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Why is it so challenging to show up authentically, as we really are? Why do we hide behind masks, personas and appear fake and phony so much of the time?

Everyone is born authentic. The human condition, i.e., life, often requires many folks to separate from their innate, authentic, natural and spontaneous self – beginning in childhood and moving through adolescence and into adulthood. So, “Who am I, really?” becomes a meaningful and purposeful question.

Many of us don one mask or personality when we’re alone and other masks in the various groups, settings, events and circumstances we encounter along life’s path – at work, at play, at home, and in our relationships. We often become confused souls. Role-playing is stressful and exhausting on many levels – mental, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.  The truth is, many of us don’t really know who we really are.

Everyone experiences insecurity – everyone. It’s part of the human condition. Growing up, learning how to please mommy and daddy or primary caregivers, to get their love, approval, and acceptance is not an innate capacity. It’s learned behavior. We’re taught how to act and not act; be one way and not another; speak one way and not another; think one way and not another, feel one way and not another, etc.. When we behaved in ways we, but not our parents or primary caregivers, felt were OK, we were punished or rejected, even abused, in some way – verbally, emotionally or sometimes physically.

So, as we grew, matured and ventured into the world, we weren’t always sure how to be, or what to say, or how to feel to gain the acceptance, approval and acknowledgement of others. Instead of being our natural and authentic self, we began to play out some ideal or image of who and how we thought we should be – images we learned at home – which would help us feel safe and secure.

This initial, internalized inner insecurity around adhering to the way our parents or primary caregivers wanted us to be (do, think, feel…) – their wishes and demands – led many of to grow up as actors “trying to appear as our selves,” rather than just “be myself.” This constant efforting to “play a role,” or live up to an “image,” leads to self-deceit and being inauthentic. Ironically, as adults, many folks invest huge amounts of time, money, effort and energy searching for who they really are, often to no avail.

Many folks thus are (consciously or unconsciously) obsessed over how they appear to others, jumping through hoops to gain others’ approval, acknowledgement and recognition. They do, “what I have to do” – which most often means showing up as a fake and phony, role-playing the images they “imprinted” or “hard-wired” into their brains early on.

What is it that gets in the way of being authentic? The greatest obstacle is identifying with the self-images we have taken on as a result of early interactions with parents or primary caregivers, extended family, friends, school-mates, teachers, clergy, etc. – “images” we take ourselves to be.  Being authentic morphs into living a life of “mistaken identity.”

So, here’s an exercise to explore this dynamic. Suppose you had a gallery where 15 portraits of you are displayed. Under each is a blank label. Your task is to write on that label descriptor you believe depicts you (e.g., superwoman, superman, best mother, excellent leader/manager, smart and well educated, life of the party, great lover, spiritual, wealthy, etc.) And, take your time.

There’s a fair to good chance most of these labels/descriptors represent self-images you created early on – not from a place of authenticity, or natural-ness, but out of the need to identify as “someone,” an imposter, to gain others’ acceptance and approval. Unfortunately, when you expressed your true self, your authenticity, there were often times you did not sync up with your parents’ or primary caregivers’ expectations of who you should and should not be, and were denied love and acceptance. Your solution? Jettison your true and real self and role-play the child your parents wanted you to be, to feel safe and secure, i.e., loved.

So, early on, we became actors and, absent the conscious, deeper-level work of self-awareness, personal growth, or the psycho-emotional work of emotional mastery, we remain actors to this day. The downside is that if we forget our role, “our lines,” we think we will lose out on the accolades, recognition, and approval of others.  Many of us feel we have to be “on” 24/7, 365 and have become conditioned to obsess with our self-image, ending up being someone we’re not. Our fear of rejection is just too great for many of us to bear. So, we resist showing up as our authentic self, for fear of not being “seen” or “heard.” We fear being “invisible.”

When we let go of our “mental” self-images, do the “inner personal work” to re-discover our True and Real Self, and allow our real self to arise, we can be authentic, natural and spontaneous.

Some of us are unable or unwilling to do this deeper exploration, to look at the “psycho-spiritual” truth of who we are. We choose to wear masks and don personas that obscure our authenticity, natural and spontaneous expression.

When we separate from our authentic self, this disconnect manifests largely as our ego personality which is constantly experiencing states of low self-esteem, low self-value and low self-worth which we then try to recover “outside” ourselves – the progressive drug of fakery and phoniness.

One of the reasons honest, safe, trusting and conscious relationships are so challenging – at work, at home and at play – is because many folks are living this “image of mistaken identity” of themselves and can not or will not show up as real and authentic. For them, living the “ideal” is impossible.

What is possible, however, is living a life from a place of authenticity, and allowing others to be authentic with us as well.

What would that take?

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • Who are you – really? Would others agree with you?
  • Do you play roles and wear masks in certain circumstances or with certain individuals? How so?
  • Have you ever been judged – directly or indirectly – as being a fake or phony? How did that feel?
  • Do you tend to judge others as fake or phony? How so?
  • When are you at your authentic best? What’s that like to be/act that way?
  • How did you learn roles, and create images about your self, as you were growing up? Which roles, specifically?
  • What would it be like if you were authentic all  the time? How so?
  • Do you ever feel shame or guilt because you can’t or won’t be yourself? How does that affect you?
  • Are you ever curious about your motives, values and intentions?
  • Do you ever give up parts of your self in order to “fit in?” How so?
  • Are you often driven by internal “shoulds?”
  • To what degree do you fear rejection?
  • Are you aware of a lonely, frightened part of yourself? How do you experience that awareness? What do you do with that awareness?

(c) 2020, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful. Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)

You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.