“Be yourself”. This is a very common advice that you get from others, when you ask what you shall do? – in your confusion. This is being thrown around a lot as advice.
What do you mean?
Don’t people please – or look for validation from others, that is what it means in simple terms. Validation in the sense that you needing to feel good, or to feel right about yourself based on others’ opinions. Be yourself means not to change your behaviour according to the circumstances. Don’t put on different masks in different situations. People notice the inconsistency in your behaviours, and this is why they are eager to give such an advice. Because they recognise those behaviours in themselves, and they don’t like that. Their ideal is also to be the one who is “being themselves”.
We don’t understand what is meant by the statement “be yourself” because we often don’t know we are in these people pleasing or validation seeking behaviours. So, something like “be yourself” has no meaning to us. After all who are we being right now? if we are not ourselves. It can be rather absurd to hear something like “be yourself”. “I am being myself, what are you talking about?”, right?
But we know of our lying and deceitfulness, our duplicity and so on, we have a sense of it.
Our pretences, in different situations.
We learn to act when we are children
If you look at children, they engage in all sorts of acting – to get attention and to be the centre of attention. Why? They need to know they matter and if their parents and people around them are paying attention to them. They want to make a good impression of themselves around others. But why? Isn’t it to get their needs met? To make a good impression and so they will be loved and so they will be taken care of.
I think it is rather obvious to see that.
I wonder if we have not grown out of the children we were. We still think we need others’ approval to be valuable. We need others’ opinions about us to be of the ideals that we think to be good and worthy. So, we act, act like the way we used to when we were kids – but we did not grow out of the acting.
So, in this acting, you are not you. That is why you need to be yourself. Which means nothing, if you don’t know you are acting out untruthful behaviours – behaviours that are incongruent with you. It means nothing, if you have not looked into yourself – to know who you are without all these behaviours of pretending and lying.
Fear of not having our needs met creates “niceness”
Out of the fear of not having our needs met we have created this, presentable, sometimes charming, “nice” images of ourselves in front of others. Images that you think that are likeable, though you don’t have any real evidence to prove these images that are likeable. You think these images are likeable because the traditions say so or you remember others saying so, because they were saying their ideals. Because it is hard to gather evidence, you create reference points for this to get some sense of evidence. You look for facial expressions and behaviours from others, what they say, how they react which will validate or invalidate your behaviours and you do the course correction according to what you think is likeable.
What you forget to notice is that, others are also doing the same with you – so really, you are creating an image for yourself that is likeable by an image presented by someone else. If you see this, you can very clearly understand why most of our relationships don’t work.
Because obviously relationships are images interacting with each other. Because we are dishonest about who we really are, what we think about ourselves.
Who will you be without this presentation of you? Will you be disliked? Isn’t that a question worth looking into if you want at least some honest relationships in your life?
Relation between your social and self image
Beyond the image that you created, the social image to be presentable, there is another image. Your self-image, what you think about yourself. How you act is a desperate attempt to where you want to be (the social image) based on what you think what you are right now (your self-image)
What you portray yourself outwardly is a reaction to what you think about yourself. Your social image has its roots in your self-image. If you think you are afraid, you put on a mask of being brave, if you are lonely and lacking, you put on a mask of abundance, if you think you are violent you put on a mask of being compassionate and so on.
The social image is a reaction to you wanting to move from the self-image to something that is an ideal, an ideal you. Successful, smart, good looking, competitive, able, hard-working, clever, honest and so on and so on.
So, in reality you don’t like your self-image. This is why you want to be better. That is conflicting, and when you say I want to be better, you are stuck in the same conflict, perpetuating it. Wanting to be courageous because you thinking you are cowardly is still cowardice, wanting to be peaceful out of your anger is still anger and thereby perpetuates it.
In this movement from where you are to where you want to be, you compare and evaluate yourself image based on where you want to be, and you create the ideal of where you want to be based on your self-image. You see, they are created by each other through your thinking – evaluation, comparison and so on.
So, they are the same and we are caught up in this mind trick.
Why was I talking about that? Right, being yourself.
Wanting to move from where you are to what you want to be may work at your workplace, where knowledge and skill level is necessary – obviously to become a good doctor you need to learn and do the things a good doctor do.
I believe and I have heard, when we take the same model into our psychological structure – wanting to be free of fear, happy etc, the problem perpetuates rather than dissolve. It becomes performance.
Performance and “niceness”
This performance is the underlying machinery of the nice girls and boys. We are caught up in this. And this is what is being pointed to when someone says “be yourself” – even though they don’t understand what it means.
