Well, we all have a face That we hide away forever And we take them out And show ourselves when everyone has gone Some are satin, some are steel Some are silk and some are leather They’re the faces of a stranger But we’d love to try them on
– Billy Joel, The Stranger
We all have an inner reality and an outer presentation. For some, the difference between the two is insignificant: for better or for worse what you see is what you get. With these folks, you know where you stand and you know what to expect. And you can take it or leave it. But most of us have a gap between our inner universe, our true thoughts and feelings (our own Private Idaho), and what we show to the world. Why do we do that? What do we gain from projecting a version of ourselves that we know is different from our reality? Different than how we feel inside? There are many reasons why we might decide to present an inauthentic version of ourselves: a lack of confidence, social, cultural, or religious expectations, a desire to be more like the person we are presenting, a lack of self-awareness or a clear picture of whom we want to be for ourselves, a desire for approval, fear of abandonment, fear of judgment, and more. But from a wellness perspective, what is the cost of presenting a masked version of ourselves to the world instead of our authentic selves?
It precludes the experience of true joy. True joy is a product of wholeness, meaning, fulfillment, and integration of the most important parts of yourself. When we fracture our identity, true joy becomes much more elusive.
It increases loneliness. Most of us want more than anything to be seen, heard, and loved for who we truly are. That kind of belonging is one of the most powerful wellness drivers we know of. But to experience that kind of acceptance and belonging, you have to interface with the world via your authentic self. Otherwise, whatever acceptance you receive is based on the masked you as opposed to the essential you.
It distracts us from doing the real work: getting in touch with ourselves. When we are afraid to be ourselves – if we fear judgment, shame, rejection – it means we have some inner work to do. We need to look at how we see ourselves, how we view our value, our worth, our purpose. We need to listen to the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and who we should be. And we need to get in touch with who we most want to be.
It reinforces the belief that the perceptions of others are the primary driver of our self-worth (hello, social media).
It creates a cognitive dissonance that can increase our stress levels and negatively impact our mental and physical health.
How Do We Bridge the Gap?
It is natural and normal to have some gap between our inner and outer lives. We don’t need to share everything with everybody. Some things are meant to be shared only with those we are closest to and trust the most or reserved for prayer and meditation. However, the gap becomes a problem when we are hiding parts of ourselves that we really wish we could share more openly. It becomes a problem if the things we don’t share leave us feeling like we are living half of a life or living without integrity. The line in the sand is not what you choose to share or not share, but living with intention and from a place of self-respect and self-worth. The following series of questions can facilitate the exploration of the relationship between your inner and outer self. You can answer the questions by yourself or, if you have a willing partner, you can both do the exercise and share insights with each other. I recommend writing down the answers instead of simply thinking them in your mind.
Outside (explore some or all of these questions)
What words might people use to describe you?
How do you contribute or have an impact on your community?
What characteristics do people see when they look at you?
What roles do you play?
Inside (explore some or all of these questions)
What words are most important when you describe your true self?
What would someone not know by looking at you?
What are some of your underutilized gifts or something you have always dreamed of doing?
I am embarrassed to tell people…
Spend some time reflecting on what surprised you about what you wrote.
Where are the differences between the inside and the outside you? What does that have to teach you?
Where are the connections, overlaps, and synchronicities between the inside and the outside you? What do they have to teach you?
Where are the through lines that help you see the connections between your inner and outer lives?