Be Yourself: How Do You Do It?3 min read

We’ve all heard refrains of “just be your­self” or “stay true to your­self,” but what does that actu­ally mean? How do you know when you aren’t being your­self? What are the steps you can take to actu­ally be your­self?

About two years ago, I had a mental break­down after years of depres­sion from masking and not under­standing why I seemed so dif­ferent from other people.

I started therapy knowing that I needed to get to the bottom of my behav­iors and keeping an open mind about what that might look like. I began won­dering why I did a task a cer­tain way or hid spe­cific behav­iors from others. That pon­dering trans­formed into a full inter­ro­ga­tion of self—I started asking myself these ques­tions at every oppor­tu­nity:

  • Who am I doing this for?
  • Who am I trying to please?
  • Who am I giving power over this?

If the answer wasn’t “me,” then I asked myself why and often learned about a new way I had let someone have power over me. In time, I answered “me” more fre­quently, and I started under­standing my own desires better.

I also fig­ured out that some­times the answer wasn’t a person; it was “society,” “tra­di­tion,” “rou­tine,” or another ambiguous, arbi­trary stan­dard. I found sev­eral answers easily; how­ever, many of my best intro­spec­tive moments came while writing and orga­nizing thoughts in a journal.

For example, I was lin­gering in my closet while dressing for work one morning. When I finally set­tled on an outfit, I was relieved that I could wear it because my boss was out of the office that week.

My boss hadn’t com­mented on that outfit in the past, and it’s actu­ally one of my favorites to wear; how­ever, it does rep­re­sent more of the “new me” rather than the “old me” my boss wishes I could be again.

I real­ized that I had let my boss have power over me in that instance. Why was I doing that? I knew I wouldn’t lose my job over that outfit (it was def­i­nitely not too casual or revealing for a pro­fes­sional set­ting). I was essen­tially choosing not to wear it pre­vi­ously because I might slightly annoy my boss if he saw me that day.

There are many oppor­tu­ni­ties for you to choose to be your­self; they occur more often than you realize, and all it takes is a slight pause to con­sider motives:

  • Can you wear that shirt? Who is saying that you can’t? Who are you doing that for?
  • Should you laugh at that joke? Do you want to laugh because others are laughing? Are you trying to please them at the expense of your­self?
  • Should you pro­mote that idea? Who are you trying to please? Who are you giving power by sharing that idea?
  • Can you use sparkly gel pens to edit tech­nical reports? Who will stop you? And who wouldn’t want to use sparkly pens anyway?! ✨😉✨

I didn’t find my true self instantly—it came slowly as I rec­og­nized more choices in more sit­u­a­tions. Six months after I first sat on my therapist’s couch and started asking those ques­tions, I real­ized I was autistic and had been unknow­ingly masking behav­iors for years. I began chip­ping away at my autistic mask the same way, and about 18 months later I knew enough about myself to come out as a trans­gender woman.

I under­stand that there are good rea­sons not to “be your­self,” like a trans­gender woman con­cerned about her safety in a public space, or an employee wor­ried about being rep­ri­manded.

My main point is that I had more con­trol than I real­ized, over more choices than I real­ized. I bet you can find many sim­ilar instances in your own lives where you can take back con­trol as well.

Who do you give power to?

Why?

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