When my friend came back from New York, she brought me the playbill from The Phantom of the Opera. I really love the musical, but I can’t help but recognize its fallacies. Like, how could Christine not know that the Phantom was a few keys short of an organ, if you know what I mean? The guy wears a mask; he stalks her, kidnaps her, and then decides one day that dropping a chandelier on people who upset him is a good idea.
My point is, the Phantom starts out as this cool, mysterious guy who enchants Christine and helps bring her out of her shell. It’s only later on that his true, dark self comes out, much to the surprise of his ingénue. Her compellingly accurate revelation sums up the Phantom’s authentic self perfectly:
This haunted face holds no horrors for me now.
It’s in your soul where the true distortion lies.
The Phantom crumbles in pain and defeat, but the removal of his mask (figuratively and literally) also sets him free. Wearing a mask for so long can be exhausting. When you don’t present your true self to others, you may be protecting yourself from rejection, but the burden of carrying on your false or inauthentic self becomes stifling.
I want to take a moment to point out the difference between being a “high self-monitor” and being “inauthentic”:
When you engage in self-monitoring, you’re using social cues to adapt your behavior to the situation. For example, if you acted in meetings at work the way you act around your friends during Happy Hour, you are not self-monitoring effectively. Self-monitoring doesn’t mean that you’re being fake – you are intentionally monitoring what you say and do in order to adapt to the situation.
People who wear masks are never their authentic or true self unless they’re alone. They create a character when they’re around others and maintain that character, never revealing what they are really thinking and feeling. Like that “friend” who happily goes out with you on the weekend, but can’t be found when you’re in a jam and need a helping hand. Or my friend’s aunt who likes to stay in everyone’s good graces by being a “double agent;” she’ll pretend to care about your problems, then share it as gossip with your enemies…then bring back some dirty secrets about them.
People who are inauthentic risk a great deal. Carrying on with their charade not only puts their relationships in jeopardy when their true self is revealed, it also wears them down psychologically. Here’s what I mean:
I analyzed a sample of people who took Queendom’s Big Five Personality Test and divided them into two groups based on their level of authenticity (high vs. low). The contrast in personality between highly authentic people and “fake” people was startling:
- Authentic people are more resilient (score of 72 vs. 55 for fake people, on a scale from 0 to 100). I know from personal experience that pretending to be strong and refusing help from others does NOT make you feel any stronger.
- Authentic people are actually better at controlling their anger (score of 71 vs. 46). Go figure! My theory is, holding in your anger and pretending to be holier-than-thou only results in pent up frustration…which almost always finds a way out in the most inopportune moments. Authentic people are also better at dealing with stress (66 vs. 42), and better at controlling their impulses (62 vs. 42).
- Authentic people are more willing to trust others (score of 64 vs. 34). Perhaps fake people may rationalize their deceit by assuming that everyone puts a mask on – and therefore, no one should be trusted.
- Authentic people are more kind (score of 80 vs. 50) and considered more likeable (73 vs. 54). Unlike Lois Lane, I think most people are astute enough to determine when someone is an imposter. At some point, fake people will show their true colors, and generally can only make friends with equally fake people.
- Authentic people are less competitive (score of 29 vs. 52). This brings to mind an extremely snobby and fake woman I know who, in spite of her extensive resources and high-powered position, is obsessed with “keeping up with the Joneses.” If you’re wearing jewellery she likes, for example, she’ll spend the whole night staring at it (stopping just short of ripping it off your body), and repeatedly ask you questions about where you got it, who made it, and how much it cost. A week later, she’ll be strutting around with the same piece of jewellery; only hers will be made by some exclusive jeweler and cost about as much as your car because it’s “real.”
- Authentic people are more comfortable being independent (score of 73 vs. 48) and take pride in their individuality (67 vs. 54). Fake people try desperately to be someone they are not in order to blend in and fit in. Authentic people are not afraid to be themselves, even if it makes them stand out from the crowd. This requires confidence, which authentic people have plenty of (score of 74 vs. 54). They are also more assertive (63 vs. 40) and optimistic (67 vs. 44)
I know that after-school specials have always touted that you should always be yourself, but why is it so important?
- Because when you are who you really are, you live according to your own values, not other people’s. You are not forced to conform. There’s nothing more freeing than making decisions that reflect your personal beliefs and principles.
- Because you give people the opportunity to know and love the real you rather than an image you created.
- Because you won’t be forced to do things that you don’t want to do if they are not in alignment with who you are.
- Because it’s only by being yourself that you can recognize who your true friends are.