I have always been fascinated by the malleability of humankind. I'm not referring to our adaptability to situations and environments. I'm actually referring to the more troubling definition of the word.
I am calling attention to our overwhelming penchant toward conformity and, consequentially, misrepresentation. It seems we are all overpowered by an irrepressible desire to be accepted, even if it means losing sight of who we are. We are OK with being revered for who we are not.
We are so afraid to be ourselves that we would rather be complete strangers, as long as said stranger is socially acceptable. That being said, we can't be blamed as individuals for having this proclivity toward approbation. Almost all of us are guilty of putting on fronts. We do this for a number of reasons:
1. Unrealistic Societal Ideals
The first is, of course, to comply with the unrealistic guidelines set forth by the society in which we live. From a young age, the societal pressure thrust upon us is exacting. We are told to “be ourselves.”
Yet, from the moment we are old enough to harbor social interactions, everything we do or say – and even the way we look and dress –is subject to harsh scrutiny. We are unknowingly being molded.
The truth is, we are never truly meant to be who we are, at least not out loud. Those same people who are instructing us to be ourselves are the very ones enforcing the importance of abiding by pre-set societal prototypes. They are essentially conditioning us to fit cookie-cutter societal molds.
We must behave in a certain way in order to be rewarded and deemed “good.” Any deviation from these pre-approved templates renders us unsatisfactory, problematic and out of control.
We therefore spend our school-age years by living under the conviction that fitting in is of unparalleled importance. We modify our actions, words and physical appearances in the hopes of fitting the status quo. Ultimately, we want to be accepted.
Essentially, a fear of being different is inculcated in us. This aversion paralyzes us into submission, where most of us remain for the rest of our lives.
These schemas are only further reinforced by the heavy influence of carefully crafted media indoctrination that is eerily and progressively omnipresent in our lives. We cannot be blamed for feeling pressured to modify ourselves when we are constantly bombarded by images of fabricated realities and unattainable ideals.
These are incessant reminders of our shortcomings. Of course, we continue to alter ourselves. We continue to strive for these implausible goals, but we always fall short.
It is in no way a surprise that self-concealment is an increasingly recurring theme in a society laden with this type of pressure. Regrettably, the ultimate goal of being completely and totally accepted is out of reach. In fact, most of us will spend the majority our lives feeling inadequate due to our inability to satisfy all facets of these idyllic paradigms.
This is the fear of being vulnerable. Like physical masks, our figurative ones serve to conceal those aspects of ourselves that we wish to hide from the world. Our facades present us with an invaluable opportunity for self-protection. They act as multi-purpose safety blankets, shielding us from a merciless world of quixotic expectations and unremitting judgment.
Hiding behind false projections imparts us with a certain level of refuge (or so we think). We are scared of projecting weakness, so we falsely portray ourselves as strong, indomitable beings, void of emotions and fears. We behave in a way that will ultimately lead others to believe we are unshakeable. We believe they can't perforate our rigid shells.
Unfortunately, by doing this, we are repressing the very nature of our beings and the aspects that make us who we are. It is the vulnerability of emotion that makes us beautiful. It makes us human, and it makes us real.
I suppose we simply edit our reality in order to portray a more powerful image: one that others will respect and admire. In a world dominated by hierarchical oligarchies, I suppose we are simply trying to make our mark and make our way to the top by asserting our own power and dominance. Perhaps masking the elements of our inner beings that render us fragile allows us to assume a more presiding position among our peers.
If we examine our behavior more carefully, it is evident that this longing for respect and authority is essentially synonymous with our insatiable desire for acceptance. Being perceived as strong and powerful by those around us provides us with the gratification we so desperately seek in order to feel adequate in the cutthroat society in which we live.
It is truly disconcerting that we feel we must obscure our weaknesses in order to obtain the praise and respect that we believe will ultimately lead to acceptance. It could be that when we focus on receiving acceptance from others, we forego the need to accept ourselves. This task is too difficult for most of us to face.
3. Facing Ourselves
This brings me to the final reason we misrepresent ourselves, a different type of fear. It is, in my opinion, the most consuming and debilitating fear of all.
It is the fear of facing our true selves. Despite the difficulties we encounter while searching for acceptance from others, it is infinitely more difficult to accept oneself. I think most of us can agree that the saying, “You are your own worst critic” holds a great deal of veracity.
We must accept that the facades we put on are not just put into place to fool others. They are there to fool ourselves as well.
I guess the biggest question is, What are we so afraid of? Perhaps we fear the realization that the ideal we so desperately strive to become is nothing but an illusion. It could be that we know our true selves are not as readily acceptable as our carefully-crafted editions.
Or maybe we fear the unknown. It is possible we are afraid of what we may find beyond the realm of fairytales and fake smiles. When the masks are stripped away, we are left to face who we truly are. The smoke and mirrors are no longer there to distort our perceptions. It can be bewildering if the person looking back at us is one we're not proud of.
All things considered, it is easy to understand why we pretend. We would rather trick ourselves and run from the things within us that are too ugly or too difficult to face than tackle them head on. So, we continue the charade: for society and for ourselves. Again, this is all in the hopes of obtaining the one thing we seek above all else: acceptance.
Let's come to terms with the fact that we're not the faultless characters we so hopelessly strive to become. Let's come to terms with the fact that we never will be.
Let's stop lying. Let's stop pretending. Let's stop running. Instead, let's start accepting each other.
Let's start accepting ourselves. Let's stop fueling the fire by buying into society's ridiculous standards of who we should be.
Let's eradicate the judgment and expectations that perpetuate this vicious circle and force us into self-denial. Let's free ourselves and each other from the prison that is the incessant longing for unattainable ideals.
Let's do it for ourselves. Let's do it for each other. Let's do it for the impressionable youth who are growing up with self-image issues, perpetuated by society's disapproval of imperfection. Let's do it for those who need to know that who they are is more than good enough.
Let's be the kind of people who don't need deception and trickery to win others over because the goodness in our hearts speaks for itself. Let's be the kind of people who don't need to run from themselves because they are proud of the people looking back at them in the mirror.
Let's be who we are. Let's be honest. Let's be true. Let's be the acceptance we have sought for so long.
This post was originally published on the author's personal blog.