Who are you?
By that, I’m referring to the “true” you.
I’ve written previously about the roles that we play, and how they impact us. We all play a number of different roles. Parent, child, sibling, friend, co-worker, lover.
Are all of these things simply roles? Are they acts that we put on, depending on our audience? Or are they components of who we “really are”?
Who are we? Is there actually a “true” you?
Who are You?
The idea of a “true you” has always interested me.
If it exists, when was it formed? Did you have the seeds of this true you when you were an infant? Did it start when you started attending school?
I guess it is the age old nature/nurture debate, but to me it seems clear that if it exists, it is something that formed over time. I suppose there may be some seeds to your personality in your genetic makeup, but your experiences definitely contribute to shaping who you are.
If we can accept that experience at least contributes to the “true you”, then the question becomes:
When (if ever) are you “complete”? When it your identity fully formed?
Did it stop when you became a teenager? When you reached the age of majority?
I definitely changed when I became a parent. And over the last few years I’ve watched my parents’ generation go from being the adults to the seniors, while I have gone from being one of the younger generation to being part of the adult generation.
During this time I have watched children grow into young adults. I have watched people fall in love, marriages fail. People get sick, loved ones die. I have watched great joy, love, anger and sadness.
These things impact you. The experiences change you.
So if I’m constantly changing, who am I? Was the “me” at 20 any more or less valid than the “me” I was at 30? Or 40?
We all have many roles we play in our lives, and each of these roles comes with a set of unwritten rules and expectations.
The behavior that is “acceptable” as a student is different from what is acceptable as a child, a friend, a parent, a co-worker, a lover. The list goes on.
Conforming to these acceptable behaviors can be like donning a mask, and sometimes we let the masks slip. For example, I don’t swear often, but have a tendency to in times of frustration or anger. Even still, there’s a part of me that knows that it’s different to swear with my buddies vs. in front of my children. I make that distinction at a subconscious level. Yet I have sworn in front of my children, and in those moments my “parent mask” has slipped.
When it does, is it the “true me” that is coming out?
I don’t think so. It’s a side of me, sure. I don’t believe the true me is someone who goes around swearing all the time. The true me also isn’t someone who never swears. I will occasionally, out of frustration or anger. But I would like to think the true me know which situations are appropriate, and which aren’t.
Sometimes juggling all the roles we play can seem overwhelming. And in doing so, at times it can seem like we have lost sight of ourselves, and we aren’t even sure who we are anymore under all those roles.
I think this sense of losing ourselves happens when we act the way we think people want us to act. People talk about “authenticity” as being true to yourself. And if we aren’t being authentic then the roles we play become just that – roles. We become like actors, trying to put on the appropriate mask for the appropriate setting.
When we do this, we lose sight of who we are.
Finding Yourself Again
But wait a minute? Didn’t I just say that we all have many roles to play, and there are certain expectations associated with these roles?
Shouldn’t we have to meet those expectations?
This is where the challenge comes in. We do all have roles we play in our lives, but at the same time we should never just be “playing” a role.
Instead, we need to find ways to make that role our own.
Let me explain…
I’m a father, and my dad was my biggest influence for what a father is. After all, he’s what I grew up with. But I’m not the father my dad was, or the father his dad was. I can never be him. I need to define what it being a father means to me, and that’s the father I need to be. But even this isn’t “fixed”.
The father I was to my children when they were babies is different from the father I am to my children now. I learn, adapt, and change.
I’m sure other people look at some of my parenting techniques and see things I’m doing “wrong”. Well, yeah. I’m probably doing a lot of things wrong. But hopefully I’m also doing a lot of things right. And most importantly, I’m finding an approach that works for me. It’s fluid.
A harder one is my role as a husband.
Similar to learning to be a parent, I’m probably doing a lot of things wrong. Hopefully I’m doing a lot of things right too. The thing is, I’m sure my wife has certain expectations of me. And I likewise have certain expectations of her.
This presents a challenge, because if I do something simply because it’s expected of me then I’m just playing a role or putting on a mask. But at the same time there ARE expectations, and I can’t just pick and choose the parts I want to deal with, or the ones I am comfortable with at a given moment.
As a couple, you need to be clear with each other what your expectations are. No one’s expectations will match completely, and this can be a significant source of conflict in relationships.
Bridging this gap is important to the success of a relationship.
You should never feel like you are playing a role, or doing things simply because they are expected of you. But at the same time, when you are in a relationship you do have responsibilities to the other person.
I think this is where empathy comes in.
For both members of a relationship to feel valued, there must be a belief that both members needs and expectations matter to the other person – even when they don’t match.
Accepting this allows you adjust your expectations somewhat, and fill a role without just playing the role. It allows you to make it your own, and find a way to fill the role that seems natural for you.
It is only when you do this that you are being true to yourself.
When you do this, it’s not just a role. It becomes part of you.
Identity can be a difficult thing, and I don’t think there are any “easy” answers to the question of who we are.
But I don’t believe there is a “true you”. Or rather, the true you is always evolving and always changing.
We have countless roles we play in our lives, and each of them shapes us. But at the same time, we don’t have to let them define us.
So who am I?
The true me is both good and bad. It’s full of all sorts of flaws and contradictions. And all of these pieces are all still me.
I’m all sorts of things. I’m a father, a husband, a friend, a co-worker, a son, etc. All of these things are me, and all of them make up my identity. But I am not any single one of these.
And no matter which role I am playing at a given time, all of them are still “me”.