“The most confused we ever get is when we try to convince our heads of something that we know in our hearts is a lie.” ~Karen Moning
It’s painful and stressful to feel like you’re living a lie. Like you’re hiding how you really feel, saying what you think other people want to hear and doing things you don’t actually want to do—just because you think you’re supposed to.
But sometimes we don’t recognize we’re doing this. We just know we feel off, or something feels wrong, and we’re not sure how to change it.
It makes sense that a lot of us struggle with being true to ourselves.
From a young age, we’re taught to be good, fall in line, and avoid making any waves—to lower our voices, do as we’re told, and quit our crying (or they’ll give us something to cry about).
And most of us don’t get the opportunity to foster or follow our curiosity. Instead, we learn all the same things as our peers, at the exact same time; and we live a life consumed by the mastery of these things, our bodies restless from long hours of seated study and our minds overwhelmed with memorized facts that leave very little room for free thinking.
To make things even worse, we learn to compare our accomplishments and progress—often, at things we don’t even really care about—to those of everyone around us. So we learn it’s more important to appear successful in relation to others than to feel excited or fulfilled within ourselves.
This was my experience both growing up and in my twenties. A people-pleaser who was always looking to prove that I mattered, I was like a chameleon, and I constantly felt paralyzed about which choices to make because all I knew was that they needed to be impressive.
I never knew what I really thought or felt because I was too busy suffocating my mind with fears and numbing my emotions to develop even a modicum of self-awareness.
This meant I had no idea what I needed. I only knew I didn’t feel seen or heard. I felt like no one really knew me. But how could they when I didn’t even know myself?
I know I’ve made a lot of progress with this over the years, and I have a mile-long list of unconventional choices to back that up, as well as a number of authentic, fulfilling relationships. But I’ve recently recognized some areas where I’ve shape-shifted in an attempt to please others, and in some cases, without even realizing it.
I don’t want to be the kind of person who panders to popular opinion or lets other people dictate my choices. I don’t want to waste even one minute trying to be good enough for others instead of doing what feels good to me.
I want to make my own rules, live on my own terms, and be bold, wild, and free.
This means peeling away the layers of fear and conditioning and being true to what I believe is right. But it’s hard to do this because sometimes those layers are pretty heavy, or so transparent we don’t even realize they’re there.
With this in mind, I decided to create this reminder of what it looks and feels like to be true to myself so I can refer back to it if ever I think I’ve lost my way.
If you also value authenticity and freedom over conformity and approval, perhaps this will be useful to you too.
You know you’re being true to yourself if….
1. You’re honest with yourself about what you think, feel, want, and need.
You understand that you have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else. This means you make space in your life to connect with yourself, perhaps through meditation, journaling, or time in nature.
This also means you face the harsh realities you may be tempted to avoid. You’re self-aware when faced with hard choices—like whether or not to leave a relationship that doesn’t feel right—so you can get to the root of your fear.
You might not always do this right away, or easily, but you’re willing to ask yourself the tough questions most of us spend our lives avoiding: Why am I doing this? What am I getting from this? And what would serve me better?
2. You freely share your thoughts and feelings.
Even if you’re afraid of judgment or tempted to lie just to keep the peace, you push yourself to speak up when you have something that needs to be said.
And you refuse to stuff your feelings down just to make other people feel comfortable. You’re willing to risk feeling vulnerable and embarrassed because you know that your feelings are valid and that sharing them is the key to healing what’s hurting or fixing what isn’t working.
3. You honor your needs and say no to requests that conflict with them.
You know what you need to feel physical, mentally, and emotionally balanced, and you prioritize those things, even if this means saying no to other people.
Sure, you might sometimes make sacrifices, but you understand it’s not selfish to honor your needs and make them a priority.
You also know your needs don’t have to look like anyone else’s. It’s irrelevant to you if someone else can function on four hours of sleep, work around the clock, or pack their schedule with social engagements. You do what’s right for you and take care good care of yourself because you recognize you’re the only one who can.
4. Some people like you, some people don’t, and you’re okay with that.
Though you may wish, at times, you could please everyone—because it feels a lot safer to receive validation than disapproval—you understand that being disliked by some is a natural byproduct of being genuine.
