First published in Thrive Global 20 July 2021 https://thriveglobal.com/stories/are-you-who-you-say-you-are-or-do-you-change-your-colours-like-a-chameleon/?
How do you stay true to yourself when there’s a pull to change who you are?
We all want to be who we are. You see this in kids who just want to be themselves until we learn that there is an inherent risk in being ourselves. Let’s face it we are constantly under pressure to be who someone else wants us to be. If I don’t reveal the real me, I can hold ‘comfort’ in you not knowing the real me, and it allows us to kid ourselves. There’s no problem when who we are expected to be and who we want to be is either pretty close or the same; all goes swimmingly because there is overlap and alignment. If the environment we find ourselves in supports our core needs and gives us space to thrive and celebrates who we are, then we have it made. We even experience flow. We can Be who we are!
How do you stay true to yourself when there’s a pull to change who you are? There is a cost to this.
I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to stand up for myself, be assertive, and not be a doormat IF the people I am dealing with are either strangers or not within my close circle. Under these circumstances, I can be me, I know who I am, and I am not shy about it. I’ve got that “don’t mess with me vibe” I’m clear, straightforward, a straight shooter even. I act in complete alignment with who I am, and I hold my head high and feel good about myself. I think this is the case simply because I am unashamedly myself. I’m ME, no holds barred and no apologies.
If I love you, need you somehow, or am dependent on you in some way, things change, and I inhabit a different universe. Enter the chameleon a reptile famous for changing its skin to fit in with its environment. It makes no sense that there would be any difference in how I act or respond. Why change in response to those around you?
So, what gives?
Self-awareness is a beautiful thing. With some reflection and noticing the conversations in my head (admit it, you have them too), I can step outside of myself and watch myself. It’s like I am two people, and a second persona emerges. In the beginning, I start out as the same person across the board. Over time, if the response I receive isn’t what I expect or I think I’m going to upset you somehow or maybe even make you angry, another me starts to emerge. This me is far more likely to mind her p’s and q’s, answer a question with a question, the kind of behaviour we all despise in politicians. I even try and work out what the “right” answer is. And, if I disagree with that, I become even more politically adept and skirt around the edges. I know that I’m doing it when I’m doing it, and I wouldn’t say I like it.
I can be a straight shooter, yet I begin to pull back and soften my stance when it comes to personal relationships. All in the name of preserving relationships. The reality is, not being straight across the board is not only damaging the relationship with the person in front of me, but it’s also damaging the relationship with the person in the mirror, ME.
The cost of that is high.
I think, but I don’t say. I hold back, and I censor, which means the person in front of me doesn’t act with all the information they might need. That’s a problem for them; it’s also a problem for me. The problem that it causes for me is I pay the price psychologically because I experience dissonance, a gap between who I say I am. There’s also a gap in how I show up for others, and that’s an even bigger problem.
Over time, I trust myself a little less and a little less, and what it takes to reverse that trend is a little bit of good old-fashioned courage.
“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others”. Aristotle
In this instance is the courage to be me. I say what I authentically think and trust that it won’t damage the relationship. The alternative is to damage the relationship I have with myself. That price is way too high to pay, and it’s not what the other person expects either.
They deserve the truth.
They also deserve me to be myself.
And, most importantly, I need to be who I am.
Thank God for self-awareness and the ability to correct. I can say goodbye to the chameleon until the next time I need to reintegrate her. There will be a next time, and the goal is to close the gap to reintegrate faster and faster.
If you like to work on this yourself, I can help. Go to https://calendly.com/tanja-andreia-courage/discovery-call