Niamh Sheeran Ennis is a leading change and transformation coach, and she writes here about why we change our behaviour at times to fit in, and how to become more ‘you’…
Being your real and authentic self can feel very precarious now in our screen-obsessed, image-conscious world. We’re all just trying to fit in, to be liked, to belong and be accepted by other human beings. And as a result, the words we share and the images we put out there, have become portrayals of who we think we should be and not reflections of who we really are.
You can’t move these days but someone is shouting at you from your social media platform of choice to ‘be more authentic and real’. While it’s sound advice, few will ever tell you how, and more importantly why this is something you really should aim for.
WHY DO WE DIM TO FIT IN?
If you harbour a deep desire to become more authentic, to be confident enough to show up just as you are unapologetically, then the strong implication is that who you are now, is not. At the risk of this turning into an elaborate tongue-twister, but, “if you’re not being who you want to be, then the real question is who are you being and why?”
- Why do you find it easier to pretend to be someone you are not?
- Why do you let other family members dominate you and take you for granted?
- Why are you so willing to stay silent at work rather than use your voice to express your own opinion?
- Why do you crave belonging, to the point that you dim your light, just to fit in?
Dr Elizabeth McCrory, Consultant Psychologist and Spiritual Director suggests that the answer to this is because ‘being part of a group makes us feel safe and important. People are afraid of who they are, their true self, which is hidden deep inside them and are simply afraid to let that shine in case it makes them different or not part of ‘the group’. It is a great fear that if they let it out, they will be isolated from others. They start to believe that it’s better to stay silent. It’s easier and safer to be in the group than out of it. It’s exactly why so many people don’t shine until much later in life, because the first half is about the ‘external world’ and our need to find our feet and voice in it, which initially we find in the group.”
THE DIMMING STAGES
As a small child, you’re born believing that life is simple. If you were hungry or thirsty you simply cried. As you got older, you started to realise that if you wanted something you needed to be a little more strategic. If you wanted ice cream – you ought to be on your best behaviour at the shops. If you wanted to go out to play with your friends – you did some chores around the house. That worked for a while, but then the rules start changing again.
As teenagers, the idea of being different was abhorrent to you; which explains why you happily morphed into one another and copied each other’s appearances, tastes and attitudes. Harmony became your priority. You did this to be liked and accepted. You did it not to stand out. You did it to belong. You believed that if you wanted to fit in you needed to dim your light a little bit lower. You became more them and less you.
Later, when moving into your adult years, you find yourself craving to be different but you have lived so long being the same as everyone else you aren’t sure how.
Dr McCrory acknowledges this and refers to American development psychologist, Robert Kegan and his work on the 3rd stage of adult development known as the ‘Socialised Mind’ which represents a staggering 58% of all adults. This is the stage when we have outgrown the self-centred adolescent stage and are now more aware and influenced by the ideas, norms and beliefs of external sources – our family, workplace and society. We’re incredibly concerned with the opinions and expectations of others and our behaviour conforms with the dominant culture. In this stage, we don’t have a strong sense of self and therefore look outside for validation asking “what do you think of me?”.
This marks that time in your life when you’ve sacrificed your own identity for so long, just to fit in, that you’ve totally lost yourself and also when you know it’s time to rediscover who you are. No more shrinking into places or people that you’ve outgrown just to please others.
Notice those that make you feel less, just so that they can feel more, these are not your people.
SHOW OTHERS WHAT YOU EXPECT AND DESERVE
Remember that you teach other people just how to treat you, by how you treat yourself. So, if you hide because you don’t want to be seen, or stay silent because you believe what you have to say is not worth hearing, then others will see that in you too and respond accordingly. They will meet you where you are at, and if that’s not who you are, then they simply won’t know where to meet you.
Dr McCrory adds here that “in Irish society for so long we were encouraged to play it safe and not to shine. We were reared not to have ‘notions’ or to get above ourselves and most definitely never to draw attention to ourselves. We, and let’s be honest, particularly women, were inculcated with the messages to stay small. If you were really good at something, be quiet about it and just keep your head down”.
But when you do learn to find your voice and start to speak from your heart, you are also showing others just how to do the same. So, spend time thinking about how it is you want to show up, think about the woman you want to become and start being her. Because nobody else can.
When you dim to fit in, you become less of who you are, and certainly, much less of who you want to be. When you stop being who you think they want you to be, and start being whoever it is you need to be, that’s when the freedom comes. That’s when you find your light again and really learn just how to show up and shine.