In this performance, people go on all kind of quests, spiritual or otherwise, go travelling – I have done this personally many times, the quest to authentic, honest and become vulnerable, because they have figured out “being vulnerable” is the new gimmick, fashion and formula. It is socially accepted, even if it not genuine, more on that later in a different post.
It is really the same achievement oriented, egotistic, self-centredness that is driving these quests.
Because being spiritual is morally superior, all that. The whole business of spiritual one-upmanship. All the “positive” traits.
After years of “practicing” or “improving” you wonder, whether you have progressed at all. In fact, there is no progress, you failed to notice that it was the same pattern that took on a different form.
Actions not matching words
These are spiritual excuses –
No violence towards the animals, but it is okay to be violent towards each other in the name of loving animals – how is that just?
Be compassionate – and in the process of saying it many fail to acknowledge that they are aggressively and violently preaching compassion.
The words don’t matter – these are mere excuses for bad behaviour while presenting themselves as the good guys.
It is very obvious. The actions don’t match the words. But we are satisfied by what is said than what is being acted out. We are quick to believe the descriptions and words, because that is what we do to ourselves, with our own rationalisation to which we measure ourselves a good – we explain why we are good or bad through words, even when we see our actions don’t match up.
What can be more helpful than these reactionary behaviours?
How about being honest about where you are at right now? Is that in any way more helpful? Does that break the pattern of being caught in the same loop? Is that authenticity? At the very least telling the truth about your self-image and what you think about yourself than telling an ideal version of you – an acceptable version of you, the spiritual version, the success version or a concept of any other kind.
If our words and actions match will the state of conflict change? That you don’t have to spend energy in keeping up the lies that you have built around you.
I think it is progress just to move from the presentation image to the image you have created for you. To show your self-image, that which is a layer deeper, is progress.
This does not mean the image that you have created for yourself is real, that is an illusion too as we have seen that before they are created from each other through thinking with tradition, values etc.
But being honest at this level is far more helpful to showing a version of yourself to others. It will give you more energy to spare.
Do you think life will be a little bit smoother, honest and congruent, and you be yourself in doing so?
When I am no longer trying to keep up the lies that I have created for myself out of my own fear and smallness, all the energy that was being used in the process comes back to me and I have more energy.
Benefits of being congruent
I am confident, fearless because I am not hiding and spending energy to hide my flaws. I am at ease with making mistakes because I make mistakes. Because I understand making mistakes is human nature, and a mistake is a mistake because I have evaluated the outcome against an ideal.
Flattery has the same place to me as shaming and criticism for which they are the tools one can use to control others. I am more me and I am not dependent on you.
People who like me for who I am, as I move deeper and deeper, knows me better and I have people who like that me around me. I have meaningful relationships, where there is no need to hide behind pleasing behaviours and pretences.
In doing so you may actually start liking yourself rather than feel like a fraud.
We don’t mean what we say
You may also find that, this will actually mean that people are around you right now – they might not actually like you anymore – because even if they say, “be yourself”, they don’t want you to be yourself, they want you to be a version that their image like you to be. That is what they actually mean – “be yourself, be the version that I want you to be, be a version that I can control”. But if you take the advice seriously and actually become honest you may suddenly become destabilising to others’ viewpoints and may not be liked.
People don’t mean the things that they say. They want to be presented as these ideals as I said earlier. Because it is their ideal image that they could not live up to, speaking.
Only say the things that you mean – that is a good way of being yourself. Moving closer to the centre.
You ever get the feeling, when you say something, you know that you are lying. Stop! For whatever excuse you may have – that you are protecting someone, that you are being kind, protecting yourself. Just stop with these excuses already. Are you really protecting them or you? Isn’t this the very definition of selfishness? It is a hard one to swallow.
A little bit of honesty does not hurt when living. It is a good way of respecting others around you. You only lie to people who you don’t respect. You say you are protecting your kids – by lying to them? You don’t respect them! It is the opposite.
You say you are being kind and lying to protect someone’s feelings? You are being disrespectful. The kind of respect that I am talking about is not the respect that you feel towards another because of their position, knowledge or anything like that. It is the respect for another human being, acknowledging that you see them as someone who has the same psychological pains of agony, sorrow, anger, confusion etc. Deception is the socially accepted norm that is wearing the veil of compassion.
Above all you lie to yourself – to cover up your actions, to make sense of your actions, impulsive or well thought out – you don’t have respect for yourself. That is how you, start disliking yourself consciously or unconsciously when you lie to yourself.
Stop doing things that makes you dislike you.
Honesty is love – for you and others.
