In our relationships, we often project an image of our “best self.” From an early age as we grow and mature in life, we continually develop a sense of our true self–who we are and what we believe and how we behave–the good, the bad and the ugly. As we begin to navigate relationships with others, we become keenly aware of other’s perceptions of us and how these perceptions influence our acceptance and approval. We seek positive esteem from those we begin to like and strongly desire approval and acceptance from those we love. In an effort to obtain the approval of those we highly value we can be tempted to project our best self rather than confidently reveal our true self. We all have fears that our true self (or aspects of our lives that don’t meet our own concept of ideal self) will not be met with acceptance or approval. In an effort to obtain approval and acceptance, we believe it necessary to project a different image–a mask–of what we consider to be our best self. That may mean in putting your best foot forward you omit information about yourself or you over embellish your strengths. In extreme cases, the desire for acceptance is so great that a person may lose touch with their true self and find it impossible to be authentic with themselves or others.
When we meet someone and begin to form a relationship it is natural to present our best version of ourself. We limit shared information and seek to determine first if it is “safe” to reveal our true self to the other person. As time passes, we cannot maintain a perfect projected image of self and as we begin to feel safe and accepted, we drop the “mask” of the projected best self. This is a critical time in our relationships. It is at this point we risk becoming vulnerable and known. And, although a risk, when we are our authentic self and we share all the facets of who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, it is only at this point that we can truly build a bond and know we are cared for as our true selves. Until this point, we cannot know if we are loved for who we truly are. Once we drop the mask and trust our partner, we begin to build true intimacy and move beyond infatuation to a deeper form of love and acceptance.
Problems arise when we are not in touch with who we really are and begin to believe our own “hype” of our projected image instead of taking a more realistic view of who we are and our imperfections and challenges. But in order to love ourselves and love another, it is imperative we be honest with ourself and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and honest with our partner with regard to who we are, what we believe and how we live our lives. The beauty of love is in its acceptance of the whole person and all of their “perfect imperfections.”
Have you experienced any difficulties with revealing your true self? Please share your stories in the comments below.