Many of us feel that we can never quite fit in. We may not even understand what is making it so difficult.
Where others seem to naturally group together into social cliques, others are drifters; if they attempt to establish themselves in a more mainstream way, they may find themselves shut out.
If these individuals learn to change their social presentation, sharing the same mannerisms, opinions, and customs as the group they are trying to fit into, they can become a part of it.
These individuals must decide what they want most; if they toss their identity into the melting pot of the group, they risk giving up the things that define them.
Many individuals feel that they have no choice. They may be uninterested in sacrificing their identity because they don’t know they have the option. On the other hand, perhaps they don’t know they have the option because they are uninterested in sacrificing my identity.
Chicken-or-egg considerations aside, some individuals will choose to preserve their sense of self, as well as their ideals and scruples.
It may seem that this preservation comes at the cost of a little more loneliness. These individuals should ask themselves: If they gave up their identity in order to be accepted, would it really have been them that others were accepting at all?
And what comes of others who make the opposite choice? Perhaps some opportunity comes their way, but it comes only by disguising the true self.
Even the most hard-headed of us may come to see a need for the social disguise.
Many of us disguise ourselves as a stepping stone. We may not be as strong as we seem; the disguise gives us the opportunity to change our circumstances and develop our courage before we choose to reveal ourselves.
Some use the social disguise as a tool for avoidance, keeping to themselves so that they can be protected from judgment.
But despite its uses, we should seek to outgrow our disguises.
HOW TO BE FEARLESSLY AUTHENTIC
BREAKING OFF & BRANCHING OUT
In time, we may establish ourselves in a circle of peers who appreciate authenticity and vulnerability, rather than exploiting it out of their own vulnerability.
But until such a group of peers is established, the individuals with whom an authentic connection can be shared are few and far between. This is why the pressure to integrate and blend comes so strongly to so many people.
Yet, as we assert our identity and develop ourselves, we come to make our own choices regardless of what others think or do. This leads us down new paths, causing us to naturally diverge from those individuals who think differently from us.
This is the first and most difficult test of our newly forged identity. When our lives change, a change in mindset usually precedes (and instigates) external changes. This means that if our new sense of identity is to survive, it must be resilient in the face of outdated life circumstances which conflict with it.
But once progress is made, it is virtually indelible. We become immersed in a circumstantial and emotional framework that supports our new identity.
The people who surround us are the most important part of that framework. If people come to recognize our sense of purpose, they will become attracted to us, hoping to participate in our cause.
For some, a disownment of the social disguise may come suddenly, with a realization that our skillset has developed, and our old coping mechanisms are no longer useful (and potentially even self-destructive).
This realization may come more incrementally to others. It’s never too late to make these changes; doing so is always rewarding.
Despite our disguises, we all hunger for authentic connection. If we can penetrate the disguises of others, we may find that level of connection.
With a strong sense of personal identity, we will feel no need to reject the contrasting identities that we may discover underneath the disguises of others. This gives us the ability to offer others that rare sort of acceptance.
If we do, we may come to find that the tables have turned. We will no longer face rejection; instead, others will be drawn to us. Influential people will offer us opportunities, and up-and-comers would seek our mentorship.
A TIME & PLACE
Once our disguise has been lifted, we can reserve its use only for those selective moments in which it is either unsafe or inappropriate to let our full selves be known.
These moments take various shapes. We may need to assert ourselves, or to make a professional impression. The less acquainted we are with someone, the more we may find it useful to withhold some of our candor; we do not yet know their beliefs or preferences.
We also use the disguise to keep social interactions running smoothly. When we greet others and ask them how they are, we usually expect them to say that they are well. This greeting serves as a gesture of cordiality and goodwill; it has its purpose.
But what about when they are not well, and we expect them to pretend otherwise? The unfortunate reality is that there are limits to how much burden we can bear. We can’t solve every single problem we encounter.
While our hopes for humanity may be high, one of the best ways to help others is to help ourselves. When we openly express our vulnerability, we give others permission to express their own. Apologies are made, opportunities at self-growth are discovered, and intimacy becomes possible.
UNLOCKING NEW POTENTIAL
Recovering our sense of self is a long road. The process of exploration and discovery is daunting enough; to accept our true selves also requires us to reject the inauthentic self we have been projecting all along. This inauthentic self may have made certain choices that we will have to come to terms with.
Despite its difficulty, the process is worthwhile. We naturally yearn for authentic connection. Yet, our connections cannot be authentic until we remove the disguise of social presentation and learn to be authentic ourselves.
The more we are accepting of others, the more we encourage them to remove their disguises, and the more safe it becomes to remove our own.
The need to establish a durable, independent sense of self is universal. By removing our disguise, we reveal authenticity; the door to acceptance, trust, and connection swings open, and individuals gain the opportunity to follow the paths that hold the most potential for them.
The melting pot of personality transforms into a mosaic of identity; the individuals who compose it, though unique, form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.