You know the feeling you get when someone leans over to you, looks you in the eye, and says “I’ve never told anyone this before…”?
It’s thrilling in a way, isn’t it? Like you’ve been invited into an exclusive world, where your ability to be trustworthy and non-judgmental have granted you access to a secret place. This person has decided that you, above ALL others, are the person that should be privy to this secret. It’s a gift that makes you feel significant.
One of the core, almost instinctual fears we are all born with is the fear of being insignificant. For many, this fear lies dormant for the first few stages of childhood, when the brain is still wired to believe that you are the centre of the Universe. Then critical thinking and a higher level of perception develop, and through this you come to realise that you are not the centre of everything.
The planet is a small grain of sand on an endless beach. You are a speck among billions of other specks on this grain of sand. Your lifetime is a blink of energy that quickly subsides. It’s fairly easy to feel insignificant when all of this is considered. When faced with this overwhelming sense of smallness, many turn to a Higher Power in order to make sense of the apparent pointlessness of life.
The most painful thing I see people experience is complete emotional isolation, most commonly known as loneliness. The perception of being a small, isolated creature, disconnected from everyone else, unable to connect to the larger Universe. Whatever someone’s problem is with themselves, it’s usually amplified massively by the added belief of “I’m the only one who feels this way”. We crave understanding and connection.
Ironically, the reason you believe that no-one else understands you or suffers like you is because you hide it. Often what happens in childhood is that we try to be shameless and share some part of ourselves with others. They then react negatively to this, such as teasing, bullying and ostracising. You take this as proof that the real you is something that must be hidden. It never even occurs to you to re-test this later in life.
Let’s say your favourite colour is red. One day you tell your father “I love red”, and he beats the crap out of you, saying “Red is for pussies, real men wear blue”. You can’t imagine your father being wrong, plus you don’t want another beating. So you put on your blue clothing and all the people who like blue say “That’s a nice shirt”. Combined with your father’s ‘feedback’, you start to believe that you should like blue; it seems to get the best response from people. Yet all the people who love red walk right past you, believing you are a blue person. You start to believe no-one loves red.
Imagine instead of red and blue, we’re talking about beliefs, ideas, insecurities, fears, weaknesses, strengths, and all the other factors that combine to make you You. Every time you hide, minimise, fake it or otherwise cover over these truths about yourself, your ideal connections fail to see you. You become camouflaged. Even worse, while you’re hiding from your ideal connections, poor-quality connections think you are right for them, because what you show is their preferred qualities. Basically, you attract the wrong people and push away the right people, without even realising this is happening.
I spent most of my life ‘wearing blue’ while secretly being ‘red’. In practical terms, I came to apply a kind of filter to my expression of self. I would allow certain parts of me to show, while hiding others. The parts I was happy to show were my humour (often to mask pain and insecurity), my desire to help people, and my caring and compassion.
The parts I chose to hide were my troubles, pains, sexual desires, insecurities, fears, and about 80 percent of my true emotions (e.g. anger, confusion, hatred, disgust, offence, fear, anxiety and depression).
Because I hid so much of myself, I had to fill in the gaps. The ‘good’ side of me seemed to only be a small portion, so I had to add more in order to present as a whole person. I did this by becoming an absolute fucking liar.
I pretended I cared about things that didn’t interest me, in order to placate the people I wanted to like me. I developed a performance whereby it seemed like nothing affected me emotionally. As already mentioned, I overused humour to fill in gaps where insecurity wanted to come out. My speciality was making fun of myself to secretly express self-loathing. As long as they laughed, my secret was safe. I judged others to seem aloof and feel powerful. I avoided conflict to make sure fear and sadness never showed.
All of this was a performance I developed with one goal in mind: To connect with other people.
I figured that if I could just create the perfect identity, I would be able to finally impress people enough for them to love me, therefore creating that connection I had been missing for most of my life.
Note: I was actually lucky enough to have a couple of people in my life who I didn’t fake it around. These people were like an oasis in the desert. Many people I speak to who are not authentic don’t even have a couple of real friends, which must suck so much worse!
For the longest time, it never occurred to me that I was behaving differently with the few people I felt actually connected to. I spent so much time trying to please strangers without asking myself how I had made the real friends in the first place. When I did finally look, I immediately saw a common thread:
The only people I didn’t feel isolated around were people who knew my secrets. The ones who knew that I was stressed, or afraid, or confused, or angry, or horny. The ones I didn’t feel the compulsion to impress were the ones who loved the worst things about me.
But instead of realising that sharing the worst about me is why they loved me, I continued for a long time to somehow believe these were just exceptional cases, and that everyone else had to see a polished presentation, instead of the Real Me.
At the start I asked you how it feels when someone shares their deepest secrets with you, that sense of connection and pride you feel about being special to someone. This feeling does not happen when someone tells you about the surface level things they enjoy. This feeling does not happen when someone tells you that they feel “Fine”. This feeling certainly does not occur when you feel like someone is hiding the truth from you.
The biggest social insight I’ve ever had is this: we connect most deeply when we share our suffering. Your insecurities, fear, desires and shame – your dark side – are what you will be loved for. Not because you are weak, but because you had the strength to share these with another person. To choose them; to make them feel special.