Psychologists tell us that we have three identities: Who we think we are, who we really are, and who we are as other people see us. Sometimes we like the three “Whos,” and sometimes we don’t. Trying to get to the bottom of these differences in personae has made psychiatrists rich for years. Having three distinct personal realities becomes even more complicated when we realize that everyone else is in the same boat. There’s a big difference between knowing about a person and really knowing that person. Our friends, partners, lovers, colleagues, and families may know that we love clog dancing, breakfast scrapple, the subtle comedy stylings of Andrew Dice Clay, and mud wrestling, but they only know these things because of who we are when we are with them. When you are by yourself, you may be an entirely different person.
Subconsciously, we all turn into someone else to adapt to the needs and demands of others in all of our associations. In the case of a toxic relationship this becomes even more apparent as we do anything it takes to save the relationship or, in some extreme cases, survive. We lose all three of our identities; we lose ourselves completely because, simply put, it is easier to be someone else. When you finally leave the relationship, you can begin to regain your identity, your purpose, and your sense of self. The partner in this toxic relationship will no longer recognize you, associating the person you became to exist peacefully with him or her as the person you really are, if that makes sense. Basically, he or she never knew the real you. Oh, they probably did at first, at the beginning of the relationship … before you were forced to morph into an overly accommodating persona simply to retain your sanity. Affronted at your newfound “change” once you’re on your own, this person will in turn pass a false perception of you on to others, making it seem as if who you really are NOW is the fake face while who you WERE in the relationship is the truth.
This can be hurtful – or at the least, annoying – to the one who is now accused of being fake when he or she is simply returning to a sense of normalcy. Normalcy being the key word. The vengeful ex will ridicule your attempts to improve yourself as putting on some sort of show, never realizing that you gave up all of the hobbies and activities that you enjoyed pre-relationship simply to appease him or her. The only reality about you that they know is the one they have built up in their heads; they don’t know the real you … the happy you. They see you living your life and tell people, “That’s not at all like her. Who is she trying to fool?”
With possibly some exceptions, the results of this aggravating situation carry over into any friends that you met while in the toxic relationship. They have only met the personality that you had morphed into to keep the relationship steady and peaceful. In turn, you begin to have a bit of shame and self-recrimination as you recall all of the things you did to keep up the false façade. “What the hell was I thinking? I hate watching Monday Night Football while doing Jagermeister shots!” Well, the football part, anyway.
You would think that being with your family would be a release from the expectations of having to morph into someone else, but that’s not true, either, is it? Although your family thinks they know you better than anyone else, they also have a biased perception, for better or worse. Think of how often you have to bite your tongue and alter your behavior and views to keep peace during holiday dinners and family get-togethers.
The 21st century has added yet another dynamic in the search for true identities: Social Media. If you think you can be yourself online, think again. How many times have you stopped yourself from posting a status because you are afraid of people’s perception of you changing? The only opinion your cyber friends can make about you is based on your words as they appear on Facebook or messages through email or text. Even posting videos, FaceTiming or Skype will not allow you to present the real you; would you appear in a video wearing your favorite flannel pajamas, hair uncombed, or for women, with no make-up on? This gets even more complicated with the advent of online dating. You are both on your best behavior and acting or reacting in a way you think the other person would appreciate. For women, especially single moms, you feel as if you are interviewing for the coveted position of “Girlfriend” in a large company. The other person has created an image of you based not just on the information you present to them, but also their imagination and desires. No matter how honest or upfront you try to be, eventually some aspect of your personality emerges that doesn’t fit in with the “you” they have imagined. They feel hurt and betrayed, and rather than accept you at face value, they allow the relationship to end and continue forward in search of the next candidate. While this happens to women all the time, I’m sure men can relate as well.
I know this has been a long and rambling post, and I hope that I’ve made a little bit of sense. There’s one truth to all of this and that is this: There is only one person qualified to say they know who you really are, and that is YOU. Don’t let someone else make judgments and certainly don’t critique yourself based on someone else’s opinion of you … because they don’t know the whole story of you. Half the time, if I ask myself who I really am, I have no clue how to answer. But that’s my right, and no one else’s.