We all want to appeal to people in some way. We want to be accepted and loved. We want to feel connected. But often our brains think that we could never appeal to people if we are just being ourselves. We are literally terrified to be our real selves because we don’t believe there are others out there who would feel the same way as we do.
We tell ourselves and others to “Just be yourself!” and if no one likes it who cares. But then we become terrified that no one will like who we are and as a result we will end up alone and delegitimized.Our heroes in films, books and on TV are those who are being themselves but we often chose to be someone we are not to avoid conflicts.
If you are at all like me, then the way you feel is on the darker side of things much of the time. You are someone who is brutally honest with yourself about the realities of life, but you are cautious about fully opening up about this.
I fear being honest and open about the things that I feel because I fear people will not like me. In fact, I know that a lot of people will not like me. In our society, there is a specific standard most follow. A standard that says we should be happy, positive, fun, outgoing, successful, attractive and nice all the time. “Life is good!” In some way, most of us are trying continually to measure up to this standard. Many are not even aware that they are trying. Some fear that if they do not measure up people will think they are a drag, a bummer, no fun to be around. Almost everyone fears that if they do not live up to the standard they will end up delegitimized, disconnected and broke.
But the standard is an impossible standard. It is not real. This is a fundamental problem of human life.
Life is not happy, fun, positive, outgoing, successful and attractive fifty percent of the time. We are trying to measure up to a standard that cannot be achieved (hence a lot of mental illness). Fifty percent of the time life is painful, ugly, frightening, difficult, a drag, depressing, sad and negative. It is just the way it is.
I am someone who is real with myself about the realities of life and I strive to be real with others about it as well. But few want to hear it. My popular posts on social media are not the ones that talk about the realities of life. Society (and social media) likes people who are fun, upbeat and positive ALL THE TIME. If you are not this way you risk being harshly judged and discredited. You are a drag. A buzzkill. You risk not being successful and not having people be attracted to you (especially in the mental health business). It is a frightening risk for most to take. Why not just wear the mask?
But being fake is the alternative and I seem incapable of doing it. I am miserable when I am fake. Gosh, if I could be fake I would be able to make a fortune! It’s unfortunate.If I am just being myself this means that I am real with people about how I feel and what I think and it is often not positive. But people cannot accept this perspective because most of us cannot accept that our lives should be anything but a blast all the time.
Even I have found this socially conditioned standardpenetrate my brain. I find that I often seek to be happy a hundred percent of the time. When I feel upset or when I feel like I am not happy it feels unfair. I wonder what I am doing wrong. I feel bad. I get angry. I feel like I should be happier and less depressed. But the truth is,life is sad and depressing sometimes.
Even if you try and cover this reality up, it is a fundamental thing that happens to people.We get sad, we get depressed, we become unhappy. This is how life is and it’s ok.
But I often have this internal conflict going on. Do I fake it and act like it is all good ALL THE TIME? Do I strive to be happy ALL THE TIME? Better? Happier? More positive? Do I act like I am happy and mindful and positive and loving ALL THE TIME or do I communicate with you authentically? Do I be genuine or do I hide behind the mask of society?
Like I said, society likes people who are upbeat, fun, positive and happy all the time. It wants us to measure up to this standard. If we do measure up, we feel like we can make more money, have a better social media presence and be more legitimized in the eyes of others in general. We can have more connection and be more desired (this is what spirituality often is- the attempt to become happier and more positive so that we can create more acceptance, admiration and meaningful connections with others). But I am not really attracted to people who take this approach. It feels fake and contrived to me. So why would I want to do it?
Sure, it would be easier. I will attract more people to me. I would probably make more money and be more popular. But is it fair to people and to myself to settle even if it is not what I really want?And if I want to settle because it is easier and more acceptable to do so, is it the right thing to do?I
I have a mentor who describes it this way: It is like an act. You know all the cues. You say the right lines. You do the choreography. When you go backstage you rip off your clothes as fast as you can. You sit down in front of your computer or television and you are your real self. But you feel sad because no one sees it. You are afraid that if people did see this real self you would be booed off stage. But you are so tired of the act. So tired of the absence of authentic connection with people. So you have a drink or a smoke or a God or lots of thoughts in your head and feel authentically connected with an illusive substance instead.
But I have hope. Or I am trying to be hopeful rather than being completely pessimistic (as I normally am). I trust that there are people out there who feel a similar way as I do and by writing this I am trying to create a more authentic connection with them. The kind of connection that feels right and true to me. But I don’t often do this. I get afraid. I backtrack into old habits. Why?
I think because my brain has become so accustomed to doing things in a certain way. My brain is used to being the norm. Doing what everyone else says and does. Playing it safe.I hate to admit it but I think my brain is used to pursuing the standard and can’t acknowledge or trust that an alternative way exists. But I know it does. That is why I am writing this.
Our perspectives are so influenced by societies voice that we can’t believe that there is a way for us to be ourselves and still have authentic connection and appreciation. We believe that the societal standard is just the way it is and we fall in-line. We live our lives playing a part in a massive play. But I trust that deep down, most of us feel similar as I do. Even those who stay busy and preoccupied and positive enough to ignore what I am talking about must know this is going on in some way deep down inside of them. Maybe it is the root of their illness or addiction?
Here is the truth as far as I see it: Uncertainty is the very nature of life. Fundamentally there is no right, no wrong, no good, no bad. There is no ultimate answer to life. No right way to do things. Life is just a ton of unanswerable things that will never be answered. No matter how much you think and fixate and read about personal development and listen to NPR you will never succeed at pinning life down to specific explanations.
But you can try. You can even get close. People trend towards certain ideas or beliefs or ways of living because they are trying to pin life down. But you can’t ever achieve this. Shit happens. We get sick. We get hurt. We don’t like ourselves. We suffer. We feel alone. People we love die. We die. Things change. There is no way to avoid this, no matter what approach you take. I think it is better to accept that these realities exist than to live a false existence.
To be myself means to call out the realities of life. It’s what I do best because it is how I think and feel. I can’t ignore these fundamental realities of life. And maybe there are others out there who cannot as well.
Who we are becomes acceptable to us when we are being the kind of person we want to be. If being myself means that I am less successful and draw less people to me, so be it. Did you know that one of the main regrets people have when they are dying is that they did not have the courage to be themselves?(Another common regret is not living in the moment more but more about that another time.)
By being more myself I may be delegitimized by the vast majority of people who are caught up in the act of trying to make life into something it can never be, but that is ok.I don’t really want to attract these people to me anyways.
Ultimately, what is important is that we fixate less on what will make other people happy and fixate more on what makes us tick. On what drives and motivates us to be the person we want to be. Figure this out and you have figured out most of what you need to know. If we can stay focused on what really makes us happy, even if this means being brutally honest about the realities of life and risking other people’s dislike, we have a better shot at not being trapped behind the mask of society.