Why do I (along with most people I know) seem to feel compelled to always be smiling, bubbly, or superficial when interacting with others?
It’s not like I want to be this way.
I value transparency, honesty, and realness in myself and in others. Yet, when socializing, it can become hard to live up to these self-expectations. I feel like I must put on a show (or conceal the real, ugly show) for people. I must continuously perform.
I smile and laugh even if I have a headache and it hurts to move my facial muscles. I smile even when I feel like crying.
I’ve been practicing this for so long that I can no longer cry in public if I feel like crying, because I’ve taught my brain that it’s not safe or permissible to be emotionally vulnerable in public, or to expose others to something they might not want to see. If I do, they might not want to be my friends anymore.
Am I afraid of rejection? Do I fear that if I were to throw my real self out there – to the wolves – that this true self would get chewed up and torn apart?
If I make a fake me – a decoy – then it won’t hurt so much when people tear me apart, because they won’t be destroying my actual self. Only a persona I’ve created.
I am also afraid of hurting other people. Afraid that if I seem to be frowning – or not smiling and laughing with everyone else – that people with think me disapproving, boring, judgmental, or negative. Or they’ll assume that I’m upset with them.
When you don’t reveal your genuine self, you are alone. No matter how many “friends” you have.
No one ever has the chance to know and love the real you. And you don’t get the chance to know if you, in your “imperfect” state, would be loved by others.
You continue to reinforce in your head the message that the external, fake you is the only image worth portraying, because it is the only one that the world outside you will accept.
This perpetual acting can come with a physical cost. If you are constantly “gearing up” for interacting in an artificial way with others – then your body will endlessly be in “fight” mode – trying to survive a stressful social setting. Because you have to work hard to keep the mask on.
The body responds to physical and emotional stress the same way: it releases cortisol. This can take a toll on your adrenal glands, eventually leading to adrenal fatigue, and with that, a whole host of other issues, such as hormonal imbalance, blood pressure problems, insomnia, and compromised thyroid function.
And before you know it, this continuous “fighting” mode has led you down the path of chronic fatigue and depression.
Being fake can actually make you physically sick.
Social pretending made me sick. I’ve felt unwell to varying degrees since I was a child (for multiple reasons), but I believe that years of acting and pretending compounded my stress and my physiological issues.
But aside from the health risks of social acting, performing for others can take an emotional, mental, and spiritual toll.
The Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Dangers of Hiding Our True Selves:
– Our internal and external characters become discordant, creating self-confusion and inner tension.
– Pretending can be a form of dishonesty, and practicing this has the potential to lead to dishonesty in other areas.
– Hiding our pain prevents us from getting the help we need.
– We’ll never know if our genuine selves would be accepted, because we never give others the chance to accept us as we truly are.
– We send the message to others (who may be hurting inwardly) that it is not safe for them to share and be vulnerable with us, because we’re choosing not to share and be vulnerable with them.
– We can begin to forget who we are. This happened to me after years of pretending and trying to please other people in the way I presented myself or communicated, while suppressing or ignoring my own inner voice. I am only now beginning to gain confidence and an awareness of who I am apart from anyone else. I’m just beginning to find the courage to be individually and uniquely me.
How to Turn the Tide and Promote Realness in the Community
Next time you’re over at a friend’s house, and you’ve got a headache, or you’re tired or stressed, let your friend(s) see it. I know, easier said than done. But make it a social experiment.
If your experiment turns sour (i.e. people don’t want to see the real, transparent you) that just gives you more data about your “friend(s)”. Maybe you’ll begin to question the quality or strength of your friendship. Maybe you’ll even have the guts to call them out on their superficiality (something to the effect of “Hey, I wish we could be more real and transparent with each other. In my book, that’s what friends do.”).
And you know what? The more vulnerable you choose to be about yourself and your struggles, the more likely you are to attract the right kinds of friends in your life. People who struggle like you. Or people who don’t struggle like you, but are mature enough in their thinking to care for and accept people who fight different battles than they do.
Be okay with silence. Silence doesn’t have to be awkward. It’s only awkward because people have said it is. If you have nothing to say, that’s okay.
Resist the pressure to try to convince people your life has meaning. You don’t have to prove to others how busy or hardworking or smart or successful you are.
If you feel that you have little to say for your life – few things that sound impressive or “socially acceptable” (like, I’m going to this school or working that job), it’s okay. Answer honestly and confidently about your current situation. Because the truth is, nobody has it together all the time. So who are they to judge you? We all have rough seasons or unconventional periods in our lives. Sometimes, those seasons are the very best. There’s no need to downplay these aspects of our lives or cover them up.
It’s okay to be hurting or to have an unusual life or “strange” answers to people’s questions. You can’t flunk being you. Make these conversations social experiments as well, and watch how your friends react when you say “I’m trying to build my own ____business”, or “I’m kind of stuck direction-wise at the moment”, or “I’m just taking a break from things and enjoying being with my family/friends or devoting more time to my hobby/passion of ____”.
Insecure people want you to think it’s not okay to be who and where you are. They have to tear you down because inside, they feel pretty small themselves. Or their lives feel meaningless. And they don’t want to be the only ones feeling that way.
Ask people how they are doing (with the expectation or desire of an answer). Probe for a more honest answer if you feel the first one wasn’t (there’s a fine line between probing and being nosy though. 🙂 )
But don’t feel that you must ask “How are you?” in a bubbly, put-together sort of way. You’re more likely to elicit an honest response if you’re just being and doing whatever’s natural for you in the moment. If you are tired, ask them the question while you’re slumped over your friend’s couch with your eyes closed. Ask them without smiling, if smiling hurts or is not you right now.
If they see you being real, maybe they’ll be inspired to be more authentic themselves.
© 2017 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved