“Being yourself” isn’t always easy. It means being honest about who you are – how you think and feel and act – and sometimes that may turn people off.
In this way, being yourself comes with costs. People will see you. People will judge you. Some people will like you, some people will hate you, and plenty of people won’t even care about you. Ouch.
In the classic book On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, psychologist Carl Rogers goes in-depth about the importance of being true and authentic to yourself, and why sometimes this isn’t always an easy and pleasant experience.
- “In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not. It does not help to act calm and pleasant when I am actually angry and critical. It does not help to act as though I know the answers when I do not. It does not help to act as though I were a loving person if actually, at that moment, I am hostile. It does not help for me to act as though I were full of assurance, if I actually I am frightened and unsure. Even on a very simple level I have found that this statement seems to hold.”
Being open to others about who you are means being open about both the “good” and “controversial” aspects about yourself – which can be painful – but what’s most important is that people will know you and understand you better.
Thus, the people who like you will actually like you for who you really are, not what you pretend to be. And having one real relationship with someone who “gets you” is more fulfilling than a hundred fake relationships with people who like a “pretend you.”
In theory, most people agree that “being yourself” is a good thing. But what does it really mean? Is it even possible to be anything else?
Technically, you can never be anything but yourself. It’s whatever you are – right now – in this present moment. Yet that doesn’t stop people from struggling to “be themselves” on a daily basis.
What do people usually mean by that?
Many people walk through life feeling as though they are constantly “putting on an act” for others. Sometimes we put on masks for others and hide our true face. We try to meet countless expectations. And we hide the parts about ourselves that don’t seem favorable.
We do this mostly for the sake of social appearances and social reputation. It’s tremendously important to be accepted by others and to have strong relationships. So we think, “Why risk showing parts of myself, if that could mean threatening my relationships and losing people in my life?”
It’s a question we all ask ourselves in some way: “How much of myself should I really show this person? How much of myself should I really hide?”
You don’t need everyone to know your life story, but the deeper your relationships are, the more a person should know who you are.
We all struggle with dealing with superficial relationships. These are most common at work, school, and environments where we need to be professional and “down to business.”
However, we need realness too. We need people we can share our innermost thoughts and feelings with. And most importantly, we need to be real with ourselves.
On Becoming A Person is a classic book by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, the founder of “client-centered therapy.” It’s a highly influential work on the importance of being true and authentic to ourselves.
“Being yourself” and person-centered therapy
Carl Rogers is most well-known for starting the “person-centered therapy” movement.
According to this type of therapy, one of the most important things a therapist can provide is unconditional positive regard. Instead of judging the client, or trying to fix their problems, the goal of the therapist is to provide an avenue for the individual to express themselves in a free and unlimited way.
By exercising “unconditional positive regard” – accepting the person for who they are, without trying to change them – the person is given the opportunity to grow on their own terms and discover who they really are and what they want to be.
One of Carl Rogers most famous quotes is:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
The goal of person-centered therapy is to make this process easier for the client by providing them a space to explore themselves and discover more about themselves without judgment.
A good therapist must be accepting, empathetic, and able to listen to a client express their innermost thoughts and feelings without always needing to provide a solution or explanation.
Interestingly, this approach to therapy is very consistent with a theory in psychology known as common factors theory.
According to “common factors” theory, all specific therapies are equally effective (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, etc.) and what matters most is the relationship between the client and the therapist.
Basically, it often doesn’t matter what type of therapy is being used as long as the therapist and client have a strong, trustworthy, and accepting relationship. That’s what’s most important.
“Being yourself” is a process of becoming
One of the keys to truthfully and authentically “being yourself” is recognizing that you’re a dynamic process – not a fixed thing.
Who you are today is probably different from who you were 10 years ago. And who you will be 10 years from now will likely be different than who you are today.
You are always changing. From moment-to-moment, day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year.
So when you think about “being yourself” or “discovering yourself,” recognize that you aren’t searching for a fixed thing, but a process that is always changing and unfolding.
Here Carl Rogers reflects on this “process of becoming” as it relates to therapy:
“When he enters the therapeutic relationship, the client is likely to wish to achieve some fixed state: he wants to reach the point where his problems are solved, or where he is effective in his work, or where his marriage is satisfactory. He tends, in the freedom of the therapeutic relationship to drop such fixed goals, and to accept a more satisfying realization that he is not a fixed entity, but a process of becoming.”
This is one of the major themes throughout On Becoming A Person: it’s important to understand that you are a “process of becoming” and to recognize the changing nature of yourself.
Similarly, the therapist must also view their client as a “process of becoming.” And according to Rogers, this is why we must also be careful of using labels or diagnoses:
- “If I accept the other person as something fixed, already diagnosed and classified, already shaped by his past, then I am doing my part to confirm this limited hypothesis. If I accept him as a process of becoming, then I am doing what I can to confirm or make real his potentialities”
It helps in all of your relationships – both with yourself and with others – that you recognizing the changing nature of people, and everyone’s ability to grow into a better person, especially yourself.
This attitude often helps us to maximize our relationships with others.
“Being yourself” and real relationships
Here are some final thoughts from Carl Rogers on the importance of “being yourself” and why it’s essential for keeping your relationships real:
- “Being yourself doesn’t ‘solve problems.’ It simply opens up a new way of living in which there is more depth and more height in the experience of your feelings, more breadth and more range. You feel more unique and hence more alone, but you are so much more real that your relationships with others lose their artificial quality, become deeper, more satisfying, and draw more of the realness of the other person into the relationship.”
Like he says, sometimes being yourself can make you feel more unique and more alone.
When you are yourself truthfully, that may turn some people off who you are incompatible with. But that’s okay, because you’d rather have those few real relationships instead of a bunch of fake ones.
In this way, the rewards for “being yourself” far outweigh the costs.
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