Why Am I Afraid to Be Myself?

By Keith Miller | June 11, 2010

Sometimes I feel like a terrible phony.  I don’t feel as if I can be myself anywhere.  I seem to have at least five different personalities—most of which don’t feel like the real me.  I’m one person at home with my family, another at work, another when I go out on dates, another at church and still another as I sit here and write to you and think about things like this.

And I see other people around me who don’t seem to like what they are being or doing.  Why am I afraid to be myself?  And secondly, how do we get this way?  (I’m assuming and hoping there are others like me.)  And finally, how does a Christian find herself (or himself)?

 

In the first place there are other people like you.  It seems that most of us are afraid to be ourselves in some circumstances and are afraid that if we were our “natural” selves we wouldn’t be loved.  At least I am that way.  The surprise to me has been that since I began to try to write and speak what I really feel about most things, some people seem to like me better.

But I’ve thought a lot about the questions, “Why am I afraid to be myself?” and “How did I get this way?”

Dr. Paul Tournier has helped me a lot with these questions.  He believed, in essence, that each of us is born as a sort of natural responder to life.  When we like someone or something, we smile and go for it.  When we don’t like something or someone, we frown and/or howl and push away.  Tournier calls this natural responder the “person.”

But it seems that one of the basic needs this little person has is to be loved.  So the “natural,” little person is fine as long as he or she is receiving love (and the necessary basic material things).  But one day the child does something that displeases a parent.  For example, let’s say that a father sees his little boy playing with his sister’s doll, and angrily says, “Put that doll down.  That’s a girl’s toy!”  As the boy watches his disgusted father walk away, he may receive only the message that his father will not love him if he touches or likes anything that girls like.  And from then on a series of changes can take place in the boy.

In an intense effort to win his father’s love, he may try to hide from his father any feelings or actions he thinks might have to do with girl-things, such as dolls—which may include his interest in art or music or anything else which might in the child’s mind be associated with his father’s evident disgust.  So the son may work hard to become a fine athlete while repressing his intuitive sensitive side—thus, perhaps, killing a potential artist, musician, actor or writer.  When the boy grows up and marries, this fear of losing his father’s love may even go so far as to hamper his ability to relate intimately to his wife.  But of course by this time he has long since “forgotten” the father’s attitude, and believes that any natural interest in anything his father considered “feminine” should be squelched.

On the other hand, in order to win his or her parent’s love a child may be rewarded for certain behaviors.  A three-year-old boy in church may say a loud “Amen” at the end of a sermon.  The mother’s eyes get wide—and may even tear up.  She reaches over and hugs and kisses the child and whispers to his father, “Did you hear Johnny?”  And a minister is born.

That little boy realizes that he will be loved and admired if he prays, goes to Sunday school, and talks about God.  Forty years later the boy, now grown, and an ordained minister (or banker, artist, or whatever his parents loved him for showing signs of becoming) realizes he wasn’t “called” but “sent” to his vocation.  But of course the man had not been conscious of why he was doing what he was.

Fortunately, most people who start out from these parental love-winning motivations wind up liking the vocation they choose.  But many don’t and never know why. Their lives are filled with unreal behaviors which are performed for parents perhaps no longer living.  And this unreality makes people feel miserable and phony.

When I got to the end of my rope, I decided to turn as much of my life as I could over to as much of God as I could understand at the time.  I knew I didn’t know who I was underneath all my efforts to achieve.  And I was driven inside to think that everything I did was not enough.  It was then I learned that I’d have to listen for God’s voice in my prayer time.  Gradually I began to see that if I would give God my whole life each morning and then look and listen for his will in the office in which I worked and at home with my wife and kids, I could get out of myself enough to try to do things to love God and the people he’d already put in my world, and help them have a better life.

I realize this sounds pretty radical, but trying to turn the driver’s seat of my life over to God has brought me the only peace and experience of “who I am” that I’ve ever had.

One of the miracles of the Gospel is that God loves us “just as we are,” and this is a free gift for which we don’t owe God.  But if we surrender our lives to God, we find that God will help each of us to discover and become the creative, loving person He’s created us to be.  Then we won’t have to “perform” or live out other peoples’ expectations when we are adults in order to be loved unconditionally.

I know this in my head and am trying to learn to live it out in my relationships.  Those times when I can be the honest and loving person I want to be, I love life, people and God much more.  And having found some brother and sister Christians who are also struggling to commit their lives to God and to learn to be authentic persons, I’m finding some real hope—and help.

 God, thank you that you love me just as I am—even during times when I struggle with several different sets of behaviors to suit different situations.  I surrender my life to you today.  Help me to “lean into your love,” to discover and become the “authentic person” you created me to be, and to begin to show that authenticity in all the settings of my life—at home, at church, at work, and with friends.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

Matthew 16:24, The Message

2 comments | Add One

  1. larry - 09/21/2010 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for that inspiring letter.u said all the right stuff.God bless u and your family.

  2. Barb - 03/10/2011 at 10:43 am

    Wow, this is me. I’m always afraid to be myself. I’m a different person at work than home and so on. At work I’ve been conformed to sit in my seat and keep quiet and I just can’t be myself at work thanks to my manager. Now I feel like an introvert at work but deep inside I want to talk, get to know people and let people get to know me but at the same time I’m afraid I won’t be liked. I’m just all messed up. I’ve lost myself and I don’t have anything near to what I want. I don’t even live for me anymore. I live for my boss at work, for my children at home, for my friends when with them and for family when with them. Yet, I’m hidden the whole time. What kind of life am I living better yet I’m not living. I don’t know how to give my life to God. I’m so use to the way things are. I’ve “performed” and/or lived out other peoples’ expectations of me all my life. I’m never fulfilled, even depressed at times, left wondering what my purpose is here in this life cause it surely can’t be my job I get paid to do at work, I don’t even like the job. Perhaps that’s why I’m so miserable and unhappy all the time and yet I don’t allow that to show either. I hide those feelings to except at times I let it out at home when my children do something that upsets me. What happened to me? After reading your letter it has me thinking about “who am I” GOD please help me.

Free Resources
Weekly Devotional
Taste of New Wine
Bookstore

Shop By Category

Your Shopping Cart

Your cart is empty.

Free Weekly Devotional

Subscribe to receive Keith's free weekly devotional!

Your privacy is protected; we will never sell your name.

Testimonials

Miller is forceful, witty, honest, and surprising.
New York Times Book Review
Taste of New Wine