“Be yourself” sounds like great advice. But what if “yourself” is self-conscious, socially awkward, abrasive, entitled, or narcissistic? Or what if you’re unsure of who you really are? And in this culture of conformity we live in, what does “be yourself” even mean?
“We have a clear definition of what the world wants to see from us,” says Ashanti Branch, founder and executive director of The Ever Forward Club, explaining that because of this, we tend to hide behind masks.
This is especially true for men, who’re often programmed to strive for a Gaston-complex — the belief that they’re better than the rest of the world because of their macho behavior, like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
But for many, that’s not how they feel they are.
Take, for instance, actor Justin Baldoni, whose TED Talk about toxic masculinity amassed more than three million views. He says, “most of the men I play [on screen] ooze machismo, charisma, and power. And when I look in the mirror, that’s just not how I see myself.”
So in the spirit of finding your authentic self, discover what “be yourself” really means, why it’s so difficult to just authentically be, and how you can do it.
What “Be Yourself” Means
Authentic in the sense of self is about being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character,” according to our friends at Merriam-Webster. It’s the “you” that you embrace when no one else is around. It’s the “you” when you feel safe and comfortable in your own skin.
No masks or pretenses. No personas or facades. Just you, at your core.
Unfortunately, for many of us, this is a terrifying prospect. Why? Because it’s in our nature to seek approval and be accepted, so we’re afraid to let others see who we really are.
Why Being Yourself Can Be Difficult
It’s human nature to show different versions of ourselves based on our social settings — it’s an adaptive response to the world around you.
For example, you act one way with family at a Sunday BBQ, but a different way when with friends at the bar. Or you’re one version of yourself in the break room at work, but another way when you’re settling in for some quality time with Netflix at home.
But this is also where things can get tricky — it can cause us to forget who we are beneath the social layers and masks.
In a 2019 study by PsychTests that looked at the motives behind a need for approval, researchers found 62% of the 14,000 participants who need to be liked “change their opinions, personality, or appearance in order to be accepted.”
Men, especially, are often the victims of this toxic mentality. They’ve been raised to be tough, be strong, be brave — qualities that (apparently) make men, men. In addition to that, they’re also taught not to be certain things, like “don’t be a girl” or “don’t be [insert homophobic slur here].”
“Without even realizing it, we are programming and brainwashing our young boys to not trust the feminine parts of themselves that society deems to be feminine,” explains Justin, in his interview on Mindvalley Talks with Vishen.
“We want to be liked and seen and accepted by the other boys. And so, by having feminine qualities, by displaying emotion, and having feelings — which are human qualities — we’re, then, bullied and teased and taught that we are less than.”
So when they step out into the world every day, they put on a mask. And more often than not, they lose themselves in who they’re expected to be seen as instead of being who they really are.
Why It’s Important to Be Yourself
We admit it’s easier to put on the mask and conform to the “brules.” As part of the male population, it’s easier to be part of the football team instead of the cheerleading squad. It’s easier to talk about cars and sports rather than how you feel.
But here’s one thing to remember: masculinity is not an innate quality. It’s a performance.
“If I have to be a certain way in order to earn my innateness, then it’s not innate,” explains Justin. “So the idea of performative masculinity is just that — it’s performative.”
Endlessly pretending to be someone you’re not is a toxic path to go down. It’s exhausting. And it’ll leave you feeling emptier than you were, to begin with.
“If you go to great lengths to be liked, such as completely changing who you are, and get really upset, hurt, and angry if someone dislikes you, that’s when a need for approval becomes a problem,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests, adding that in almost all cases, an intense need to be liked stems from a lack of self-love.
So what steps can you take to be yourself? Start with these four.
How to Be Yourself – 4 Ways to Live More Authentically
Shaking off your fear of being yourself isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s a process.
But if you want to learn how to be yourself more often to live a more authentic life, there are a few key strategies you can use:
1. Reconnect with your inner child
Think back to when you were a child. Most likely, you probably didn’t give much thought to society’s expectations of you.
You had no boss to report to, no daily obligations to deal with. The biggest dilemma in your day might’ve been whether to wear your dinosaur socks or eat broccoli.
Children are uninhibited by social roles. On the playground, we’re free to be whoever we want to be. But somewhere along the way, we lost that.
One of the best ways to begin finding your authentic self is by reconnecting with your inner child. Here are some ideas on how:
- Give meditation a try
- Journal your thoughts and feelings away
- Check-in with your emotions
- Embrace your discomfort zone
- Get in touch with your playful side
By doing so, you’ll open yourself up to return to a space of deep love and self-awareness.
2. Trust your instincts
Many of us second guess our decisions. This can become a chronic problem that leads to self-doubt and a lack of confidence.
Learning to trust yourself and your instincts takes time. But a big part of it is putting a stop to the back and forth second-guessing that happens before and after a decision.
Try this: the next time you need to decide where to go for dinner, pick the first place that comes to mind and stick with it.
No back and forth. No second-guessing. And no flip-flopping.
Trust your instincts. You know what you’re doing.
3. Stop saying yes
People-pleasing is one of the reasons we lose touch with who we are. We want others to be happy so we sacrifice our own wants and needs in the face of what they want.
Being considerable, respectful, and accommodating is one thing. But this can really spiral out of control.
This often stems from the expectations our parents and guardians place on us as children.
If your parents had high expectations of you as a child, you’ve likely carried much of that external pressure into your personal life as an adult. And learning how to say no is one of the most freeing wrenches in our authenticity tool kit.
So, practice saying no every so often.
And don’t panic. You’re not going to lose friends over it. If you do, they likely weren’t a true friend, to begin with.
4. Practice self-acceptance
The ideal way to be a man is to be a human. It’s not to reject all of the things that we deem feminine in society.— Justin Baldoni, actor and author of Man Enough
Unapologetically being yourself isn’t easy. But one of the biggest steps we can take to live more authentically is to accept who we are, right now, at this moment.
Not the person you want to be or the person you hope you’ll become in six months. But the person you are right now.
And as Marisa Peer, author of Mindvalley’s Uncompromised Life Quest says, “if you don’t like yourself, nothing else really matters.”
She’s got a point. If you’re unable to love the person you are, you won’t be comfortable revealing that self to others.
Being yourself means reconnecting with who you were, but it also means acknowledging how far you’ve come and accepting the person you are today.
Heal your inner child. Listen to your instincts. Respect your wants and needs. Practice self-acceptance. And you’ll be well on your way to being your authentic, unapologetic, and uncompromised self.