With groups, at work, with your partner, with your family, and alone you might feel like you are different people. At times you may even feel like a fraud. Somehow you think you’re supposed to know more, be different, have some sort of tangible or social skill set that you’re not sure you actually possess in real life, so you put on what feels like a false self to convince yourself and others that you are the person you’re supposed to be, that you’re better than you really are. But the process feels uncomfortable, inauthentic, and unreal.
Here are 3 reasons to embrace what can sometimes feel like your false self:
1. Identity is not Measurable
Nearly everyone questions his or her identity and sense of self, both internally and externally. Sometimes we use tools to understand who we actually are by measuring our tendencies with tests and questionnaires we got at work, online, or in magazines. Psychologists use psychometric evaluations, behavioral tests, personality inventories and a vast array of other tools to qualify, quantify, compare and understand what it means to be you. Your IQ, your personality, your perceptions, even your connections or lack thereof with other people can be measured as a way to understand yourself, and for others to understand you. But who you are at the core of your being may feel very different than the personality or personalities that are captured by these assessments. Identity is less a number than the complex experience of self-states and ways of understanding yourself and employing different facets of yourself at different times.
2. Your False Self is a Part of You
Imagine you’re drawn into a challenging conversation, maybe with a group you’re trying to impress, and they are expressing opinions that don’t mesh with your own. You might feel compelled to engage in a way that doesn’t accurately reflect your own beliefs, to stand down instead of standing up for what you believe in. A discussion around a table can feel far different than a political rally. But here’s the most important part of this experience: When you comply with the pressure and act in a muted way as compared to what you feel, it might feel false. But, it’s still you acting this way. It is a part of you to be eager to please or to make a positive first impression, or to pretend to be competent when you feel unsure. But, the experience of feeling false is a part of who you are. After all, it is coming from within you, even if it’s for reasons that don’t feel true to you.
3. Shame is Counterproductive
Feeling shame about your “real” self may make you feel like you must act “falsely.” Then shame about acting falsely can make you feel even more self-critical, which in turn perpetuates acting and feeling false. Working to accept and incorporate all the aspects of your self—even the ones that don’t fit into the “supposed to be” version of you—has the potential to make you feel more comfortable in your own skin and more present in the moment. This process dilutes the power of shame, and can help you move toward self-acceptance, which encourages feeling more whole.
It may feel as if many fragmented identities are forced to be unified into your physical body. But the fact is we are all multifaceted and complex, and all of these complexities remain parts of who we are, even when they feel false, disconnected, or dissociated (whether we want them to be or not). It’s okay that some of these parts are ill-defined or less desirable. You formed them because you had to. It was a part of your emotional survival, and that is understandable. Whatever the situations that contributed to shaping you, and however much you digress from your own expectations of what you’re supposed to be, it’s still all you. Ironically, working to accept that at times you feel like a fraud can help you feel more accepting and appreciative of yourself, as you are, with all your accounted for and unaccounted for parts.