Why do we quash our true selves? Why do we squeeze ourselves into boxes we were never meant to fit into? Why do we hide behind masks or pretend to be something we're not?
From my experience, the answer is fear. We're afraid to be our true selves in case we're rejected; in case people don't like us, get angry with us, criticise, judge, ridicule, or leave us.
We're afraid to be our true selves because we remember a time, often from our early childhoods, when we were true to ourselves or when we spoke our truth and it wasn't a pleasant experience.
We were laughed at or shouted down or told we were stupid or that we'd got it wrong. And because in many cases our parents or caregivers were the ones who were angry with us or disapproving of us, the experience felt terrifying - life-threatening even.
In that moment, some damaging core beliefs took hold: it's not safe to speak my truth; it's not safe to be me; if I'm my true self, I'll be rejected, humiliated, ignored, or abandoned; I got that wrong so there must be something wrong with me.
We set out through life with these core beliefs as our guide. We tried to be the person we thought our dates, partners, bosses, relatives or friends wanted us to be. We pretended to be something we were not in order to be loved or to keep the peace. We played a role, wore a mask.
Unsurprisingly, we ended up in unsatisfying, dead-end, failed or false relationships, or stuck in a career that didn't suit us and that felt like a cage.
Writing this takes me back to a time when I felt trapped in a job I no longer loved and stuck in a cycle of dysfunctional and failed relationships. For a time, I felt down, depressed, helpless - until I began to recover my true self. I learned that I needed to rediscover who I was at my core - who I was beneath the baggage and the masks. I found the courage to break free from other people's expectations of who I should be or what I should be doing with my life. And I learned that it was safe to be me.
So how can we recover our true selves? Read on or watch a video of this post here.
Ask 'Who Am I?'
Take out a piece of paper or open up the notes on your phone and write 'Who Am I?' at the top. Then begin to write you answers. Write freely. Write whatever comes to mind. Write some words or phrases today and then return to it the next day and the next. Keep building up a picture of who you really are. If you're struggling to come up with answers, think about what you love doing. When does your soul come alive? What makes you tingle? You could also list your values. What's important to you?
My list would go something like this: I'm an adventurer; a free spirit; a highly sensitive and intuitive person; a sea swimmer; a dancer; I love being sociable and meeting new people, and I need my quiet time; I'm a writer; a coach; a performer; I'm always growing; I love a challenge; I'm courageous and fearful at the same time; I love nature, the outdoors, and camping ...
As you build up this list over time, keep it close to you or post it where you can see it and refer back to it every time you're faced with a choice - perhaps a new job, a new relationship or a weekend away. How does this job offer, this potential partner, or this invite fit with my true self? Would I be being true to myself if I said Yes, or would I be saying Yes out of fear or people-pleasing?
Create A Vision Board
Alongside your written list, it's a great idea to create a visual picture of who you are, what you love doing, and of the life your true self wants to live. I love cutting out pictures and phrases from magazines and creating a collage - I often do this with clients and on my retreats. Psychologies magazines provide great material - lots of inspiring pictures and quotes. Here's one of my vision boards:
Again, keep referring back to your vision board when you have decisions to make. Does this choice fit with my true self? Is it in line with my values and the life I want for myself?
Identify Small Actions
Once we become aware that we're not being true to ourselves, it's time to make some changes. If you're bold enough to take big leaps, that's great, but for many of us, small, manageable actions are the way forward. Begin doing things that remind you of who are you are deep down. If you love the seaside and know you want to live by the coast, start with day or weekend trips to the beach. That's what I did when I wanted to move out of London. I looked after someone's dog in Dorset for a week. I dipped my toe in the water before I was ready to leap. The same with careers. Can you set aside a day a week to explore a new career or an evening when you can shadow someone or do some voluntary work? Do you want to be a writer? Can you set aside a few hours per week to write? Try on your new profession for size.
As with any change, it's important to get support or to find someone you can be accountable to. So identify your actions, set yourself a reasonable time frame and then ask a friend, family member, mentor or coach to help you to stay on track. Check in when you've completed an action or ask them to give you a nudge.
Understand The Big Picture
Change can be challenging. We've been behaving one way for several decades and living our life according to a set of misguided core beliefs. We're bound to feel resistance. We might make a good start but then fall back into our old ways. That's why accountability is vital but it's also helpful to understand the big picture. Why is it so important to recover our true selves? What's the big deal?
I can only speak from experience. By recovering my true self, I reconnected to the writer I had always been and published my first book. I got back in touch with the things I love doing - cycling, camping and being outdoors - and on one of my outdoor adventures, I met my now fiancé. I broke free from a job as a news journalist and began to do work that's totally aligned with who I am - coaching and mentoring others to find love and create lives that they love that are authentic and true. And I left my London flat to live in a house by the sea so that I could swim and walk and run and feel free.
Can you hear your true self calling you? Does the real you want out? I'd love to encourage you to set him or her free. Believe me, the rewards are incredible.
My next How to Fall in Love women's retreat is Oct 12-15, 2018, by the sea in Dorset. There are limited spaces left and the earlybird offer end in two weeks on August 12, so do get in touch soon if you'd like to join us.
You can download my How to Fall in Love book on Kindle for free for 48 hours starting on August 1.