The term ‘awareness laundering’ might not be as well known as the act, but it’s something we’ve all faced, if not done outright. It’s the act of drawing attention to our faults that often comes out of a place of insecurity — we know we’re in the wrong and we (mistakenly) think that stating our faults will fix them.
Whether it’s running into the room late and saying, “I know, I’m never on time, I’m the WORST,” or making a mistake at work and texting your boss, “I’m so sorry, I’m stupid” (the last one was a direct quote from my texts), we do it all the time as an act of either coping or covering for ourselves. The irony is that awareness laundering takes more effort than actually fixing our mistakes.
The New Yorker describes awareness laundering as, “The implicit, and sometimes explicit, idea that professing awareness of a fault absolves you of that fault — that lip service equals resistance.” Head Topics describes the phenomenon as, “Taking tarnished old habits and washing them clean with a knowing wink.”
The Dangers of Awareness Laundering
While acknowledging small mistakes – like being late or missing a comma every now and then – might seem harmless, we need to deal with our problems immediately so they don’t fester and grow. If we begin every interaction with an apology, the ‘humility’ that we think we’re leading with suddenly becomes an excuse not to make a real change.
Not to mention that we don’t stop with small mistakes. Yes, being late every once in a while is annoying and rude to the people around you, but if you acknowledge it as a habit of yours and still don’t make a change, you’re not just late, you’re also inconsiderate.
Instead of spending your time apologizing and acknowledging your shortcomings, fix them instead.
Awareness Laundering Popularized
Airing our insecurities instead of facing them is something I believe everyone has done. The quirky little disclaimer is everywhere we look. Awareness laundering is on sitcoms — think Rachel from Friends complaining about how financially irresponsible she is then continuing to spend her waitress paycheck on designer clothes. It’s also in movies — I can’t help but think about Confessions of a Shopaholic where Rebecca Bloomwood knows she has a problem, but her trunk is still full of clothes. This habit of announcing your flaws but never doing anything about them has become just another ‘quirky characteristic’ of every ‘lovable’ character, and by doing so, has become normal and acceptable in society.
The New Yorker cites Exciting Times as a perfect novel that showcases this phenomenon. In the book, Ava is very forthcoming with compliments about her partner, Julian, but then goes on to list her many flaws. While her ‘self-awareness’ and ‘quirky’ descriptions of herself might add to the allure of the character, the classic ‘girl who doesn’t know how pretty she is’ ploy, it causes her character to be more annoying, self-deprecating, and unappealing.
Awareness laundering isn’t cute. It’s annoying. If you have the ability to see and acknowledge your flaws and the self-awareness to know that they’re bad or unhealthy, there’s no need to hold onto them like they’re a personality trait. Acknowledge them, fix them, and be done.
How to Stop
Sadly, there’s no three-step method to stop airing your awareness out for everyone. You just have to do it. Tell your friends and the people closest to you that you’re struggling with fixing your problems and ask that they keep you accountable; then, take real steps to fix the flaws you so often point out in yourself. I recently had a conversation with my partner where he told me that I complain a lot and then do nothing to fix my situation. So, this problem exactly. I told him he’s allowed to force me to fix everything I complain about for the next month. If it’s not fixable, I’m allowed to complain, but if it is, I have a new project.
It’s the new year and we have so much on our plates that we want to accomplish. We want to transform into better people and create new routines. Start a new routine of taking action rather than apologizing. If you find yourself excusing your actions as just something you do or a pattern that you’ve fallen into, fall out of it and create new, healthier habits for yourself.
Have you ever done this? Had you heard of awareness laundering before? Comment below!
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