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We all carefully cultivate the image we present to the world. That image often changes depending on the situation and who we’re presenting it to. The common denominator is that the goal is to present the image that best accomplishes our goal, whether to be admired, pitied, liked or wanted.

Often we enhance that image by embellishing the truth, or adding outright falsehoods. Things to make us seem more mysterious, more accomplished, more alluring. We do that even with those we care about most in our lives; sometimes our motivation in those cases is not so much to impress but not to disappoint.

It is very rare indeed that we show our true face to anyone completely. There’s a good reason for that; revealing who we really are makes us incredibly vulnerable. This is where we can be truly hurt – our true selves ridiculed, disliked, not loved – not the way we want to be. It becomes very difficult for us to open up truly.

And yet we want to be liked for who we are as well. This is one of the great contradictions of human nature; we want so much to be liked as is and yet we spend so much time creating this façade. It almost seems like we’re working against ourselves, trying to be a person others would like us to be, rather than who we really are. We work at cross purposes with ourselves.

Still, those masks we wear sometimes crack. It’s tough keeping up appearances, after all. Sooner or later our true selves make an appearance. Often this ruins friendships or wrecks relationships. Often the complaint in relationships that she/he changed is actually a case where the façade came off and the real person inside emerged. They hadn’t really changed at all – they just revealed their true selves.

Part of the problem is that we don’t trust others to like us for who we are. We feel the need to impress, conforming to a certain aspect that others show us. They like motorcycles? We become Hell’s Angels. Are they into English folk music? We just became Fairport Convention’s biggest fans. Do they like the beach? We learn how to surf.

It truly is amazing what we do for the approval of others. We become who they want us to be, usually at the expense of who we are. It’s a tricky situation; sometimes in becoming who they want us to be we integrate that into who we are. Our need for that person’s approval is so great that we incorporate it into our own personalities; it’s kind of sick when you think about it.

But nobody can keep up a fiction forever. Really becoming our persona is a rare occurrence; it is more common for our personas to break down and crack open. These fissures start out small and slowly grow until we are unable to hold the fiction together. Often it’s a relief as we are finally allowed to be ourselves.

Sometimes it is necessary in order to attract the attention of others to appeal to their sense of vanity, to create a common ground where one might not exist otherwise. Sometimes it’s the only way to create that bond, and once created in many cases we can be forgiving of a little bit of deception.

Not always however and not when cut from whole cloth. There needs to be at least a glimpse of the real you inside the mask otherwise the leap from persona to person is too great to reconcile. There is a middle ground that allows us to appeal to the person who we are interested in while remaining at the core ourselves.

That’s a tight line to walk though. It’s usually best to stick to who we are as much as we can. Not all of us can be a great actor, an Al Pacino or a Meryl Streep. We are much better at playing the part we know best – ourselves.


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