Do you remember what it was like as a child, playing make-believe with your friends? Becoming a Transformer or a Ninja Turtle (yes, I was a nerdy youngster...), and letting go of who you were to be something different for a while? Even as adults, we can lose ourselves in books, movies, and all kinds of fiction -- allowing our minds to drift from our conscious selves into something different.
Done in a mindful way, there's nothing wrong with the practice; in fact, it can be quite healthy as it engages our imagination in a really great way. I say mindful because we actively make the choice to let ourselves drift, knowing that it's for a short period of time before we step back into ourselves and our truth. We don't let it pervade our everyday lives, as it inevitably would hamper our ability to be present in the current moment with ourselves and everyone around us.
There are circumstances, however, by which we engage in a similar behaviour that does not serve us whatsoever; I know because I've taken part in it directly. When we -- instead of playful imagination -- seek to craft an identity for ourselves based around our perception of the expectations of others, we set out on a course that inevitably causes us pain in the end.
I've spoken before about how... meticulous... I've been in the past about my personality. How I felt I had to be the "nicest" or the "best", as that's how I'd attain the approval I sought. I worked so hard at becoming who I thought I was supposed to be (my perception of others' expectations), that I didn't ever bother getting in touch with who I actually am. It's a very easy slope to slide down, as there are numerous roles we fall into that can perpetuate this. Whether it be as a partner, an employee, or even a leader, we can find ourselves crafting a version of how we think we're supposed to be, as opposed to who we actually are.
As with so many limitations -- and this is certainly a limitation on our growth and development as individuals -- the reasoning behind this is often a story we're telling ourselves. For me, it was a combination of feeling unworthy, not good enough, and that if someone didn't like me, I was a failure. It can be pretty heavy stuff to recognize that you're living a quasi-version of yourself in order to appease these damaging stories from our past, only to lose further grip on who you really are.
So, how did I overcome this? Truth be told -- it's still a work in progress. However, I've made huge strides in stepping into my own truth and getting to know who I really am. Learning to let go -- let go of factors and people and emotions not within my control -- has been a big change. Accepting responsibility for projecting assumed expectations on others was a game-changer, too. I realized I was changing myself into a version to fit the expectations of someone who actually didn't have those expectations -- I placed them upon them. A pretty clear example of how we can be truly self-masochistic.
If you find yourself in a similar boat, take a step back and assess. Claim responsibility for any limitations you're self-imposing (or, like in my case, projecting), and accept you've got the power to change them. Explore, from a place of non-judgement (ie. don't worry about what others think -- that doesn't matter), what you want in your life; take time to discover your truth. Then ask yourself: does my current pattern or behaviour make me feel / act / do in alignment with my truth? If not, then identify what you want to change, and begin working on it, step-by-step. In the same way I crafted this "ideal" personality for myself, I've been able to begin disassembling the act, and work on building the foundation of who I am, and what matters most to me. I know that you can, too!