It can be hard to be yourself. In fact, what does it actually mean?
It can mean a lot of things to different people. We sometimes think we need to ‘find’ ourselves in order to ‘be’ ourselves. But finding yourself can actually feel stressful to some people because it conjures up the idea of a long and challenging journey, one beset with obstacles along the way to test your mettle and commitment to the journey.
One of the things I’ve discovered is that an important part of being ourselves is actually a lot about removing the masks of who you are not; like stopping pretending that you are always positive or happy, or that you always have the answers, that you have everything figured out, or letting go of the pretence that you don’t get scared even, or that people’s comments don’t hurt you … etc … and there are many more.
We pretend because we want to be liked, accepted, to belong. We are prone to hide our ‘wobbly bits’ from others because we want to present our best side to the world. We want the world to see us as what we consider to be our most desirable, most talented, most intelligent, strongest, wisest, funniest, (etc, etc) self.
This is because, deep in the human psyche, not being liked by others feels like a threat to our very survival. You see, millions of years of evolution have ingrained in the human psyche (and biology) the need to form connections with others because these connections are what created a community that ultimately helped our species thrive. The need for connection has become as much part of our biology and psychology as has the need for air to breathe.
It’s why connection stimulates the production of growth hormones and oxytocin, both which play key roles in the growth and repair of the human body. An infant deprived of connection grows at a slower rate than an infant shown an abundance of connection, mostly due to lower levels of growth hormones and oxytocin.
It’s also why a lack of connection is associated with depression in adults as well as a weaker immune system and poorer function of the cardiovascular system.
In centuries past, one of the worst punishments was banishment, where a person could never again return to their community. It was not uncommon for those banished to make multiple (and eventually fatal) attempts to get back into the village or town again. They simply could not live without connection.
In the modern world, the need for connection creates, for many, an inbuilt, unconscious desire to please people, to need them to like us, because we believe that being liked will help us bond and form connections. That’s why we try to show our best bits and hide our seeming weaknesses. We fear that if we show our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, insecurities, that people won’t like us and thus we won’t be able to form connections. Of course, this is mostly going on unconsciously.
But we have it a bit back to front. In holding back our real selves, in only showing up as part of ourselves (the shiny bits and not the wobbly bits), we don’t really form the quality of connections our biology and psyches need. We erect artificial barriers, built upon the fear of people seeing our seeming shortcomings, barriers that actually block authentic connection.
On the other hand, having the courage to show our wobbly bits – our vulnerabilities, our insecurities, our seeming weaknesses – actually makes authentic connection more likely. It helps us forge deeper connections because we let go of pretences.
We give up the idea of being who we are not. We knock down these internal barriers. We show up as we are. We move away from wanting specific people to like us, give us approval, love us, even, and move towards knowing that if people don’t like us as we are then they will simply drift out of our lives, making space for people who like, approve, love us for who we are. In effect, we become more comfortable in our own skin.
So perhaps, rather than try to find yourself, have a go at ditching who you are not. And as you let go of these false ideas of yourself, who knows … you might just find the person you were looking for.
Copyright 2021 David R. Hamilton PhD.