This doesn’t mean you justify being rude and disrespectful because hey, you’re just being yourself! It just means you know you’re not for everyone; you’d rather be disliked for who you are than liked for who you’re not, and you understand the only way to find “your tribe” is to weed out the ones who belong in someone else’s.
5. You surround yourself with people who respect and support you just as you are.
You understand that the people around you affect you, so you surround yourself with people who respect and support you, which motivates you to continue being true to yourself.
You may have people in your life who don’t do these things, but if you do, you understand their issues with you are just that—their issues. And you set boundaries with them so that they don’t get in your head and convince you there’s something wrong with you or your choices.
6. You focus more on your own values than what society deems acceptable.
You’ve read the script for a socially acceptable life—climb the corporate ladder, have a lavish wedding, buy a big house, and make some babies—but you’ve seriously questioned whether this is right for you. Maybe it is, but if you go this route, it’s because this plan aligns with your own values, not because it’s what you’re supposed to do.
You know your values are your compass in life, and that they change over time. So you check in with yourself regularly to be sure you’re living a life that doesn’t just look good on paper but also feels good in your heart.
7. You listen to your intuition and trust that you know what’s best for yourself.
You not only hear the voice inside that says, “Nope, not right for you,” you trust it. Because you’ve spent a lot of time learning to distinguish between the voice of truth and fear, you recognize the difference between holding yourself back and waiting for what feels right.
You might not always make this distinction immediately, and you might sometimes be swayed by well-meaning people who want to protect you from the risks of thinking outside the box. But eventually, you tune out the noise and hone in on the only voice that truly knows what’s best for you.
8. You do what feels right for you, even if that means risking approval from the people around you.
Not only do you trust that you know what’s best for you, you do it. Even if it’s not a popular choice. Even if people question your judgment, vision, or sanity. You recognize that no one else is living your life, and no one else has to live with the consequences of your choices, so you make them for you and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to public perception.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have everything you want in life. It just means you hear the beat of your own drum, even if it’s silent as a dog whistle to everyone else, and you march to it—maybe slowly or awkwardly, but with your freak flag raised nice and high.
9. You allow yourself to change your mind if you recognize you made a choice that wasn’t right for you.
You may feel embarrassed to admit you’re changing directions, but you do it anyway because you’d rather risk being judged than accept a reality that just plain feels wrong for you.
Whether it’s a move that you realize you made for the wrong reasons, a job that isn’t what you expected, or a commitment you know you can’t honor in good conscience, you find the courage to say, “This isn’t right, so I’m going to make another change.”
10. You allow yourself to evolve and let go of what you’ve outgrown.
This is probably the hardest one of all because it’s not just about being true to yourself; it’s also about letting go. It’s about recognizing when something has run its course and being brave enough to end the chapter, even if you don’t know yet what’s coming next. Even if the void feels dark and scary.
But you, you recognize that the void can also feel light and thrilling. That empty space isn’t always a bad thing because it’s the breeding ground for new possibilities—for fulfillment, excitement, passion, and joy. And you’re more interested in seeing who else you can be and what else you can do than languishing forever in a comfortable life that now feels like someone else’s.
As with all things in life, we each exist on a spectrum. Every last one of us lives in the grey area, so odds are you do some of these things, some of the time, and probably never perfectly. And you may go through periods when you do few or none of these things, without even realizing you’ve slipped.
That’s how it’s been for me. I’ve gone through phases when I’ve felt completely in alignment and other times when I’ve gotten lost. I’ve had times when I’ve felt so overwhelmed by conflicting wants, needs, and beliefs—my own and other people’s—that I’ve shut down and lost touch with myself.
It happens to all of us. And that’s okay. The important thing is that we keep coming home to ourselves and we eventually ask ourselves the hard questions that decide the kind of lives we lead: What am I hiding? What am I lying about? And what truth would set me free?
By Lori Deschene
Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She’s also the author of Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal and other books and co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. An avid film lover, she recently finished writing her first feature screenplay and is fundraising to get it made now.