• From early in life, we might think we need to pretend to be a certain way in order to be accepted

  • A lack of authenticity can make it hard to create fulfilling, intimate relationships

  • Therapist Emma Azzopardi offers four ways to be yourself

‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’ ~ Oscar Wilde

In a world where we are told that we can be anything we want to be, we cannot be anyone that we want to be. You can be a writer, an artist or an astronaut but you have no choice but to be yourself. Maybe I should say that this is the only wise choice. You cannot pretend to be someone or something that you are not, plenty of people try but they ultimately fail. If you do succeed, you certainly won’t be happy

I have come across a fair few people making their way through life by pretending. Maybe it is easier to convince ourselves that we feel good about something or someone rather than admit that we do not. Contentment doesn’t require action so by convincing ourselves that we are happy even when we are not, we may be able to avoid making those difficult decisions. We don’t have to tell our partner that we aren’t in love with them anymore or that we aren’t happy in our relationship. We don’t have to swallow our pride and ask for help when we need it because, hey, everything is just fine! We can simply smile and keep pretending. Pretending everything is fine means not having to contend with all the fears and the potential of disapproval from loved ones if we leave it behind. Pretending is costly because we may be giving away our peace of mind and happiness. 

Why is it difficult to be ourselves?

From the time we were young, we may have been taught that we are not enough as we are. People would not accept us the way we are. They wanted us to think, look and behave in different ways. It is fundamental human desire for connection and social relationships because we are, at our core, relational beings. Many of us chose to compromise, afraid that we would otherwise be left alone, isolated and helpless.

So we had to find ways to convince those around us that we are worth their friendship and act in certain ways to please others. In other words, we had to pretend. We may have learnt to cover ourselves well with the veil of pretence. As adults, we may have a dozen masks to hand. Behind every mask lies a deep-rooted fear: the fear to express yourself and reveal to others who you truly are. When we blend in and try to be what we think others want, our life doesn’t feel very satisfactory because, well, it’s not our life. It’s based on a fake version of us.

Do we really have to ask ourselves whether we’re happy? The truth is, something inside of us already knows the answer if we have to ask the question in the first place. When we’re genuinely happy, we know. When we are not, we know that, too. Exposing our true selves, fully embracing our deepest desires, and facing our fears requires a tremendous amount of courage. Many of us have been trying to please others for such a long time, that we may have forgotten who we are and what is truly important to us. We have forgotten how to express ourselves, to be spontaneous and to recognise what we truly enjoy doing.

The importance of authenticity in relationships

In thinking about your own life: Are your relationships genuine? Do you feel confident? Do you feel secure? Are you relaxed? For a significant amount of people, the answer to all these questions is ‘no.” We may pretend because deep down we feel empty and lonely. We pretend because we don’t feel enough as we are. If even you don’t appreciate yourself, how can you expect others to appreciate you? When we pretend, our relationships become shallow and empty. There cannot be any sincere communication in relationships built around pretending. The pretender begins by conjuring up the desired feelings or style in an attempt to assuage insecurities. It is common to talk about how we sometimes manipulate others, but the person one most often manipulates oneself. The trap that the Pretender falls into is that they try too hard to control their experience. Feelings and even identities are forced, instead of letting things happen in their own way. Intimacy is lost. 

Imagine putting all of the energy we use in pretending into cultivating ourselves and creating something better of our being. Imagine dropping our pretence to build honest and healthy relationships. So how do we stop pretending?

  • Don’t imitate. Everyone is different and so, to copy another’s way of life simply means to suppress who you really are. Create your own path and enjoy walking it.
  • Speak the truth. Be honest with yourself and with those you come in contact. When we lie, we out ourselves in constant anxiety because each lie must be covered up by another lie, and so on and so forth.. Being honest is the best way to be at peace with you and with others.
  • Find peace in being alone. It is better to be alone and confident in who you are, than to be in the company of others by lying out of fear. Only once you have overridden the fear of being alone, will you be able to let go of the need for social approval. This will allow you to build genuine relationships.
  • Do what you love. No matter what others expect from you, try not to compromise your way of life. Whatever you enjoy doing, keep on doing it. 

The only way to really connect with others on a meaningful level is to let them see who we are and to share our experience and what makes us tick. Not everyone will like it and that is okay. It really is. We increase our self worth not by being what others want us to be, but by being true to ourselves. If this feels like a struggle at the moment, talking to a therapist can help in building confidence and in rediscovering who you really are.

Before I sign off, if there’s one lesson I’d like to share from my experience, it’s this: You don’t need to have it together all the time.  You don’t need to be fixed because you are beautifully flawed. We all are. Emotions are neither good or bad and in fact, most people actually appreciate and admire when we share them. Some of the more tender moments that I can remember in my life were when people told me how beautiful I was, not in spite of my feelings but because of them.

Go well.

Further reading

Co-dependency, authenticity, and saying no

What does being authentic really mean?

How negative self-talk affects relationships

Who am I, and why does it matter?

Why self-compassion is the key to success