Anxiety About How to Be Myself
It may seem like it should be dead easy to figure out how to be myself. But the fact is, it’s often not that easy at all.
Why is it so hard? Shouldn’t it just be a matter of getting up, going through my daily routine at work, interacting with the people I care about in my life — and getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow?
The trouble is that we can be haunted by questions about ourselves that can be very hard to answer. Questions like, “Am I doing the things I do because they make me happy — or am I doing them to please someone else?”
When we start to realize that there may be immense pressure on us to meet the expectations of others, the question of “how to be myself” starts to seem more complex. Then we might start wondering whether the things we do as part of our daily routine are really what we like, or a result of the ways in which we’ve internalized the expectations of others: “Dad always voted for XYZ political party, and I always vote for them, too.” “In this neighbourhood, everybody drives an SUV.”
There can also be a big question about the less well known or undiscovered parts of ourselves. We tend to think that we know ourselves pretty well, and that we know what we want, and yet it can often be that we confront new, undiscovered or forgotten parts of ourselves at different key points in our lives.
Authenticity and Integrity
The question of “how to be myself” is fundamentally linked to ideas of authenticity and integrity. Authenticity refers to behaving and outwardly acting in accord with the nature of the true self. Jungian psychiatrist John Beebe defines integrity as:
1. an inner psychological harmony or wholeness;
2. a conformity of personal expression with psychological reality… of the outer with the inner self; and,
3. an extension of wholeness and conformity with time, through thick and thin [italics mine].John Beebe, Integrity in Depth
What both these concepts share is the idea that the outer person should be consistent with the inner, and this is fundamental to the idea of being myself. We would say that a person is “being him- or herself” when we sense that the outer “presentation” or way of being of the person seems consistent with their inner being — with the whole inner way in which that person experiences her- or himself.
How can we respond to our outer lives in a way that is consistent with our inner selves? It sounds like it should be easy — but sometimes it’s not.
One key time when the question of how to be myself may become front and center is during major life transitions. It’s often the case that going through a major transition, such as the midlife transition, or a major career change, can bring questions like “Who am I, really?” right to the surface.
Anxiety and the Struggle to be Myself
The fact is that we have to watch carefully to keep our outer state consistent with what we most deeply think and feel. Sometimes, this can bring us anxiety, especially when it’s new and unfamiliar. Sometimes, we might have to fly right into the face of our own uncertainty, or the expectations of others.
Yet, much more intense experiences of anxiety may occur when we force ourselves to behave in ways that are at odds with who we most fundamentally are. If we find ourselves inexplicably anxious in an on-going basis, it may be important to ask ourselves whether the life we’re leading outwardly is genuinely reflective of who we are, deep in our interior. This can be particularly true during important transitions like the midlife transition. At times like that, an individual can either feel that he or she is moving in a direction that is consistent with a basic sense of who he or she most basically is, or else that person can feel marooned in a life script that is not their own.
Sometimes, we might even completely refuse to face or even acknowledge the question of “How to be myself?” People may seek to do all they can to avoid or deny the question of fundamental identity or selfhood. But it may well be that issues of authenticity and fundamental integrity will make their presence felt in the form of anxiety, depression, somatic effects or bodily illness.
Your True Self Does Exist!
An important part of dealing with the question of “How to be myself?” is recognizing that my true self does exist. Not only Jungians and /a-midlife-transitions, but therapeutic perspectives like Internal Family Systems have come to share this perspective. There is a part of me that really holds what I authentically am, even though it can be extraordinarily hard to have a concept or a mental model of it.
The call of the Self is something very real. Working on recognizing and responding to its voice is a very important part of a supportive and discerning /a-midlife-transition relationship. In turn this is an integral part of our fundamental journey to wholeness.