The Me You Can't See
A meditation on deception, truth and reality
If your individuality is the price you have to pay to achieve your goal, would you do it?
Once there was someone at work who didn’t like my ideas and didn’t care to incorporate them within the team. Since he was the overlord and I a junior engineer, whether my ideas were accepted depended on his approval. He was the gatekeeper they needed to pass through, the boss I needed to convince if I wanted my ideas to be adopted. So two questions arose - First, was it worth it for me to expend the energy to convince him to adopt these ideas? And second, if I couldn’t convince him what did that mean for me? If he was wrong, but I didn’t have the power to do anything about it, what were my choices? Either live with it (aka suck it up) or leave?
But what if I couldn’t leave, and what if I didn’t want to suck it up, then was my only option to somehow convince myself that he was right and start believing in his misguided theories? If I didn’t change my beliefs and couldn’t do anything to change his beliefs, it would mean that at work I would need to act according to his beliefs which went against what I believed.
So either I could suppress my instincts and make myself believe that he was right or continue believing what I believed but act according to his beliefs and be stuck in a state of cognitive dissonance forever?
This situation had many parallels to my life as a child. My parents - the people in power - did not like that I was outspoken, that I wanted good reasons for everything before I did those things, that I had lots of ideas, liked to experiment with different things and was fearless about making mistakes. I think it reminded them of how they used to be when they were little and how all their curiosity and enthusiasm got beaten out of them so maybe they felt the need to do the same to me.
Society doesn’t tolerate little girls who speak their mind, they said. Because everyone is too scared of what they might say so they choose to suppress them instead, they didn’t say.
I was a child and they were adults and there was an imbalance of power, just like there was an imbalance of power in the situation at work. I needed my parents to feed me and take care of me and if I didn’t please them it was implied that “bad things would happen” which is ambiguous phrasing but it was enough to scare a child into submission. So I did their bidding and hid my true feelings. After years of trying to contort myself into weird shapes so I would fit their mold, there was a brief period when I was at my peak misery during which they were *proud* of me. I felt good about myself during that time even though I had sunk all of my time and energy into doing things that only they cared about, because at least it finally meant that I was not a failure in their eyes anymore.
It’s like that feeling you get when you’re really skinny and everybody tells you how amazing you look. You feel terrible on the inside because you’ve starved yourself but hey, at least you’re pretty on the outside. And really when you think about it isn’t that what matters the most? Who needs food, not me.
Anyway, so they said bad things would happen and I ignored my true feelings to appease them so they would take care of me. I chose attachment over authenticity.
And it worked, I survived to adulthood, I made it out alive .. in a sense.
Now that I’m out of their power I can see that there was more to the story, which little me was certainly not able to see it while she was still in it. She thought in order to achieve their love she had to *become* the person they wanted her to be, down to her very core. There could be no weakness, no vulnerability. She had to override her instincts and give herself over to the whims of people she didn’t like or respect. She thought that if she could somehow convince herself to believe these stupid thoughts that made no logical sense then finally she would get the her parents to accept her.
So she warped herself into this person she thought they wanted her to be. Needless to say it didn’t win her their love, rather it only served to confuse the two ideas in her head - who she truly was, and who she needed to be for the world to accept her.
And to this day I’m still untangling the convoluted web that ties those two ideas together in my head. Sometimes I still can’t tell which thoughts are my own and which have been planted there by outside forces seeking to manipulate and control me.
So when this situation came along at work, I was scared and confused.
Did it mean that I would now have to give up my whole identity once more to be accepted by this stupid man who didn’t know what he’s talking about? I had just spent so much time learning how to let the person I really am shine through, to feel more comfortable expressing myself by being open and vulnerable about my real thoughts. I felt devastated at the thought that once again I might have to hide my true beliefs in order to make myself more *acceptable* to the world. Since the option of walking away was not open to me, was my only choice to be miserable in my life?
Well the truth is there was another answer, which is a different way to frame the problem.
What if you could separate your need for attachment from your need to be authentic? What served you as a child may not be the best strategy for the adult world. As is the case with lots of things, the skills you needed to get to this point are completely different from the ones you need to survive beyond this point.
What if you could show them one face and really be someone else? What if the person you truly were was someone who didn’t put all of her cards on the table from the get go because that goes against your interests? What if you choose to present yourself differently to people in different contexts because not all of them deserve your full, authentic self? What if you retained that part of yourself that was pure down to her core and only brought her out when being vulnerable and honest about her opinions would benefit her and not just the other party?
I watched a bunch of Lady Gaga’s interviews from when she first broke out and she talks about how she is a master of the art of fame. How she is always in control of her public image because the paparazzi pay attention to what she wants them to pay attention to. She said that’s how she is able to be such a huge public figure and still have a semblance of a private life. She shows them what they want to see, at the same time protecting her true, vulnerable, creative, private side from scrutiny so that she can continue to remain sane and create her art.
Apparently a lot of people do this, even people you might not have realized, and it is a fair trade. You get what you want out of the relationship - gainful employment and money, and they get what they want - a docile employee who does their bidding. Instead of forcing yourself to believe in their misguided theories or being miserable if they don’t adopt your ideas, understand that you’re getting something useful out of the relationship that you need at this time in your life. You don’t need to love everything about your job to do well there. In fact the less emotion you attach to it the better you will perform.
Even though I know this is the right frame of mind, it hurts to say this. I want to believe that the world is good and the people in it are nice and kind and helpful, but the truth is that not all of them are. And not all of them deserve all of you.
As a child my choice was simple, it tore me up from the inside, but in reality I had no choice. Choose attachment over authenticity because I needed my parents to accept me and if giving up my individuality is what it took then that’s a price I was willing to pay.
But now the circumstances are different. I can choose to remain at my job because I need the money to survive but I can also be honest with myself about what I really believe. I think this is a better alternative to changing myself to please other people. Show them the version of me they want to see and be honest with myself that that’s what I’m doing.
Being authentic doesn’t mean that you bring your whole self to every situation. It means being true to yourself about who you really are, and what you need to do in order to survive.
If I really think about what motivates this need to be authentic, I realize that my goal has always been to lower the amount of deception in my life. I don’t want to pretend with myself to be someone other than I am. If something is part of the reality of my life, no matter how unpleasant, I want to be able to recognize and respond to it. I want my mental map of the world to match the territory, no matter how rocky the terrain.
I’m still optimistic about the future, but I’m learning to be realistic about which parts of my life I have control over in order to bring about the future that I want.
I show you the me you want to see,
but I am the me I want to be.
The truth lies in the cracks between
your notion of me as I appear to be
and the real me that you can’t see.