‘Cell numbers will now have portability from November 1st’. So many people have been waiting to change their service provider, but were reluctant to let go of their existing numbers. The inconvenience of informing others of a change in what has come to be a part of our very identity has kept many unhappy customers married to their existing service.
Are there more areas of your life where you are compromising being your best, simply because it would take too much trouble to inform others about the change? In my work, I routinely see people struggling to live up to the image that they have. This image may have been created knowingly, or unintentionally. For example, the stereotype of the perfect daughter, wife or mother is often unknowingly acquired from conditioning, societal pressures or preconceived expectations. Whereas the image of a free thinking, modern liberal may be a cultivated persona.
Somewhere along the line, whether or not you chose this image starts to become unimportant. But living up to this mould starts becoming a stifling necessity. Habits are hard to break, perceptions even more so. Perceptions are founded on our beliefs. And unless you are willing to challenge your beliefs, you tend to continue doing everything possible to perpetuate them. At the cost of being unhappy.
Broadly speaking, this may be experienced in two ways:
In this case, the person has yet to understand that their stress or unhappiness stems from the difference between who they really are and who they are pretending to be. So a large part of the blame is transferred to someone else. A typical example is that of trying to be the ideal ‘wife’. ‘My husband must have fresh home cooked meals that I have prepared. I am overloaded with office work, but I have to do this because of him. He should be more understanding!’. It may seem like an inane example, but such are the factors that contribute to strained relationships. The lady was trying to live up to the idealized version of a ‘wife’. The modern day working woman often has priorities and preferences that are highly different from her mother, mother-in-law and husband’s expectations of her. At her heart of hearts, she is not interested in cooking, and nor does she believe that she needs to prove her love for her family by slaving in the kitchen. But instead of admitting these preferences – firstly to herself –she blames her husband for being demanding, a mother in law for being judgmental and herself for being a doormat. End result is feeling trapped, unappreciated and angry with everyone around her, as well as herself.
In this case, an astonishing amount of healing occurred when she simply acknowledged her own truth. She sat down with her husband and honestly expressed her true view of the ‘wife’ role. That is when they worked out a mutually acceptable solution. The husband was reasonable and co-operative. But until she was willing to risk admitting to something that may not be ‘politically correct’ – she remained an internally unhappy, complaining victim.
Redefining your self honestly requires courage. However, the good news is that while there are possibilities of it making you less popular with others, your self approval will soar. And at the end of the day, remember that the person you live with 24/7 is yourself.
Those unwilling or denying the face in the mirror, may find themselves living as Pretenders.
These people have already done some introspection and know that they are not completely who they are commonly perceived to be. It’s more likely the challenges here are far more subtle and deep rooted.
Such people may have invested much of their time and energy in building a persona that is popularly acceptable or is looked up to, or this perception could have naturally evolved around them over time. Beautiful people, doing wonderful work can reach this stumbling block. Much of the admiration could be well deserved. However some perceptions may now be excessively positive or unrealistic. But to correct others perception, would require them to face the possibility of losing some of the popularity, praise or prestige. And for many, that is a tough one to deal with.
Consider the example of a young professor. He is immensely popular with the youngsters and interacts with many foreigners and international agencies in the course of his work. Part of the image that has grown around him is that he is committed to personal freedom and places little emphasis on ‘following the rules’. To a large extent this is in fact very true of him. He does give others great liberty to follow their own heart and be true to them selves. However, when it came to himself, he was struggling in an open relationship with a foreigner. It took him a lot of introspection to discover that though he was fine with others adopting such norms, he himself was uncomfortable with the arrangement and would prefer a committed, monogamous relationship. Even once he knew this, for several months he tried to convince himself that he was okay with the way his relationship was. He could not accept this ‘orthodox’ part of himself, as it went against all the liberal ways he stood for. This pretension only added to his internal conflict and depression. After months of strained relations, arguments and hurts, he began to consider being honest with his partner. The fear was that she would end the relationship. Which is what eventually happened. However, the months of sleepless nights and increasing ugliness between the two came to an end. Both parted ways amicably. Letting go of this situation and pretence created the space and freedom for him to come into his full integrity. His fear of being single had contributed to his efforts to adhere to his image. But he is now happier and more at peace in his newfound freedom to fully be himself.
You are free to be your true self, if you give yourself permission to be so. The challenge is when you concurrently insist that others approve of you and your choices. And complain if they don’t. Be willing to give them the freedom to be themselves too. A honest, mutually respectful disagreement can lead to a happier life than playing either victim or pretender.
And if this is making you re-examine areas of your life where you are compromising yourself, along with any associated fears – do bear in mind: It is your own love and respect that will change your life. No-one else’s.
(Related link: Authentic Personal Branding)