Lately I’ve been feeling that I’ve been changing my personality when I’m around different groups of people. I feel like this is not a good practice as it signals two alarming facts about myself:
- I have a lack of self-confidence, and
- I’m living an inauthentic life.
This is not ‘Living boldly’. In fact it shows that I am more of a coward and that I am scared of what people will think of my perceived personality. I’ve known for some time now that I’ve been people-pleasing from a very young age because I intuitively knew that I didn’t want any conflict.
But that didn’t mean that I was happy – it just meant there was a lower probability of our conversation being unpleasant.
Now I’m beginning to see that those other people were not actually ‘happy’ but ‘appeased’ – it means that our interaction was very shallow. But how can I, or any of you reading this feeling as I do, change this very ingrained practice?
I want to propose 3 ideas that can help with this roadblock to living boldly. I know I began this post saying that I am currently facing this problem so I’ll be the first to say that these ideas are not my own. They are what I see to be the recurring traits in the people I know to be true to themselves.
- Be Honest
- Expect and Accept Rejection
- Love Fully
Honesty demands the WHOLE truth. Does that sound redundant? It is. But have you ever heard someone start a sentence with “To be honest…”? Does that imply that person was dishonest prior to that sentence? In most cases, no. It usually means that they have been keeping their real thoughts or feelings from being made known. I know this all too well. I would smile and nod with what the other person was saying or ‘hmmm’ and ‘hawww’ when I disagreed. That isn’t the truth. And the truth can be scary. You’re letting out your authentic thought out into the universe and you don’t know how it will be taken.
I found that tension of fear came from an insecurity in the relationship I had with the other person. “What will they think of me if I say this?” is what I’d think to myself. I knew that honestly speaking my thoughts would be the only way to be at peace within myself; after all, “…[T]he truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). But in most cases I could not be honest because of the fear I had of being…
Rejected. There have been times in my conversations with others that I knew that I was in the process of being (silently) rejected. The conversation topic changed to something shallow like weather or sports and I usually never heard from that person again. With my people-pleasing personality, I was hurt. I think it was when I graduated university that I realized that I did not have many friends. I had a LOT of acquaintances but I could count the number of friends I had on one hand. This was jarring for me because I had become, unconsciously, attuned to the the idea that social media was pushing to ‘get as many friends as you can’. Moreover, (western) society also considers that ‘unfriending’ someone on social media is a social faux-pas. These two online behaviours permeated my physical interactions and reaffirmed that I fear rejection.
Interestingly, ‘rejection’ happens more often than ‘acceptance’ and that’s OK. Most people will have a bone to pick with an honest answer. The reason being is that most people in today’s society are looking for validation of themselves, their ideas and their life choices (which is a subject worthy of it’s own post!). But if I as a Christian (a follower of Christ) were to be honest about my answers in conversation, I should expect that not everyone will like my answers or opinions.
Yet I was so paralyzed by my fear of rejection that I preferred the other person’s shallow acceptance than to know the what they actually thought of me. The solution was to expect and accept rejection. There have been many times I’ve felt that a rejection of my words were unfair. That there shouldn’t possibly be any reason why anyone should reject what I say. This is an example of expecting that my words will NEVER be rejected. But I must always make room for my listener to have a choice to either accept or reject. By expecting that my listener may reject what I am saying, I am respecting their freedom to choose. Additionally, I am giving myself the strength to share my honest thoughts and feelings confidently by revealing my true self. Now when rejection does occur, my expectation of rejection doesn’t mean that I will cure myself of the sadness that comes along. I will still feel the sting of rejection but I must not let rejection debilitate me from being an authentic human being. At the root of it, being honest with another person and respecting their freedom to choose shows that we love the other person.
Love is wanting the good of the other person and doing something about it. It is an action word and not just the romantic sentiment shown to us in popular media. As each of us loves our own freedom to choose, wanting another person to have a choice is a way that we can love them.
Personally, whenever I sensed a lack of love in a conversation, I instinctively hid my true personality to protect myself from rejection. Sadly, this caused a vicious cycle where protecting myself from rejection resulted in shallow ‘friendships’ and eventually unsatisfied me because I was not experiencing any authentic relationships. As a Catholic, my Lord calls me to ‘love [my] neighbour as myself’ (Mark 12:31). The shocking realization is that by hiding my true self, I didn’t love my neighbour OR myself!
Life is not a competition to see who has the most friends by the time they die. In our journey to realize our sainthood, the honest, authentic life is the only life. There shouldn’t be a need to ‘change personalities’ with different people because we are all humans and we are all equal in God’s perspective. I’ll go even further to say that our ‘true’ personality is not the one that comes from our own desires. Rather our ‘true’ personality is where we are most like Christ – because it is the personality through which we love the most.
Living boldly in this world means accepting the world for what it is but loving the world anyways. It means being lovingly honest in our interactions and realizing that not everyone is going to be comfortable with a love so open. Do one thing everyday this week to be more honest and loving with the people in your life. Examples could be:
- Admitting when you don’t know the answer to a question,
- Letting the other person finish speaking before giving your own opinion,
- Admitting when you are in the wrong and taking responsibility to make things right,
- Not dismissing the ideas of others because you ‘know better’,
- Speaking up, respectfully and kindly, when you disagree with what’s being said.
Be confident! Be authentic!