Is your character constantly swinging from adorable, placid kitten to roaring T-Rex just to please others?
Sometimes, it can feel like there are a million different versions of you. There’s a “silly, party you” when you’re hanging out with your pals, “flirty, girlie you” when you’re on a date, “responsible, dutiful you” when you’re with your family, and “serious, professional you” when you’re working hard at the office… It’s like you’re a TV with different channels you can flick to at will. But if this is the case, how do you ever get to know your true self? And how do you make sure you aren’t changing who you are just to please others?
The mirror has two faces
Psychologists view personality as a set of stable characteristics, so it doesn’t change in that sense, but who you are is certainly not set in stone. “The self is a very changeable concept. Who you consider yourself to be at 20 can be very different to who you are at 30,” says clinical psychologist Gemma Cribb. In fact, it’s not only normal to use different aspects of our personality to fit certain situations, modifying our approach to each occasion is quite often the right thing to do.
“It’s quite common for people to change the way they present themselves depending on their audience and the environment. It’s very normal to do this and can be helpful, as it lets you be socially appropriate in different environments,” says Cribb. For example, turning up for work showcasing your flirting skills probably won’t do you any favours (unless you worked on the Late Show With David Letterman).
Exploring the various sides of your personality can even help you understand the complexities of your own nature better.
“Starting from the assumption that one can never express the whole of their self at once, expressing and experiencing all these different elements of the self makes it easier for us to learn who we really are,” says Dr Niko Tiliopoulos, a lecturer in psychology at The University of Sydney. “Otherwise, it would be the equivalent of observing only one side of a complex and unknown building, and believing you would be able to accurately draw the whole structure [from that single observation].”
Out of character
While the ability to access different aspects of your personality is a valuable life skill, it’s possible to take it too far, especially if you’re a people pleaser. The constant, chameleon-like shifting of personas can become an issue if you start to feel like you’re acting out of character, just to fit in. It can also leave you with an unanchored, underdeveloped sense of self, as you morph into a patchwork of other people’s expectations, rather than constructing a strong core understanding of who you really want to be.
“If you base your behaviour entirely on what you think the other person requires from you, not only can you get what they want wrong, eventually, you will also find yourself acting in ways that you feel to be ‘not you’,” warns Gemma. “This can be stressful and tiring because the emphasis is entirely on satisfying someone else and not in investing in yourself and believing you’re likeable as you are.” Even though it’s natural to mould yourself to fit your circumstances, for the sake of your self-esteem, you should make sure that you’re still being true to your beliefs, no matter who you are dealing with and how strong the desire to please them may be.”
Finding your true self
Discovering who you are is a difficult task and it can be harder because of the expectations people have of you. “Learn to relax and allow your true self to respond accordingly,” advises Tiliopoulos. “After all, regardless of how hard you may try to blend or fit in, there will always be people who will, or won’t, like you. So, why not just present your true traits and let people like or dislike you for who you really are?”
Feel that you sometimes act out of character just to get along with other people or impress them? Gemma advises getting in touch with your real identity by doing the following three things:
DEFINE YOUR VALUES
“Write down, or think about, the things that are important to you and what qualities you would like people to believe you possess.”
REPRESENT YOUR VALUES
“Think about the sorts of things you could do, or ways you could act, that would represent these values or qualities.”
IMPLEMENT YOUR VALUES
“When you’re out socially, keep half a mind on whether you’re acting according to your values, and see if you can improve the consistency of your behaviour in your valued qualities.”