Sally grew up in house where everyone was serious and reserved. Sally was very outgoing. She loved to laugh, try new things, have fun, and always had an opinion. Sally was frequently told she was too loud, too silly, too outspoken, and that she made people tired. Eventually, she decided that since everyone around her seemed to be the opposite of her, she must be the one that was wrong. So she started being quieter, more reserved, trying her best not to bring attention to herself or annoy anyone. She became a people pleaser extraordinaire, always going with the flow, and trying to be the type of person she thought others enjoyed being around. As Sally grew from a child to an adult, she began to feel anxious a lot of the time. She struggled to really know who she was or what she felt, and avoided any in-depth, long term relationships because she feared if anyone spent enough time with her they would not like what they saw. She became not just guarded, but totally in control of what she said, did, and let people see of her.
I think Sally’s story is way too common. Perhaps the details are a little different- maybe you are naturally more reserved, but feel like you have to be super perky and outgoing or people won’t like you- but I would venture to guess that to some degree we all hear ourselves in Sally’s story. Like Sally, we sometimes fear not being enough or being too much, and as a result, we censor and tailor ourselves. We mistakenly think we have to trade authenticity for connection.
When we make this type of trade, we end up seeking connection with others by staying out of true connection. What exactly does this look like in our relationships? It looks like people pleasing, overfunctioning, enabling, talking too much, staying quiet, oversharing, keeping an overscheduled social life, etc. We engage with others but only to the degree that we think is safe. It “looks” like we are sharing and connecting with others, but really we are only exposing parts of ourselves. We let people see and hear what we think they want to see and hear rather than being open and showing our true selves.
So how do we (the Sallys of this world) get out of this cycle? We identify the lies that we have grown to believe over the years and replace them with the truth: we are beautifully, wonderfully, and intentionally created beings. We take small baby steps towards getting to know ourselves and letting others see our silly or pensive or tender sides. We connect with others, not out of fear, but out of wanting to be known and to know another. We believe that real is better than fake and that authenticity and vulnerability are the only way to form true connection. We leap into the outstretched arms of Grace and find peace and acceptance.
Have you ever felt like Sally? How would your life be different if you stopped censoring and tailoring everything you said and did? How did/are you freeing yourself from the roles you play in relationships and learning to engage in true connection by practicing openness, authenticity, and vulnerability?