ARTICLES - selfhelp

previous article
It's Hard To Be You - 6/19/2014

Because of his height, deep voice, and thick full head of hair, Gary presents a formidable image. When he enters the room, you definitely notice him. He towers over other individuals. His deep voice resonates from wall to wall, and his handshake feels like you’ve put your hand in a vise. When you meet him, however, he is an affable, friendly individual with a large smile, which mitigates any threat his physical appearance might suggest. In truth, Gary is a pleaser. He wouldn’t appreciate that description but, nevertheless, it’s quite accurate.  In his dealings with others, whether at work, with family, or with friends, he does his best to gain approval from them. He has perfected that role. So much so that most people describe him as a “friendly giant.” Except for his wife and children, who have seen him explode on all too many occasions.

The question is, which is the real Gary? Is his outward appearance a genuine reflection of who he is? Or is his “hail fellow, well met” personality just  a role he learned to play in order to hide the emotionally volatile individual his family knows? I’d have you think about that for a moment. Then I’d have you give some thought to the role that each of you play in your interactions with others. Some of you may balk at this suggestion, thinking, “I have no image, what you see is who I am”, and if that’s the case, I’m proud of you.  But few of you can say that honestly.

For example, consider Elaine, a tall, attractive, extremely competent attorney who, in her own way, provides an imposing image that causes you to take notice and to view her as a force to be reckoned with. Her co-workers respect and marvel at the expertise she demonstrates. They have no realization that, underneath, is a woman who was  emotionally crippled in her youth; whose father rejected the family, and whose mother felt so insecure that she assumed the role of a dictatorial, critical authority figure who controlled everyone, not out of strength, but in order to cover up her own feelings of inadequacy. What is the old saying? “Like mother, like daughter.”  The question is, who is the real Elaine?

Similarly, Amy, a family physician, is  probably the most soft-spoken, gentle,  attractive physician you will ever visit. At the same time, she is a take-charge doctor who demands her staff  and patients follow her directions to a “T”. But, if that's the case, why is she unable to say “no” to her husband, who she thinks is having an affair, lives off her financially, and treats her poorly?

Would it surprise you that Amy’s mother was a bitter woman, who became pregnant out of wedlock, and perceived her daughter as a burden she never wanted?  Amy couldn’t help but be cognizant of that fact. Nevertheless, from childhood on, she assumed the role of the pacifier, who lived her life caring for and attempting to garner love from mother. The questions that arise are: who is the real Amy, the strong-willed doctor or the desperately needy and individual who allows herself to be mistreated ermotionally?

I could go on at length regarding the duplicitous roles people play, and you might think “What is the big deal? They’re both people.” But what I am trying to say is that, in the course of growing up, you, like most people,  learned to play roles which were constructed on the basis of behaviors that protected you. Early on, they helped you to cope, enabled you to get attention and, most of all, aided you to mitigate stress and anxiety. Essentially, they eliminated inner fears which you couldn’t face and/or didn’t want others to see. You so benefitted from them that it seemed well worth the price you paid, i.e, the forfeiture of who you really are.  

Over time, you got better at playing this new role and the more natural it became, the more you lost the sense of who you were to begin with. To the point that it felt far more comfortable to play the role you acquired than  to be the person you feared yourself to be. For example, if you felt  weak, intellectually lacking, unlovable, too emotionally dependent or needy, you no longer had to face it. It was better to be angry, to push people away, to criticize and control them and to get attention for negative behavior, or to placate and appease them, rather than look at yourself. The problem is, no matter what role you assumed, how successful you were at it, what profession you chose, how much money you earned, or the amount of esteem you garnered from it, none of it,  ever proved satisfying. Because, no matter what other people think or perceive you to be,  when it’s based on a false facade, it doesn’t count.

In the end, truly, the only person you have to learn to live with is you. The way to do that is to come to peace with and accept you because and/or in spite of the warts, fears and insecurities in you. However, acceptance can only be determined by how willing you are to share who you really are, with yourself and then with others. It’s a win-win situation. You no longer have to hide or act dishonestly. You are free to be who you are and say what you feel. In the process, you come to recognize your own humanity and can share that person with others. Those who accept and love you for it are those you can genuinely call your friend.

Your initial thought  might be, “If they see me the way I see me, they wouldn’t have me.” But, let me assure you, in almost every instance, the acquired person you portray is less acceptable than the one you really are. Why? Because people can empathize more freely with someone they perceive as having human shortcomings similar to their own. Why? Because you’re someone they can relate to. The axiom prevails: the acceptance by you of the shortcomings you perceive in you, and the sharing of you is the only actualization of you.

To receive new articles by email twice a month, sign up by entering your email address below