‘They had connection – as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were. You have to do that for connection.’
Brené Brown, from her TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’.
Q. ‘We often hear the expression, ‘Be yourself’, but what does that mean? Who else are we going to be?’
It means being in touch with what you really are thinking and what you really are feeling, and relating to people on those terms. Your terms.
Most of us are pretty good at being who we are, but some people try to impress others by presenting an image to the world. Why? It’s often because they don’t believe their true self is good enough for public display.
The trouble is, if they wear their mask for too long they can become the mask, and lose touch with who they are and what they want from life. Out of touch with their true needs, they pursue professions unsuited to them, or marry someone unlikely to be a ‘soulmate’. And, they lose confidence in their true self, and become even more fearful that if their true self were to be revealed it would be found inadequate. As a result, they live tired lives, spending much of their energy maintaining their mask.
And, after a while, they feel they have no centre, no substance. They feel powerless, even though they may be in powerful positions.
Further, because they have lost insight into who they really are, then no-one else gets to know them either. So, they find it difficult to connect with people on a meaningful level, and can end up feeling isolated, and empty.
Anyway, if a person presents to the world an image that doesn’t truly reflect who they are, how can they truly feel heard, or seen?
In short, if you are tempted to create an image for yourself, be careful. Don’t allow your image to dictate the path you take in life. Don’t mislead yourself. Don’t mislead others.
If you can retain your true sense of self you will become more accepting of yourself, and more trusting of yourself and of the decisions you make. And, because you will be on the right path (your path!) that will ground you. You will feel you have substance, and feel safer in the world.
Q. ‘If I’m not feeling confident in a job interview, how would ‘being myself’ – displaying my lack of confidence – help?’
Yes, your lack of confidence might hinder you, and there are steps you can take to nullify that, but your anxiety is not you. It is just an emotion. The real you is the collection of skills, knowledge, attitudes and values you have acquired over your life-time. That lack of confidence in yourself is just you being out of touch with all that.
You will find that when you succeed in ‘being you’, your anxiety will evaporate, because the person you have come to know and trust – you – is the one speaking, and they know what they’re talking about.
If you are suited for the job, or for the person you’re dating, then being yourself will enhance your prospects. That’s because you will be connecting with the person on a meaningful level, and letting them get to know you.
Q. ‘Being myself might make me open to persecution or rejection.’
Yes, persecution is a problem. But rejection? I would have thought someone who succeeds in truly being themselves is far more relaxed, and far more likely to be rejected by those that don’t matter, than those who live behind a mask. Would Liberace (a flamboyant piano player) have succeeded if he had donned a mask and appeared ‘normal’?
Q. ‘What about the fashionistas, the ones who try hard to create an image?’
If they are expressing themselves, that’s fine. Or, if they’re a celebrity and it’s part of their ‘branding’, that’s fine too. Good luck to them. It’s when we try to replace ourselves with an image that we have a problem, because it means we have stopped trusting who we are.
A mask is a mere shadow-self, so if we adopt a mask we could end up feeling we have no centre, no substance. We won’t feel grounded. And, in that position – not knowing for certain who we truly are or what we stand for – we will begin to feel anxious. That’s unhelpful, because we already have an undercurrent of anxiety, from being fearful that if we let our image slip, our true self will be found and rejected.
Q. ‘Could it be that someone presenting an image is just extending their boundaries, hoping to ‘grow into’ the person they’re trying to be?’
That’s alright provided they don’t lose touch with their true self, and don’t become blind to their true feelings. My concern is that if we present an image to others in order to gain their approval, we can end up on the wrong path. Worse, we might lose insight into who we really are and what we want from life.
‘I don’t know what path I want anyway.’
Our path isn’t always clear, but it is our path, and finding it, and following it, is a big part of ‘building ourselves a person’. Creating an image to impress people will undermine that.
Authentic Self: ‘The authentic self is the ‘you’ that can be found at your absolute core. It is the part of you not defined by your job, function or role. It is the composite of all your skills, talents and wisdom. It is all of the things that are uniquely yours and need expression, rather than what you believe you are supposed to be and do.’
Fictional Self: ‘When you’re not living faithfully to your authentic self, you find yourself feeling incomplete, as if there is a hole in your soul. You may have found that it’s easier to fill the roles your family and friends expect of you, rather than becoming who you really want to be. Living this way drains you of the critical life energy you need to pursue the things you truly value.’
Q. ‘Isn’t it okay to play games sometimes? In the art of seduction, for example?’
Playing healthy games is being authentic. Lying, or creating a façade, isn’t.
Q. ‘Can I fart in front of a dignitary and claim I’m being authentic?’
You would be trying to make a statement. Being yourself isn’t about making a statement, or acting on your rights. It’s about being honest with people in what you think and feel, whilst behaving within expected social guidelines.
When you successfully express what you really are feeling, your need to be a jerk evaporates. ‘Being yourself’ is to honestly express yourself; being a jerk is to act silly because you can’t.
Q. ‘What’s a good way to ‘be oneself’?
Gaining assertiveness skills will make a huge difference to a person who doesn’t have them. Read the section on that, and make a habit of applying those tips.
Make a conscious effort to notice moments throughout the day when you’re trying to be someone you’re not. While it’s great to learn from others and copycat things that have worked for them, taking this too far and trying to be them will result in you losing your sense of self and trying to be someone you’re not. Similarly, contorting yourself to meet others’ expectations will erode your individuality, and break your spirit. Don’t do or say things just because another person does or expects you to; source the need to behave that way from within and if it’s not true to yourself, either don’t do it or tailor it completely to reflect your own self.’
From the WikiHow site.