It’s natural to feel tempted to present only the attractive, agreeable parts of yourself – we all want to be accepted, and even admired, by others. But the bigger the gap between the image you project and the “real you”, the less at ease you will feel – and the more fear you may have about being found out.
People who, instead, comfortably and openly share their “true selves” are typically happier, more at peace with themselves, and often enjoy healthier relationships.
By letting others really know them, they open themselves to other people who can truly relate to them. When those people also share their true selves, a relationship will develop through honest sharing, so the interactions will feel good and will naturally lead to a sense of closeness. Because they each feel accepted for who they really are, the relationship helps them to feel even better about themselves.
If serious problems arise, couples who acknowledge the problems and address them together will nurture an even tighter bond. By contrast, those who stop showing their honest reactions when conflicts arise – denying problems and presenting only agreeable responses – risk allowing unvoiced negative feelings to grow.
Consider this example: After a long day at work, Stephanie returns home to eat dinner that her partner Dan prepared, barely even engaging in conversation. Then she goes directly to bed, not even offering to help with the dishes. While Dan is sympathetic, he is aggravated by how this is part of a larger pattern of Stephanie taking him for granted. As a real people-pleaser, he has denied his building resentment, though it has led to a growing unhappiness in their relationship. Finally, the next day, he is honest, sharing his hurt and frustration with Stephanie. She responds defensively at first, but they eventually address the problem constructively.
Of course, just as Dan risked rejection when he shared his unhappiness with Stephanie, you risk rejection when you open yourself to others. No one likes being rejected, so this takes courage. And the more emotionally close you feel to someone, the harder it can be to leave yourself vulnerable. So, for instance, as hard as it is to be rejected by a potential partner, it can be harder to risk rejection by a longtime boyfriend or girlfriend. And the stakes are even higher when you make yourself vulnerable by risking rejection by a spouse. So, ignoring problems and pretending to be happy is completely understandable. This may even work fine in any particular situation, but over time, you may find the distance in your relationship growing, until you wake up one day to find that your friend, partner, or spouse is basically a stranger to you. Or, in a new relationship, by faking your best, understanding, interested self, you may find that you are in a relationship that really doesn’t work for you.
To clarify, being your “genuine” self does not mean that you need to share every thought and feeling. It is wise to assess each relationship for how close you want to be and how safe you feel. Also, you do not need to share your emotions in their rawest form. In fact, it’s important to be sensitive to the other person. This all involves a delicate balance. But when you are your genuine self while paying attention to how much is appropriate to share, you will feel greater inner peace and nurture emotionally close relationships.