I have a client who recently moved to the East Coast. She lives in a very loud, busy, and overstimulating area. As with anyone moving to a new place, she was going through a period of adjustment and forming new friendships, trying to find her place.
In reaction to her fear of being lonely, she surrounded herself with people, any people. During a mindless event with one of these groups of people—who she didn’t really jive with—she opened her eyes, looked around, excused herself and walked away. She had a revelation of sorts—she didn’t need these people to fill in her blanks, to make her feel less alone. She realized she was sacrificing herself having to pretend she was something she wasn’t. She was sacrificing her authenticity, and at what cost?
You don’t need to sacrifice yourself
It is ok to walk away. It is the genuine connections in our lives, the people we feel comfortable being ourselves with that add to our happiness, our wellbeing as people. Sacrificing who you are just to be surrounded with people will only leave you feeling more alone. Don’t be afraid to walk away and find those people that lift you up, that expand your horizons, without sacrificing who you are. You don’t need to be dependent on other people for your happiness. You are in control of your own happiness. You need to dig deep inside and surround yourself with the things you love. Embrace your hobbies, take time to do the things that make you feel alive inside.
Find the people that share your values and will appreciate you for you. If you are a person who appreciates art, take an art class; if you like to exercise, join a gym or running group; if you like computers or video games, join a club; if you like to read, join a book club; if you like music, go to concerts. In time, you will find the people that see you and love you for who you really are. Don’t sacrifice yourself because you are afraid of the future, or afraid of how it feels to be by yourself. Love yourself, and do what you love. The rest will follow.
Clients tell me all the time that they feel “fake.” They are not their “true selves” when they are at work or with certain groups of people. But, is that really being fake? I often ask my clients ‘what are they pretending?’ And, then I ask them to consider if it is possible to be an authentic person but be different in different contexts of life?
Having an authentic voice in different environments is a flexible, adaptive personality trait. It is a desirable and positive skill to have as a person, and some people struggle their whole lives to attain such a skill. We are made up of many different parts that together make our whole selves. Just because we might act differently in different environments doesn’t mean we aren’t being true, we are just acting on that part of our personality at that time. Think of ourselves as being onions with many different layers. We are not two-dimensional.
Maintaining strong relationships
Being able to adapt your behavior, improves your ability to make and maintain strong relationships with people. I think we can all agree that in many cases we should be different people at work than at home. There are things that we do or say or wear, in the comfort of our home, or with friends, that would not be acceptable in a place of business. There are also different groups of friends or family that we may act differently around, for example, you are probably going to be different with your grandma than your college roommate. That doesn’t mean you are being fake.
The traits that make up our true selves, tend to be the moral ones—the qualities of ourselves that lie deep down. The traits that have been ingrained in us since we were children—be kind, be truthful, don’t hurt another, don’t steal, etc. Those traits stay consistent across all situations. Those are the core of the onion.
So, next time you fear you are being fake, take a minute to think about what you are pretending? Are you really trying to be someone else? Or are you just a different genuine version of yourself?