“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” Oscar Wilde
Naturally, we all intend to be who we are, to be true to who and what we are, to live life our own way. Great. But is that what we do? Unfortunately, the answer is often no.
All children learn to adapt to their family situation. We have to. As social animals, we learn how to behave from watching the behaviour of those around us, and by taking in the messages we receive from our caregivers about what is and is not OK. This is necessary and helpful, it teaches us how to interact with others. By taking in the cues we receive from our parents and caregivers, we also learn about our own self.
While some people grow up in an environment of unconditional love and develop a steady sense of themselves, this is not universally the case. For many people, early childhood experiences deliver messages that we were only liked, loved, valued and approved of if we were certain ways - the ways that other people want us to be. If this conditional regard is dominant, it can overwhelm our natural sense of being loveable and likeable, just as we are.
When this happens, we learn to adapt ourselves to what other people want. We edit ourselves, showing the bits we feel will be acceptable, and hiding the bits we fear will displease. The more we do this, the more ingrained the pattern becomes. We may not even know this is what is happening.
It is possible to travel a long way from yourself, and yet not to know that you are not acting congruently with what you want and need. Clues that this is happening will include feelings of distance, disappointment, anger and fear in close relationships, or an anxiety about saying what’s on your mind without first running through scenarios about how it might be perceived or responded to. Patterns like these in relationships are likely to repeat, with you playing out a similar role with different partners, with old feelings coming up again and again.
True intimacy is a relationship is present when you can stand naked, physically and psychologically. It means you can be who you are, without fear or defence, and be met by your equally naked partner, who stands in their own power and look you lovingly in the eye.
Self-awareness and insight are incredibly helpful if you find you are not quite yourself when you are in relationship, or if you shy away from intimacy and connection. Psychotherapy may be helpful to help you cultivate this. If that feels right to you, then get in touch for information about online psychotherapy with a relational depth.