- You may have gotten negative messages—whether from parents, siblings, peers, or teachers—to eradicate certain aspects of your inborn nature.
- Your self-protective adaptations to society can be seen as comprising a sort of self-betrayal, for they keep you from acting authentically.
- In being more candid and self-disclosing, others will likely feel that they have permission to be more open and vulnerable with you as well.
What do you deem to be your inherent personality?
It may well be that, whatever you believe it is, it is largely an amalgam of outdated defenses that "took over" your authentic self rather than being subordinate to it.
Learning how to distinguish between your true self and your adapted (or false) self can help you recognize that your inborn nature continues to live deep inside you. However subconsciously, though, you may have felt till now obliged to subordinate or minimize its expression.
So ask yourself: Could you have been told—whether by your parents, siblings, peers, or teachers—to weed out certain aspects of your behavior? If so, were these proclivities, possibly native to your personality, actually bad, wrong, or unacceptable? Or could it have been that these uncensored elements of your being discomfited, inconvenienced, or annoyed them? Or even that they made others feel threatened, perhaps because they tapped into their own insecure or conflicted identity issues?
One fascinating thing about your, and others', superego is that the supposed conscience they reflect typically evolves less from your genetic heritage than from all the insistent "shoulds" you received as a child: messages or instructions from those to whom you gave authority. And those presumed moral imperatives are what likely you would have internalized, unwittingly making them your own. And this despite such "rules and regulations" possibly having little affinity with your fundamental nature.
So if you're to recover the truth of who you are and gain vital insights into your concealed self, you'll need to locate and wrestle with your self-protective defense mechanisms. And you'll need to engage in this reevaluation independent of what others' preferences for you might have been—or at least what you perceived them as being.
Again, ask yourself: If you don't like something, is it because early influences on your thinking made you conclude that you shouldn't like it? Or could it simply relate to your believing you lacked the individual or social skills to effectively involve yourself with it? Or maybe that you've yet to expand your interests to the degree it would become more appealing to you?
And if, for instance, you see yourself (or are seen by others) as boring, what might account for this negative assessment? To safeguard your relationship with others, might you—"prudently"—have constrained yourself in so many ways that your enthusiasm or passion for life has become significantly dulled? And this is what's made you less interesting or attractive to others?
Finally, and paradoxically, is the courage to fail what you may now need to cultivate? It may be that you hadn't succeeded at something because—given your fears of rejection or failure—you lacked the courage to try it? For you saw not succeeding, hyperbolically, as catastrophic. Nonetheless, it's vital to recognize that, as the saying goes, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
As I asserted in a previous post: We all start out open-hearted, trusting, and spontaneous; sensitive, creative, and adventurous; playful, sensuous, free-spirited, and loving. In short, ready to affirm who we are. That's our genuine or authentic self—or, you could say, it's our birthright.
This favorable portrayal of our inborn nature may seem idealized. Yet Dacher Keltner (Univ. of California, Berkeley), in his groundbreaking study "Born to Be Good" (2009), cites much research supporting the notion that prosocial behaviors—such as gratitude, love, compassion, awe, and play—are actually innate.
All the same, if manifesting these enviable attributes struck you as hazardous to keeping your interpersonal connections safe and secure, you would have felt compelled to forfeit or suspend them. And these defensive adaptations can be seen as comprising a sort of self-betrayal. For it's impossible to act authentically when you feel forced to give up what ultimately makes you, you. Instead, then, of becoming more of who you are as you age, you become less so.
As portrayed by psychologists Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis, authenticity represents "the unimpeded operation of one's true or core self in one's daily enterprise." But if revealing this self seems too precarious, a "luxury" you can ill afford, you'll try to suppress what, otherwise, would come naturally to you.
Retrieving your original identity
Pop psychology has had much to say about changing your personality. But if you view your root personality as basically innate (however under-developed it was as a child), that may be a much more accurate way of characterizing it. And this perspective suggests that the challenge isn't to alter your personality, as such, but to recover it.
And here's the final irony: What's now well within your comfort zone may not really portray who you are. Rather, it may reveal who you became—to fit in better with others or to optimize the chances they'd like, respect, and befriend you. Yet to develop a warmer, more compassionate, and loving relationship with yourself, you may need to travel outside this comfort zone. For how else could you possibly "re-own" your authentic being?
Ultimately, we all want to like ourselves and be liked by others. And what you're likely to find is that, if you can tolerate the increased anxiety you'll initially experience in venturing outside of what's become comfortable for you, most people will like you not less but more. For one thing, in being more candid, familiar, and direct, they'll probably feel that they, too, have the license to be more open and self-disclosing—in a word, as vulnerable as you've allowed yourself to be.
Obviously, this increased spontaneity shouldn't be absent of tact or diplomacy. So if, for example, you're angry with the other person, that irritation should be shared in terms of whatever underlying hurt or disappointment their behavior induced in you. Besides, impulsively shouting at or insulting them isn't really an expression of your true self. On the contrary, impulsively acting out your emotions is just another defense mechanism contrived to disguise feeling vulnerable with them.
It takes a lot of courage to divulge to others that you want to change the way you interact—perhaps, on the one hand, being less ingratiating and, on the other, less critical or judgmental. For if you want others to accept you as, by your essential nature, you truly are, you need to return the favor and accept them as they are, too.
Once that comforting message becomes clear to them, and they can be more spontaneous and "real" around you, they'll value your relationship as much as you might have desired theirs.
© 2021 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
Keltner, D. (2009, Oct 5). Born to be good: The science of a meaningful life. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Kernis M. H. & Goldman, B. M. (© 2006). A multicomponent conceptualization of authenticity: Theory and research. https://depts.washington.edu/uwcssc/sites/default/files/hw00/d40/uwcssc…
Schwartz, R. C. (2008). You are the one you’ve been waiting for: Bringing courageous love to intimate relationships. Oak Park, IL: Trailheads Pubs.
Seltzer, L. F. (2013, Sept 11). Surprise! Your defenses can make you MORE vulnerable.
Seltzer, L. F. (2017, July 19). How and why you compromise your integrity: Internal family systems therapy can free you from self-sabotaging defenses.
Seltzer, L. F. (2018, Apr 4). Your ideal self is your unadapted self: 9 key attributes. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201804/your-… [This post goes into much more detail about what you can do to "come from" your more authentic self.]
Seltzer, L. F. (2020, Jul 6). How to Talk to—and Tame—Your Outdated Defenses. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/202007/how-t…