The Challenge of Being True to You

By Dr. Raymond Nourmand Aug 21, 2017 12:42 PM

We live in a society that places a high premium on what others think. Our culture encourages us to spend our time, effort, and resources focusing on other people, what they want of us, and what we can do to get them to like us. The desire to win other people’s approval, validation, and favor has been a part of the human condition since the beginning of time. It’s in our nature to want to be liked by others. Feeling appreciated, respected, and loved are probably the most cherished feelings known to mankind.

Yet, sometimes we are not liked by everyone we cross paths with. We don’t get the reception we want, or the attention we desire. We meet people who challenge us, disagreeing with parts of ourselves that we hold very dear. Often this makes us uncomfortable, as we feel our self is coming under attack. In these moments, we’re being tested. We’re being pulled in different directions, and we must decide where we’re going to stand. At this point, we do one of four things.

One way we reconcile our discomfort is we accommodate to the person who finds fault with us to avoid the discomfort in their disapproval. We interpret their disapproval to mean they don’t like us, and further that we are not good enough. So we try to please them by telling them what they want to hear, and doing what they want us to do. We appease them to avoid potential rejection. Being ourselves can ruffle feathers, causing an uncomfortable state which we seek to avoid. So we cave, because our focus is on being liked by them.

Another way we react is we get aggressive towards the person who disagrees with us to get them to back down from their dissenting opinion. Again, we interpret their disapproval to mean they don’t like us. We take their difference of opinion personally. We have a hard time dealing with the resultant anxiety and thus react on impulse. We become belligerent and cruel in an attempt to intimidate them to recant their position. We can’t tolerate their disagreement, so we force them to “take it back” so we can return to feeling satisfied about ourselves, unchallenged. We push back, because our focus is on being liked by them.

A third way we react is we cut-off from the person who doesn’t agree with us. Similar to the scenarios above, again, we interpret their disapproval to mean they don’t like us, and further that we are not good enough. However, instead of appeasing, or arguing, here we detach from them. We don’t want to talk with, interact with, or even think about them because it makes us uncomfortable to do so. We avoid and try to ignore them because they elicit discomfort in us. At the same time, while we try to separate from them, we are nevertheless haunted by them to the extent that we haven’t confronted and dealt with our issue(s) related to them. We deceive ourselves into believing that if we don’t see, hear, or think about them our discomfort disappears. We live in denial. We disconnect, because our focus is on being liked by them.

Finally, some of us take the risk of being true. We leap into the unknown and unpredictable, showing who we really are. By sharing how we truly feel, we soothe our anxiety, engaging in respectful dialogue, and voicing our experience as accurately and considerately as possible. We operate from a kind place. Because after all, the truth is always kind. We are open to considering the other’s point of view, and any concessions we make are made because we truly agree with them. If we adopt a new position, we do so because we believe in it and want to, and not because we feel we have to. 

Perhaps the scariest of all paths, this arguably leads to the deepest sense of closeness and intimacy between people. It brings about the most profound sense of love, attraction, and respect that can only be achieved when we stay true to ourselves and own who we are. We understand that to be liked for who we are, we must expose ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable. Deep down, we say to ourselves, “I know I might get hurt here, but this is a chance I’m willing to take.”

Being true can be challenging. Being ourselves makes our true core exposed, making us vulnerable to outside criticism and rejection. Being ourselves makes our essence open to attack, making us subject to getting hurt. It’s part of being human. We are naturally sensitive. We are inherently vulnerable. We are subject to outside influences, and sometimes we don’t control them. All the while, it’s important to note that being true does not mean that we only do what we want, when we want, without regard for others. 

On the contrary, being true means we understand who we are and that we need connection in our lives. Being true means being secure in who we are, and allowing our true vulnerability to show when others are around. Being true means being strong enough to allow ourselves to be influenced, and trusting enough to know that whatever happens we will be able to handle it and grow from it.

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Dr. Raymond Nourmand is an Addiction Psychologist, specializing in treating men with alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions.