freak reaction: tense up and start barking orders. Other people make bad jokes, talk too loud, stay silent, collapse on the bed, work too much, work too little, cry, whine, drink, or watch too much TV.
There's often a stark contrast between the self everybody else sees and who we really are. The more stress we're under, the greater the gap. And if you act that way most of the time, people are going to assume it's your basic personality.
In hindsight, I wish I'd been more patient with my husband during his corporate years, spent more time helping him deal with the situation, rather than wasting all my energy being annoyed at the way it affected him.
Funny thing about stress, once you strap on your anxiety mask, the world looks different to you and you look different to the world. It's such an effective disguise, sometimes even your own spouse doesn't recognize you.
Excerpted from Lisa Earle McLeod's new book, "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear (April 1, 2007 - Jefferson Press).