"As If" Is A Good Thing - By Fran Gerstein,LCSW


Sometimes it’s no fun to be me. I’m scared of things and I feel anxious. It’s not that I’m not brave about certain things– professionally I’m a therapist and a teacher so I’m good at public speaking, handling clinical emergencies and dealing with conflict. I’m good in any emergency, as long as it isn’t my own. When it comes to my actual life, I get squeamish.

There used to be a personality disorder called the “as if personality.” Helen Deutsch named the condition to describe people who hadn’t received adequate mirroring from parents and so developed a chameleon-like ability to take on the personality of whomever they are with, so as to fit in and be liked.

I like the term “as if personality.” Instead of sounding scientific and stiff, it’s theatrical. It sounds like a question on an application for Drama School, as in “Do people describe you as “as if” or as “as is?”
The as if personality captured something crucial. Plus, within every “disorder” there’s a coping skill, of sorts.
That’s why I am an as-if-wanna-be. I elect to employ my as if personality when my regular, true self comes up short.

When I was in my late 30’s, I was in Paris with my husband during some serious country-wide strikes. The city of lights shut down bit by bit – first the postal workers, then the museum workers, then the shopkeepers. When the restaurants started to close, it was clearly time to go. But the train stations and airports were closing, too, and we began to worry about getting home.

Prior to my trip I had acquired a Muscovite hat to combat the chill of December in the Tuilleries. During the taxi ride to a troubled De Gaulle airport I wore it with a large, red wool cape. As we neared the airport, the chaos was palpable. Strikers set fire to piles of tires, creating that undeniable stench of burning rubber. Angry workers chanted threats in French, while military gendarmes looked on with poised machine guns. Our goal was to get the last plane out of Paris to London and I was shaky. Even a shot of whiskey at breakfast didn’t cut it. I resorted to an as if moment. I summoned Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago. I was no longer Fran with my hat and cape, I was Lara fleeing the Bolsheviks.
Had it been foggy and my husband and I had to walk to a small, propeller plane on the runway, I might have chosen Ingrid Bergman, as Ilsa, fleeing an embattled Casablanca.

Years after Paris, I was anticipating a rather benign medical procedure, and was justifiably slightly nervous. So I talked to my friend, Nina, who confided that while undergoing anything medical, she summoned her as if personality. In her case, she’d pretend to be Marilyn Monroe going into her makeup trailer on the set of Some Like it Hot. Nina, as Marilyn, would breathlessly call nurses and doctors, “darling,” while pretending that each step of the medical intervention was primping for her star turn and subsequent Golden Globe Award. I borrowed Nina’s as if technique during my medical procedure and found it most comforting.

Up until a few years ago, I used to hate to fly. I know it’s safe and that there’s very little chance anything can go wrong, but I didn’t like the feeling of being up in the air until I saw George Clooney in Up in the Air. Since then, when I have to fly, I imagine myself as if someone who flies all the time, several days a week, every week out of the year and has recently been granted 1,000,000 Air Mile Wings! Can you imagine George’s character from Up in the Air having a fear of flying? Preposterous…

My recommendation is as such - if your true self is disappointing you, here are some fail safe as if characters to take on:
When making judicious decisions I recommend Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.
When trying to be debonair, try Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler, from Gone with the Wind. When trying to be petulant, Vivien Leigh, as Scarlett, from the same movie, is quite adequate.

Oh, if there’s a need for courage, brains or heart, go directly to Emerald City for inspiration. Don’t forget to ask for the Wizard of Oz.

Fran Gerstein is a Clinical Social Worker/Therapist practicing in  Wynnewood, PA

Posted in Psychology