Authenticity isn’t easy. I spend a lot of energy trying to project an image I believe people will accept or approve of. On the outside, I try to show what I think people want to see—someone who is confident, smart, laid-back, athletic, etc.
On the other hand, I try to hide the parts of myself I don’t like or view as less acceptable—the parts of myself that I don’t view as ‘cool.’ I try not to show the parts of myself I judge to be nerdy, weak, anxious, or insecure.
Maybe you’re the same way. What parts of yourself do you present to the world? You can think of these characteristics as your ‘public self.’ On the other hand, what parts of yourself do you hide and keep to yourself? You can think of these characteristics as your ‘private self.’
I think it’s probably impossible to get to the point where your public self and private self overlap completely. There will probably always be some disconnect between the two. But as I grow older, I’m trying to get my public self and private self to be as congruent as possible. Here’s why:
- Having a big difference between my private and public self is exhausting. If there is a big difference between my inner self, and the self I present to the world, I’m always self-monitoring and editing my inner self in order to portray what I want to the world. This can be exhausting.
- Having a big difference between my private and public self makes intimacy difficult. I think we all long for intimacy—which happens when you deeply know another person and are deeply known by another person. But when I am projecting something different than my inner self to the world, the people I develop relationships with are just getting to know my projection—rather than the true me. Plus, if I hide the parts of myself that I’m less proud of, I won’t ever be accepted for who I truly am. Other people might accept the projection, but in the back of my mind I’m not sure if they would accept the real me.
I think being authentic is difficult because it involves a lot of risk. If we present who we really are to the world, without editing, there’s a chance we could be rejected. That’s a pretty awful feeling—to put your cards on the table and then be told that you aren’t enough. But my sense is that the reward—being able to rest in who you really are and experience true intimacy—is worth the risk.
Discussion: How close are your private and public selves? How has projecting an image to the world hurt your ability to experience intimacy? What do you think about the risks of presenting who you really are to the world?