Don’t Strive to Be Liked; Strive to Be Authentic

Photo credit: Col·legi Oficial Infermeres 

Here’s a little secret about me. I still struggle with some big insecurities.

All of you who know me well are laughing right now because this is no secret to you. They come out the most strongly when I’m under alot of stress, or am facing something new or challenging. Almost all of my insecurities are rooted in my childhood fears:  am I enough?  Is there a place for me in this world where I truly belong?  Am I seen?  Am I loved?  And at my core:  am I likeable?

Thanks to alot of shadow work, therapy, and battling my demons, these insecurities have subsided to a level where I can function quite well in my daily life. The majority of the time I don’t pay as much attention when thoughts flood my head from these reservoirs of lack and “not enoughness” hidden away in my ego.

However, as I have grown into a skilled watcher of myself and the way my mind works, I have noticed a phenomenon about me.  When I am in brand new situations where I’m not completely confident in my skills or abilities, it is very easy for those insecurities to rise up and take over, and suddenly I am interacting with the world around me through my child-self once again.

Have any of you ever experienced the following:  you leave home as an adult, live life on you own as a competent, secure, confident person who stands up for what is important to you, and then……you go home to the people and places you grew up with and suddenly you regress to who you were back then?  It’s like a switch is flipped and this other personality, the one that you tried to rid yourself of for so long, comes right back out?  It’s like your family and people from your past still see you as that young, immature person you once were, and somehow them still perceiving you that way causes you to transform instantly back into that person?

I think this is a version of the Pygmalion or Golem effects in a way; it’s like how people perceive you in some circumstances literally controls how you view your own self and how you act in those situations.  And it’s maddening, frankly.

I’ve always wondered why this happens to me – why am I triggered by my family, childhood home, and new situations to revert back to someone that is no longer representative of who I am now, the real me at my core?  And am I getting some kind of subconscious pay-off by continuing to allow this to happen?

A couple of months ago I started working at a local hospital as a brand new nurse. Stressful, unfamiliar new situation for sure. And sure enough, some of these old insecurities rose up again and my timid, low confidence, defer-to-everyone else self took over. It was pretty frustrating because I would no longer typically describe myself to be the cautious, introverted person I used to be so much of the time.

I love this new job, but it has been alot to take in with so much to learn in a fast paced environment.  As the first several weeks passed and I was on the floor learning the ropes and taking care of patients, I could feel the strong pull within myself to shrink back, to be super nice to everyone ALL the time, to make sure everyone’s needs were put before my own (not talking about patients here, but fellow colleagues), treating myself as though I was a wet-behind-the-ears newbie with no significant life experience.  Which, of course, is absolutely not true.  I may be new to nursing, but I am not new to life.

On one particular day, I had one of those periods of “If someone even looks at me I”m going to burst into tears.”  I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and my ADD was seriously in overdrive. My preceptor would give me instructions and I swear my brain would literally stop – I would retain nothing and would have to retreat to quiet corners of the unit to help my synapses start firing again.

I listen to audiobooks everyday as I drive to work, and as I so often do, I turned to Brené Brown to get some insight into this spazzy little mouse I was regressing into. I’ve done some wicked hard things over the last few years, I thought. I am way stronger and more confident than I ever used to be – why is the job making me such a pansy that feels like I have to please EVERY SINGLE PERSON I walk by every moment of the day?

Brené didn’t really give me the cause of my deep insecurities, but listening to her book The Gifts of Imperfection made me realize that I was working way too hard at ensuring that I was well-liked by everyone instead of striving to live out my authentic self.

This is exactly what I did as a child and young adult. I wanted to be accepted, included, liked…and so I did what I thought I needed to to have that happen.  Which usually involved me trying to tame my quirky personality, be super Christian girl who never did any wrong, and be uber polite and gracious to EVERYONE.  Two things I have learned from this:  it is exhausting, and trying to be who everyone wants while trying to squelch who you really are inside usually ends up in disaster.  Either you die a little more on the inside, or you find that those people you were trying to make like you aren’t going to like you anyway.

So, to my point:  I realized [thanks Brené!] that this was exactly what I’ve been doing in my new career. Something, maybe the stress or exhaustion or my lingering fear of failing, had triggered me into reverting into my old ways of viewing the world and behaving. I had slipped back into that dream-state where I was convinced everyone has to like me and I have to be perfect in all of my interactions with other people. But all of this was at the expense of me, myself, and I.

After I had this audiobook epiphany, I went to work with the resolve that I would choose being my authentic self over my need to be liked.  And can I just say, that in the last couple of weeks, it has made all the difference,  Suddenly my ability to learn and retain information has improved, I said what I thought more instead of mulling over every little thing to make sure it was received well by everyone. and I refused to engage in conversations that absolutely did not resonate with me just so others in the group would think I was nice and had the same interests they do.

Yesterday I had to call a particular doctor about a patient – he and I had never spoken before, just walked by each other. Later, my preceptor told me that the doctor had asked if I was new, and said that he was going to “test me”.  The “me” from a few weeks ago, in my timid mouse moments, would have been upset and worried – what if I prove my incompetence and he thinks I”m stupid?  But instead, this time I thought – Punk resident! Bring it on! I’m not playing this stupid hospital game where techs, nurses, and doctors test and intimidate the new person. I will continue to do the best that I can and be my authentic self. I will not cower under someone just because they think they are smarter, or more skilled, or are more powerful than me.  That’s no longer who I am.

At the end of the day, it is way more important to me that I go to bed knowing I lived out my true, authentic self. I’ve worked so hard in the past to be liked by everyone, and in the process was taken advantage of, walked over, and demeaned by plenty of people.  I want to be in relationship with people who appreciate who I am because it is who I am, not because they find copies of themselves when they look at me.

Finally, I don’t want others to feel like they have to change themselves in order to be in relationship with me. Obviously, in this diverse world we are going to encounter people that we just don’t like and will never get along with. But I think that’s OK – I would much rather people be genuine and true to themselves than feel like they have to live lies and wear facades just so we can all not cause each other any discomfort.

I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am now. It’s taken alot of painful excavating to discover the real me. I’m not prepared to bury that all again just for the sake of someone who has opinions about how things should go but has no history or vested interest in me. I hope all of you will strive for and hold on dearly to your own authenticity, too. Don’t let others be the ultimate judge of your “enough-ness”, value, or place in this world.