I remember the first time I was in group therapy, primarily to deal with the emotional fallout from my divorce. After about six weekly sessions, during which I took every opportunity to relate how my ex-husband had victimized me, the therapist opened the session by asking me what had made me most angry during my marriage. And my reply was, ‘Oh, I don’t get angry.’
Because I was raised in a home where children were not allowed to express negative feelings, or even look angry, sad, or frustrated, I had learned to hide my anger so deeply that I became unable to recognize it as anger. If someone said or did something that would cause any reasonable person to get mad, I instead became hurt, because being hurt by someone was allowed, being angry at someone was not. To exist in the world in a way that I believed was acceptable, I had to be a person who felt no anger toward others. My image of myself demanded that I not acknowledge—or even recognize–who I really was, or what was felt within. And at the age of 24, I could not tell you who this woman I saw in the mirror was. I wouldn’t dare to look inside.
Few of us present our true selves to the world, perhaps believing that people would not accept us if they knew who we really were. There is nothing wrong with behaving differently at work, or even with friends than you would when alone. It’s common. We all have a public persona and it’s okay if not everyone sees us as we are. It only becomes a problem when we don’t know who we are. And that is key because unless you can understand and accept your authentic self, you will not grow as a person.
So, how do you begin to know who your true self is? You begin asking questions and then answer as honestly as possible. If you pay close attention, you’ll know if you’re avoiding or being less than truthful. These are questions that take a good deal of thought and may raise emotions you normally would squelch. They include but are not limited to:
Is there a change I need to make in my life that I am avoiding and why?
Who am I shutting out of my life, and why?
Who matters most to me?
What am I ashamed of?
What are my values? What do I believe in?
These questions may provoke avoidance, and possibly fear. We all shy away from change at times. It may be because we know that hard work, either emotional, mental or physical, will be necessary to deal with the issue or problem in order to resolve it, and we lack the energy to address what we are avoiding. Or perhaps we fear the outcome; we know that facing the issue head-on will evoke negative emotions from someone and we avoid conflict at all costs. Whatever the reason, what is important is that you acknowledge it to yourself. Being honest with yourself requires a process of rigorous examination. But you don’t have to be honest with anyone else, only yourself.
Take care of yourself through the process and remember to celebrate life!