4. Express yourself
What else stops us from being ourselves? Mostly, it’s our fear of what other people might think about us if we showed our true selves. For example, maybe our friends all have the same opinion about a political topic, so we decide not to share our different point of view.
Maybe our friends like a particular genre of music, and so we decide not to talk about the kinds of music we like. Or maybe our friends enjoy dining at fancy restaurants, so we decide not to invite them to our house for the cozy dinner we’d really prefer. We hold back, because we are afraid of the possible consequences — consequences like them thinking we’re weird or ditching us.
It’s human nature for us to want to show the best sides of ourselves. And holding back our opinions occasionally is a necessary part of life — in fact, it can help make our relationships a bit easier and more enjoyable. As social beings, we have all navigated the challenge of balancing self-expression with social harmony in our face-to-face interactions.
But now, in the technology age, we are having to navigate this challenge in a whole new environment — on the Internet, through text, images, or video. And we have no model to follow, so we do what everybody else does. We show only a sliver of who we really are — the best sliver of ourselves.
We don’t share everything about ourselves — in part, for good reason. We don’t want everyone we’ve ever met to know every little thing about us, and that’s OK. Where we get into trouble is when our self-expression becomes a performance designed to evoke some kind of response in others. The result? Few of the people in our lives know who we really are deep down, and we might even start to forget who we really are deep down.
So how do we know whether our expressions have become presentations for an audience rather than creative expressions of who we really are? Well, we might start to wonder: Who is that person we pretend to be on social media — the one with the perfect clothes, photoshopped body, with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen?
Or we might start to notice that we post pictures online not to show to others, but to make others think something specific about us. We’ll have to start paying attention to whether we are acting in order to be ourselves, or whether we are putting on a show.
5. Show your vulnerability.
Another important step to being ourselves is showing our vulnerability. Most of us, myself included, don’t really want to show the parts of us that we don’t like — the parts that scare us or make us feel ashamed, embarrassed, or weak. It’s not so easy to share these parts of ourselves.
We worry — What if others change their opinion of us, reject us, or abandon us?
It’s scary to be so openly vulnerable — it’s like opening up an old wound and telling others right where to poke you. But to fully be ourselves we have to be our full selves. We can’t just pick and choose the parts that we like; we can’t just show the manicured, photoshopped version of ourselves. So we have to be vulnerable from time to time.
To start, we could practice being more vulnerable on social media. I’ve seen some great examples of this on my social media recently. For example, some people I know posted about having herpes and IBS. Another person I know posts when she’s feeling sad and wants to connect. And tons of women (and some men) have now posted their personal stories about sexual harassment with the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport hashtags.
All of these are examples of people sharing stories about themselves that aren’t exactly fun to share — their emotions and their stories make them vulnerable.
If we’re more comfortable, we can choose specific people or opportune moments to show our vulnerability. Whether we share our personal stories with everyone or just a few people we feel close to is up to us, the goal is to be able to be all of yourself, at least some of the time.
Check out Berkeleywellbeing.com to learn how to find happiness, balance, and connection in our technology-obsessed world.