In working with people of all ages over the last 23 years, I have heard many speak of having taken on the lives others wanted of them. Often, it was a parent who determined what profession would be the most practical, esteemed or financially secure. Sometimes it was the culture, sometimes a combination of culture and pressure from the family to conform to the expected cultural norm. This might involve career choice, but also strong ideas about appearance, beauty, weight, style of dress, choice of friends, when and how to speak and behavior in general. In some cases, choice of a mate was strongly influenced by family and culture. Who to date, how to date, what to expect from a relationship, all can fall into the category of being highly influenced by the opinions of others. Women are particularly susceptible to cultural influence as there is so much attention put to being good enough as well as being good. Countless industries thrive on pointing out a woman’s flaws and creating a fear that unless their product is purchased, the woman will be in some way undesirable.
Taking on an identity that does not feel genuine or actually goes against one’s personal values or beliefs takes a toll. A pervasive feeling of sadness, meaninglessness or emptiness often shrouds this way of living. Sometimes it is accompanied by the fear that one is a fraud and will be found out, even though the person may be highly successful. Often, women in particular, will say they are afraid they don’t really have a self. They may have spent many years tending to the needs of family and have lost the connection to who they were or don’t yet know how they would prefer to be. Younger women may be so caught up in the insecurity created by the beauty and fashion industry that they do not feel like substantial people.
Exploring the many facets of self, both fulfilling and frightening, is a way of revealing who that really is in the mirror looking back. Those things that seem negative can be seen as part of a complex whole. This exploration often leads people in new directions that they may have felt were not available to them. It can offer a clearer lens through which to view oneself in the world.
Although life is far from perfect, being true to who you are, being able to speak that truth, can make a big difference in the experience of living.