Are You Putting on an Act?

Lights! Camera! Action! When the spotlight of life is focused on you, what do people see? Are you an actor just playing a role or are you the “real thing?” Are you willing to let people see who you really are? Hollywood actors are paid big bucks to portray a make-believe character on the screen, but there are many people outside of “Tinsel Town” who put on a very convincing act every day without ever being paid a dime. In fact, many of them pay a high price. 

You don’t have to be a Hollywood star or public figure to be concerned with the way others perceive you. All of us are involved in personal image management to some degree, and in most cases, this is perfectly normal. In fact, thinking about who you will be with and what you will be doing is a reasonable way to determine what “image” to put on by dressing and behaving appropriately in a given situation. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with putting your best foot forward in order to make the best impression possible. However, some people go too far to prevent others from seeing their “real self.” They hide behind a manufactured image trying to win approval, recognition and acceptance. Unfortunately, while keeping up the charade, many people end up compromising their own personal values and needs. 

People most likely to mask their real self are those who are overly concerned about what others think of them. They rehearse conversations in advance to avoid looking foolish, or they mentally revisit and analyze past interactions, often becoming embarrassed or angry with themselves because they wish they had said or done something differently. 

“Masking” can be expressed by only saying what you think others want to hear, not asking for help in order to avoid feeling incompetent, withholding your ideas and opinions because they may not be valued or well received, or ignoring your true feelings because you don’t want to upset someone, fall under the scrutiny of social media’s “cancel culture” or appear weak and vulnerable. The fear underlying the motivation to mask your thoughts and feelings comes from the belief that people will not accept or approve of you just the way you are. 

It isn’t easy to overcome fears of rejection and criticism, and it can be very self-defeating and painful to believe that you don’t measure up. If you struggle with putting on an act for others and want to change, here are some basic, practical strategies to help you begin the process. 

First, regularly remind yourself that you would worry a lot less about what people think about you if you realized how infrequently they really think about you. Frankly, most others are focused on their own image management and don’t have time to analyze your every word or action.

Next, make an honest assessment of yourself. If you have habits or characteristics that you don’t like, work on changing them. Are you shy and awkward talking to people? Take a class in public speaking or join a group which shares your interests and gives you an opportunity to converse about a topic that excites you. Do you feel intimidated around highly informed, intelligent people? Try reading articles of interest and good books to expand your knowledge. Are you unhappy with your body image? Talk to your doctor about how make healthy changes and act on his or her advice. As you work on yourself, remember, everyone has weaknesses, including the people you are working so hard to please. 

Of course, there are some things about yourself that you cannot change, and that’s where acceptance comes in. Accepting yourself can be extremely liberating, especially when you discover that other people are more willing than you realize to accept you as well. Ironically, it is usually our weaknesses – and our efforts to overcome them – that draw others to us. 

It is also critically important that you understand and accept the fact that you will not be approved of or liked by everyone you meet. Everyone has different expectations and preferences, so trying to be all things to all people will only result in confusion, frustration and disappointment. Do what you can to be your best, and if it’s not good enough for someone else, remember that it’s their choice – and their loss. 

Maybe the most powerful strategy you can use to enhance your image is practicing acceptance of others. As you turn the spotlight off yourself and focus on accepting and appreciating the people you meet, you will experience more confidence, more openness and more sincerity in your relationships. 

They say a friend is someone who knows you well and loves you anyway. Every human being needs to be loved and to feel worthwhile and competent. It is through genuine relationship that these needs are ultimately met. 

Now, where’s that camera?  Let’s get a shot of the “REAL YOU!” 

Live, Work and Relate Well! 

Dr. Todd

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