In a psychology class in college, somehow the topic came up that sometimes we can’t always be ourselves. The guy next to me was completely baffled by this. “How can you not be yourself?” he said, every syllable accented by disbelief. I was instantly alert, far more than usual in undergrad psychology. I felt so strongly in every cell of my body, what it was like to not be able to be yourself. I envied the guy for honestly wondering how that kind of question could come up. Or was he just oblivious?
I spoke up and said forcefully that people could experience times when they couldn’t be themselves. The professor looked sad, and she said “People who can’t be themselves probably get depressed.” No one else in the class seemed interested in the topic and it ended there, with me feeling like I had just had a jolt of expresso and so much to say that I couldn’t articulate.
I am completely absorbed in On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers. He is addressing this very question and it is transforming for me to read. It seems that I needed to do a lot of prep before I read his works and before I could GET it the way I do now. It is so basic, so fundamental, so important. Hardly anyone knows about it. Rogers is easily mocked as an overly positive therapist who repeats things back to people and the core of his approach is forgotten.
To truly be yourself is to immerse yourself in a physiologically whole experience, a flow of feelings states that are wholly in awareness, accepted, and therefore, balanced. Every moment is new and the self is fully present in each new experience. Every feeling is experienced exactly when it occurs, not variously suppressed, distorted, or experienced in retrospect. Not only is the whole self accepted, physiologically and psychologically, it is trusted as well. If we are in the right environment where we feel received, we will naturally grow toward this state.
Self-acceptance, self-trust. Most of us have never truly felt this, especially women. I feel that the biggest thing that gets in the way is the critical voice that so many of us carry with us. The voice that constantly compares, the perspective that there is a way I am supposed to look, a way I am supposed to behave. A preoccupation that focuses on what other people are thinking and feeling and expecting when they perceive us, and completely disregards how we feel about ourselves. The self becomes object.
We internalize the cultural values (even when we don’t agree with them) that say we should be attractive, we should be ’successful’ in terms of material wealth, we should embody the values of an individualistic culture, yet not be too different from anyone else, and we should be in a romantic relationship, etc.
Everyone tries to measure up, deep down most everyone feels they are not good enough, and those who have achieved all these things are wondering why they aren’t happier. There is constant need for reassurance in the face of constant self-evaluation and constant evaluation of other-in-relation-to-self. Many of us are understandably too afraid or cut off to experience and express the parts of ourselves that do not fit in the self we have structured, or our parents have structured, or society has structured. Our self is so structured that we become fixed, static, only filtering in the information that fits a narrow definition of self and is influenced by past experiences.
Somehow the internalized critical voice must be overthrown and dissociated states of being re-integrated, which can happen in a relationship of unconditional acceptance. During the gradual shift from self-as-object to self-as-being, there is the amazement, the fear, and the caution when we begin to discover our true selves- a state that is not fixed but always in process of becoming. There is a flow of experience, there is much less anxiety, there is freedom, there is acceptance and trust, there is the ability to truly connect. It is my goal to be mindful, to continue to hold this as an upmost priority. Before I become a therapist, a parent, or a true friend, I must first be able to be my self.