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A friend once told me that people fear being “found out”—that humans are afraid that others will discover that they’re not really as smart or as pretty as they seem to be.
They got into good schools by luck and passed tests the same way, and, sooner or later, their employer and clients will find out. You ask yourself, “Is it enough, this job I’m doing? Am I OK?” From deep in the secret, dark hidey-holes of your mind, self-doubt whispers an answer: “No.”
Over time, you learn to conceal self-doubt. You cover insecurities, push them out of sight and muddle on, defenses at the ready. You get by. And sometimes—the best times—you confront these demons head-on and expose them for the liars that they are. You realize that “We are who we are as much because of our gaps and failures as because of our strength,”1 and, although clichéd, the premise of I’m OK, You’re OK still can ease you into self-acceptance. So you stand a little straighter, and, in the mirror of your mind’s eye, you catch sight of yourself as acceptable.
Now look at the scarcely concealed face with acne. Acne is a condition that manifests through lesions and reddened swellings; raised infections with pitted aftermath; and blackheads, whiteheads and scars. This is the topography of a complexion at war and, more importantly, the visage of someone who has been found out. No successful dissembling, no cover. Just questions and endless self-examination: “Have I done something to deserve this?” “Is this punishment?” “Is it the wrong food, the wrong habits, the wrong hormones, the wrong genes—is it me?” This person lives with a calendar divided into good days and bad days, marked by embarrassment, awkwardness and shame.
Words that commonly are used when describing diseased acneic skin make matters worse. “Blemished” and “bad” most accurately refer to flaws in moral character and sinful tendencies, or at least these are the customary meanings in Judeo-Christian culture. In his book Grace and Grit (Shambhala Press, 2001), transpersonal psychologist Ken Wilber summarizes the different messages given about disease by the cultures and subcultures to which we’re exposed. He writes that disease is variously explained as the following.