Saving Face

There are several ways of saving face. Face is the common notion of pride or social status, the technical notion of being fully qualified to play the social role we are in. We lose face when information about us—whether it’s something we just now did, something we did some time ago, a category that is discovered to include us, or an attribution by others—discredits our performance of the role we are in. Uncontrolled movements will make us lose face if we have been acting (as we often do at work and in typical social gatherings) as if we don’t have a body, or as if we have our bodies under control.

A bad grade on a quiz, a rejection, or a correction will make us lose face if we have been acting superior about our intellect. 
When something happens to discredit our performance, we can pretend it didn’t happen, make excuses, and so on. All of the strategies for saving face are designed to do just that, to save the face we have been wearing. In high school, where we rehearse and often settle on such strategies, the face we wear is typically characterized by perfectionism and conformity with our peers, whether the perfectionism has to do with dominance, kindness, or freedom, and whether our peers demand conformity in dress, manner, taste, or values.

Adults save face differently from teenagers. They learn that by wearing an all-too-human mask, losing face is less likely. If an adult acts mortified by a commonplace occurrence, the mortification itself is a signal that the adult was trying to pull off a perfect face.  Adults are like healthy parents whose kids act up in public: they give a wry smile to others and round up the childishness, but they communicate that they “never claimed to be perfect.”

In this way, as in others, teenagers often act like adult narcissists, claiming a status of potential perfection that is easily discredited.
Perfection is impossible and seeking it is neurotic.

“Overt efforts to save face, lead to a loss of face, because , claims of perfect ability are signs that people are trying to be something they cannot be. “

You can attempt to save face by getting all huffy when you feel insulted; in terms of emotional health, you save face by taking yourself too seriously. Thus, in a classroom or conference, you say something that is simply incorrect: “Her history of physical abuse is making her skittish about authority”. Someone points out that as far as anyone knows, the girl was not abused. Typical face saving strategies at this point would imply that your sense of clinical competence is so fragile that you cannot afford to be wrong even once.

You can do the opposite of saving face by accepting your humanity. Why do we find it so difficult to say; “Oh yes, I missed that. I’ll be sure to double check the file, thanks for pointing that out. This acknowledges fallibility while not making a big deal out of it.

All of this points to pride, ego, fear, insecurity, an inability to be wrong, (which is impossible that you would never be wrong), covering up, lies, hiding, etc. Once we begin to understand ourselves from the inside out, deal with our broken past, and allow God to assign identity to us, we know who we are and are more secure in that reality. Lessening over time, the need for these deflective diversions.

Source: Psychology Today/ Adapted-Bill Hoffman

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