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Being Yourself Can Be Hard Work, But It’s a Lot Less Stressful

One reason psychologists and sociologists will always have plenty of work is that human beings are very complicated things.

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One reason psychologists and sociologists will always have plenty of work is that human beings are very complicated things.

We sometimes hear the admonition “Express Yourself.” We ask children to paint and write and engage in other activities in order to help them express themselves. And we hope, in expressing themselves, the children will become themselves.

As we learn and grow, we try different things to see what we like. In some sense, we “try on” different personalities. The teen years are the most obvious example of this. In a perfect world, we would find the one single personality we like the best and keep it. Over time the personality we choose becomes who we “really” are. I’m going to refer to this as your default personality.

But we never lose our free will, so we can always change who we are at any time. We just have to be aware that such changes can be very difficult.

When we find ourselves grown up and responsible, we also find ourselves operating in a variety of different settings. And with this we develop different personalities. For example, you might have the following personalities at some time or another:

  • Self
  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Child (adult child)
  • Sibling
  • Professional
  • Community Member
  • and more . . .

Within some of these you might have additional personality sub-types.  See the article We Are All Many People on the Relax Focus Succeed web site.

So far so good. This theory of personality roles is certainly nothing new or original. Literature from the earliest times until today addresses this subject. In fact, the literary technique of “putting on a mask” to play a different role is a mainstay of literature in all societies. Perhaps the most widely know examples are the play-within-a-play story lines of Shakespeare.

Personalities and Stress

Going through your day, week, and life balancing different personalities can be very stressful.

The greatest stress comes from situations in which the role you play is very different from the default personality you develop for yourself. Your default personality is the most comfortable one for you. So, the roles you play that are closest to your default personality are also the most comfortable for you.

In this diagram I show the default personality as “You” and the roles you play in relation to it. Some roles are closer, some further away.

For example, we often hear about the actor or politician who is really shy: Such a person puts on an outgoing personality when needed, but has a default personality that is much more shy.

You can see that this could be quite stressful.

There are three methods for addressing the problem of “space” between your default personality and the roles you play.

  • First, you can move the roles you play closer to your default personality.
  • Second, you can move your default personality closer to your roles.
  • Third, you can develop ways to accept the roles you play and find ways to accept the “space.” This is the least satisfying route as the natural tension will always exist and you will always be working to reduce the stress.

Perhaps the lowest stress combination exists when the “you” at work and the “you” at home and all the other you’s are all very similar. Thus you don’t have the stress of putting on a mask and putting on a show.

But most of us have a great deal invested in our personalities. Bringing those personalities together and making them consistent takes a great deal of work. Hard work, really, because it means we have to make changes to our default personality as well as all the other roles we play.

You Are Who You Say You Are. So, Who Do You Say You Are?

This is where personal goal-setting and quiet time come in. Personal goal-setting starts with the basic question of who you want to be. When you look down the road five or ten years, how would you like to see yourself? Don’t focus on how to get there! That comes later. Start by simply creating a vision of what you want to be.

Quiet time is the most powerful tool you have for reaching your goals. The benefits are two-fold. First, by sitting and giving yourself time to think about what you want, you begin to draw pictures of your future self. You make an outline and begin filling in the details. Second, the process of quietly thinking about where you want to go will result in moving in that direction. Even if you never create an elaborate step-by-step plan, having a vision of your future self will move you in that direction.

You will be a different person five years from now. Time will march on. Change will come whether you like it or not. The economy will ebb and flow. People will change, work will change, social settings will change.

It is up to you to choose: Will you simply float along for the next five years, with your default personality defined as a series of reactions to what’s going on around you? Or will you choose who you will become and use the change all around you to move in that direction?

I hope you’ll choose the second option. And begin today by spending a little quiet time working on it. See the meditation below.

Spiritual living is a fulfillment
from moment to moment,
in which the outer person is in
a state of living rapport
with the inner being
and becomes an extension thereof.”
— N. Sri Ram

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Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

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