Performance in being honest
In this moving towards honesty – we get caught up in trying to be honest, are we really being honest? Or are we in the same pattern to be liked, am I being honest, so I will be liked?
There must be no effort in being honest. If there is effort then it is not honesty, that is obvious – it is reactionary. When you know that you are lying, stop! without condemning it. Do some course correction. Say – “that is not actually true, what is true is…”.
Often, we get caught up in the lie of peeling of the conditioning layer by layer, that takes time, that you need to practice for years to be where you want to be. This is another trick played by the mind and perpetuated by the so called “practitioners, meditators, community” etc. This is the psychological time, a promise of the future, a trick that we’ve been falling into for ages. This is again performance.
As I said, these layers (images) create themselves from each other through thinking. All those are you. The entirety of it. There are no layers.
What is the need to give time to such a process? I think it is rather simple, because you can’t be sold things, meditation courses and retreats if you don’t believe in such a process. It uses the same kind of model, a model that of achievement, hard work and sweat – that whole narrative. To be competent, to be a master, to achieve mastery, all those things that are used in an achievement-oriented world, where we want to be successful to feel good, or to one up. To be spiritually competitive and so on.
There are no layers, that needs to “worked through” step by step. Don’t fall into that trap.
When there is no psychological movement from one place to another, the wanting to be somewhere else rather than witness what is, fear cannot exist in such conditions, where there is no ideal to compare to, where there is no image of fearlessness to compare to.
Normally we go after overcoming fear in the image of fearlessness and courage.
There is no “being yourself”, because that is merely another concept and implies there is a non-being, and we have seen both are you, you are still you, when you are not “being yourself”.
Perhaps, one can experience love when you know you beyond the self image. Not that “unconditional love” garbage that you keep hearing, perpetuated by spiritual communities and Disney movies. That which is used to condemn and shame others – in the way “you don’t really love me, you want something from me, so I am going to test you to prove that you don’t have unconditional love and then I am going to blame you for not having the unconditional love because you did not “treat me well” in my own entitled ways. And there is the ideal of unconditional love that you test others with, and in the end, whoever sticks around has “got it” and are “the ones who truly loves us” despite our abuses in order to test them. Isn’t that the recipe for dysfunctional relationships? To demand such a thing shouldn’t you know what it is first, if at all it exists?
I think, there is no conditional or unconditional love, there is only love. Because I don’t know why you don’t see this, but unconditional love has the condition of being unconditional.
Why pervert it with a value judgement of being conditional or unconditional? A love that is not an opposite of anything, compassion and care that is not born of our fear of violence, us being violent or others being violent towards us.
We may be able to experience the qualities that are not rooted in opposites, for which opposites don’t exist. It is a psychological trick. Love in reaction to being hateful is not love, it is still hating. Opposites don’t exist. It is only a psychological phenomenon to see things in opposites. To give some relief into the way you are by creating an opposite, something to strive for to “become better”.
So “be yourself” in its essence, there is no “not-being yourself”. You are all you. But it comforts us to know that there is still hope for us, right? If only I was being myself? That is such a trick.
So, “be yourself”, don’t throw it around. It is a superficial statement in that sense. A concept again, that you can throw around. It has no value.
It is a good term in the sense – to know yourself.
Love out of understanding
To understand you, that takes some awareness into the structure of who you are and seeing and meeting things with honesty.
When we understand ourselves without the ideals, we understand others. We don’t condemn others according to ideals which we never could live up to. That is what we do. We are hypocrites. Out of that understanding, there must arise a natural love for one another, because you understand, compassion and care that is genuine. Not the sort of compassion and care that you are “cultivating” – because they are not compassion and care.
It is not that complicated, it has to be simple, but we don’t see value in seeing it as simple because then we are not conquering mountains and slaying the inner dragons – we are not being the heroes of our journey – which are all patterns to perpetuate one’s own self-importance. And perhaps because it may be simple in actuality, but we want it to be complex, we don’t see the simplicity of it. I think there is no hero’s journey – purpose and all that nonsense.
“Find your purpose” is again something that is manufactured someone can sell something to you. Because they have figured out how that ought to be done, right? And in our gullibility, we believe that, we need some saviour some authority, or guru to lift us up, as we were doing with God, and religion for ages. It is the same pattern.
Take immense responsibility, learn how to look up to you as your own guidance, because no one else knows. No one is better than you, your guru is as confused as you are.
So now you know when someone tells you “be yourself” – that they don’t have a clue about what it means, for if they knew they would not say it.
There is no way not to be yourself.
But you can look into who you are.