Have you ever worshipped the ground someone walks on?
A lot of people idolize athletes and rock stars and movie stars, but they also often idealize them without knowing it. Let us explore the difference.
Idolizing someone is at it sounds: making an idol of that person. The dictionary definition of Idolize is: "admire, revere, or love greatly". An idol is defined as "a representation of God".
We idolize celebrities and athletes because what they are able to do is so incredible that it captivates us and grabs hold of our emotions. There are many who watch the olympics and feel motivated to become the best in the world at one of the sports themselves. Even for those who do not strive to achieve what they see, there is still a healthy acknowledgement of and detachment from those celebrities. A powerful admiration that fills us with inspiration and respect.
In these ways, idolizing others is healthy.
But then there is idealization. People often confuse the two or use them interchangeably, but unfortunately idealization is not as healthy as idolatry.
Idealize is defined as: "to regard as perfect or better than in reality". That is very different than genuine admiration or reverence. To idealize is to view a person as the perfect version of what it means to be a person. It sets a standard for what someone "is supposed to be like".
If you watch the olympics and idealize an athlete, you think that the way that that athlete seems to be must be the way that you should be in life.
The problem is, instead of a healthy respect and admiration that leads to a proud sense of inspiration, idealizing an athlete causes the idealizer to feel inadequate, incompetent, and generally incapable of achieving what it appears is the thing the ideal human is supposed to be able to achieve.
The idealizer gets down on themselves because they do not believe that they can attain that greatness. That thought becomes a belief, and that belief trickles into that person's self worth in their work, their relationships, and their dreams.
Like in religion and professional sports, many people can idolize a single figure for a lot of the same reasons. Idealization, however, occurs very differently for everybody.
This is due to the fact that the characteristics for which we idealize others are characteristics that we find lacking in ourselves.
And those characteristics are unique to every person.
What if, all of a sudden, the person or athlete or celebrity did something terrible that broke in the news (I know - these days that happens all the time)? Even if it does not ruin their careers, it can ruin your perfect image of them as the entity that represents everything that you want to be.
That further pummels your self-worth because the idealized person was supposed to be the thing that sustained your motivation to be greater - even if you went on feeling incompetent anyway - and now they behave in a way that shows that they are not, in fact, a perfect entity (based on your unique definition of perfection).
It is not fair to them to be put on such a grand pedestal, but you do not care because you are distracted by how poorly you feel about yourself.
Who do you idolize in the world? Then, who do you idealize in the world or your life?
What characteristics of them do you idealize? Do you wish you possessed those characteristics in an area of your life?
I mostly idolize actors or even the characters they play (because I am such a huge movie nerd) and feel a deep admiration for their prowess and what they represent. On the flip side I have idealized my soccer coaches growing up, some teachers, and a lot of supervisors in job settings.
When I watched a soccer coach play in a scrimmage and heard him swear or yell at the referee, I was so disappointed. My image of their flawlessness was torn.
When I realized that a supervisor at work actually was not good at their job even though they trained me, it confused me about my time with them and my own skills in the work.
Reflecting on who you idealize and what characteristics you idealize in them shows you what characteristics you long for.
When I idealized my coaches, I envied their skills and strength with the soccer ball.
When I idealized my supervisors, I wanted the confidence that they exuded all the time (even though their skills in the work were not enviable) because I was just starting the new job and did not feel confident at all myself.
Do not let this be a bummer for you because you are already bumming yourself out just by idealizing the person.
Instead, let this be a tool to identify how you would like to grow and what traits you would like to define and attain for yourself.