There exists a gap between who we are and who we believe we should be. Who we are is our “real self” (how we think, act, and look), and who we think we should be is our “ideal self” (who we would like to be).
Now… take a moment to stop reading and pinch yourself really hard. Do you feel pain? THAT is your real self. The YOU that can feel and experience pain. There’s nothing wrong with that. That doesn’t make you weak, and it doesn’t make you strong if you said it doesn’t hurt. It’s simply who you are.
Now… when those we love betray us, if we are honest with ourselves… yes…we hurt… Do you feel that? That is you who feels sadness, disappointment, anger, jealousy, and insecurity.
When we accomplish great things, we feel great! This is you who feels joy and pride for achieving goals. Our “real self” is not “bad” or “good”. It’s just who we are to our CORE. The one behind the mask. It is YOUR responsibility to know fully and embrace that person behind the mask.
And for many, accepting who we really are is difficult. It is difficult because we are constantly comparing who we are *now* with who we think we *should be* and USUALLY there’s a BIG GAP.
So we keep hiding who we are from those we love and care the most about (and sometimes even harbor unspoken and subconscious resentment towards them because we feel we can’t be ourselves around them), and this is a big reason why relationships fail. We are afraid to be REAL.
What’s more complicating is the fact that both our real self and our ideal self will change throughout our lives: the real self changes when we overcome challenges that bring us closer to our ideal self (this is GOOD!); our ideal self changes through culture, family, and environment (this could be good or bad depending on several factors).
In relationships, we tend to initially show up as closely to our ideal self as possible. We want to show our loved ones how wonderful we can, and want to be. As a child this got us attention and affection. As time goes by, however, parts of our real self start to show up. If we are loved unconditionally, this feels wonderful! If we aren’t… it can end up feeling like a shit show…
Our loved ones start to see the truth: We don’t actually have our shit together as much as we let on. We aren’t as clean, organized, or patient as we led our partner to believe. Yes, our shit stinks. Yes, we have bad morning breath. Yes, we are insecure, vulnerable, impatient, and scared of getting hurt… the list goes on… We are human.
Eventually though, we stop acting and start being “real”. This is natural and expected. We shouldn’t take it as a betrayal to see the “real” self of our partner show up as we become closer. It’s a beautiful unfolding!
What we should be paying attention to though, is the gap between the real self and the ideal self. How far is that gap between who our partner led us on to believe, and who they actually are? To be fair, YOU need to also consider how far that gap is between who YOU lead your partner on to believe, and who YOU *actually* are.
Ideally, you want that gap to be as minimal as possible so that as your relationship develops, your partner knows what they are getting into, and you allow your partner to know what they are signing up for. Embracing the “realness” can be a beautiful thing when the gap is small, and a HORRIFIC NIGHTMARE if the gap is large.
A smooth transition when the gap is small is usually a sign of a healthy relationship. The worst relationship is when the person you thought you were with turns out to be VERY different from who you thought they were (or vice versa). That will either require a very bumpy transition or the end of the relationship.
BUT.. whether we are in a relationship or not, our internal struggles (what make us feel crappy, insecure, inadequate, angry, etc.) usually stems from the GAP between who we are (are real self) and who we think we should be (our ideal self). Something inside us desires congruence between the two contrasting pieces of ourselves and if it is INCONGRUENT, we suffer internally. This suffering can spill over any potential for a true, meaningful relationship.
The closer we get to our ideal self, the happier we are with ourselves and with our lives. The problem with becoming closer to our ideal self is two fold: 1) You have to embrace your REAL self, know who that is, and accept it. And 2) the environment in which we place ourselves in will have a HUGE affect on who your “ideal self” is. We must be clear about who we are and where we came from. Is our environment congruent with the ideal person we see ourselves to be? Does our environment nurture and support us to become the person we aspire to be?
Carl Rogers originally came up with this theory, arguing that we behave the way we do based on how we perceive our situations. This is why our environment means so much. Who do we surround ourselves with? You will be just like the people you spend the most time with.
If we were to compare ourselves to flowers,
what soil are we allowing our roots to embed themselves in?
Read that again.
The point is, the distance between who you want to be and who you really are is going to be the source of your suffering or joy, and YOU get to choose ALL OF IT. YOU get to pick how you’re gonna feel about anything that happens to you in your life. YOU get to pick where you spend your time. YOU get to pick the person you want to be, and YOU get to pick how you’re gonna get there. And where you are RIGHT now, and how you feel RIGHT now… it’s all on YOU.