Here’s How to Be the Real You and Be Much Happier
Tony is the life of the party—but he hates parties. By any objective standard, Tony is handsome, witty and warm—but he considers himself unintelligent and unappealing. He works hard to present a public persona that he considers likable—but he knows this is not really him. Tony lives in fear that if people got to know the real him, he would lose their friendship and respect.
It’s not uncommon for people to secretly view themselves as “frauds” who must hide their true selves to find acceptance, but those fears are almost always unfounded. If these people showed the world their authentic selves, it probably would improve their relationships and careers and, most of all, make their lives far less stressful. Studies have found a strong link between inauthenticity and stress—it is tremendously taxing to try to be someone you are not.
Could you be happier and healthier if you allowed yourself to act more like your true self? The answer is yes!
The Price of Pretending
An unshakable tension exists inside people when they pretend to be people they are not. For one thing, they endlessly struggle to figure out what others want from them rather than just do what comes naturally. They live in fear of being uncovered as frauds…and it is a very stressful way to live.
That stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol, and over time cortisol can lead to a range of health problems including memory loss…hair loss…muscle loss…weight gain…and increased risk for disease.
People who aren’t “themselves” tend to struggle to sustain loving relationships—it is difficult to accept another person’s love when you do not consider your true self lovable. Any success, any acceptance and any love that they receive brings them far less joy than it could—because they don’t believe that their true selves are achieving these things.
The drive to hide one’s true self is often, though not always, rooted in childhood. Children who feel free to express their opinions and follow their interests usually grow up to be adults who behave true to who they are. But children who feel constrained by family or community in terms of what they can think or say often grow up to be adults who try to hide their true selves.
Whether or not your impulse to hide your true self derives from childhood, you can take steps to set your true self free…
Tell compassionate truths to others
Stop giving people the phony, easy, evasive responses that you think they want to hear. Instead, tell them the truths that they need to hear, with as much tact and kindness as possible. This will be challenging at first, so start small when discussing relatively minor matters.
Example: Rather than say that “your presentation at the neighborhood association was wonderful,” you might say that “your presentation was wonderful, but you should clarify this one point you made, because I sensed some confusion in the crowd.”
Saying difficult things that people need to hear is a way to express empathy—a concern for the needs and feelings of others. The giving and receiving of empathy cause the body to release oxytocin, a hormone that reduces the drive to be inauthentic by replacing anxiety with a sense of calm and well-being. Empathy also fosters the feeling that personal bonds are being developed.
Sharing compassionate truths also encourages other people to share compassionate truths with you. People who hide their true selves tend to have distorted images of who they are. (Usually, they have more negative opinions of themselves than they deserve.) Hearing compassionate truths can start to bring your image of yourself more into line with reality.
Helpful: Ask people whose opinions you value what they really think about one of your ideas…one of your abilities…or some part of yourself that causes you anxiety. Say that you want the truth even if the truth is difficult to hear.
Experiment with revealing your true self
When you meet people you have not met before and are unlikely to meet again—perhaps when shopping at a store or during intermission at a show—offer your true opinions. Be polite but otherwise make no special effort to impress or please. These onetime encounters are a great opportunity to overcome your fear that your true self will be poorly received because the risk is extremely low—even if the interaction goes poorly, it will have little effect on your life. There’s an excellent chance that after a few attempts, you’ll discover that being yourself is a wonderfully calming, natural and even uplifting experience.
Take control of your self-talk
Everyone has an internal voice in his/her head. Is your voice kind and uplifting to you…or unkind and critical? People who struggle to be themselves are particularly prone to punitive, unfairly demanding self-talk.
The good news is that it is possible to modify self-talk. One strategy is to respond to negative self-talk with instructional self-talk that includes a concrete plan of action.
Example: You are struggling to voice your opinion to your colleagues because your self-talk is warning you, They’ll dislike me if I tell them they’re wrong. Respond with the instructional self-talk, They won’t dislike me if I provide my concerns in private and with compassion—particularly if I offer to help fix the problem.
Be Honest with Yourself
Ask yourself what you would do differently in your life if you were not afraid of someone else’s judgment. Honestly answering this question can open your eyes to how being inauthentic has been holding you back from accomplishing what you really want to accomplish.
See the appeal of your flaws
Before you attend a social gathering or begin a conversation where you might be tempted to present the unnatural “improved” version of yourself that you think people want, remind yourself that people like to spend time with imperfect people. It makes them feel more comfortable about their own imperfections. And we all have imperfections!