by Matt Jones, M.A., L.P.C., C.A.D.C
We learn at a very young age the social rules of society, which often means that we can’t always share exactly what we’re thinking. The brilliant and often misunderstood Freud stated that children must learn to restrict their desires and learn to act in a socially appropriate manner. As an adult this means restraining oneself from screaming at incompetent coworkers and refraining from throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the office after being told you have to stay late. Because this socialization process involves restricting “inappropriate” emotions and replacing them with more “appropriate” ones, we learn to convey false feelings to appease others. While it’s okay and good for you to not share everything you’re thinking, it’s important that you find a good balance of sharing or not sharing yourself with others.
One example of this process is fake smiles. These smiles, we are told, are what other people would prefer to see—it’s our way of pleasing others so as to not burden them with our true feelings. However, the problem with pleasing others by putting on a fake smile is that we are not being true to ourselves. It’s the same thing as telling others that we’re fine when we’re really having what feels like the most overwhelming and devastating day ever – in doing so we aren’t getting our needs met. On a bad day when you really need a hug but are afraid to ask for it (maybe because you don’t want to burden others), you’re not only being in-authentic, you’re contributing to your own suffering. These dynamics often impact our relationships and increase our own negative emotions, leading to suffering and isolation. In order to escape this negative cycle, we need to share more with others and ask for our needs to be met. We need to stop apologizing for being who we are.
Authenticity means being comfortable in your own skin and sharing that truth with others. When you’re spending time with a genuine individual, they give you permission to be more open yourself. If you’ve ever experienced that then you know how liberating and refreshing it is when someone’s not hiding behind their “PC” mascaraed. You too have the ability to be that spark of authenticity that makes others feel more comfortable in their own skin. We’re all unique and complex individuals, so we don’t need to fake our smiles and emotions in order to make others happy. In many of those situations you’ve been faking feelings, it was unnecessary. Contrary to your socialization, it’s okay to be honest with people about how you truly feel. When you’re an adult, you can trust that the majority of people will be okay if you tell them you’re having a poor day. Being genuine will help others enter your life and provide for you, and will allow you to feel more open with yourself.
Have you ever noticed that a true smile is contagious? When a stranger smiles fully and completely and you aren’t having the worst case of the Mondays ever, it makes you want to smile. Now, you might choose to ignore this feeling, but watching someone else smile elicits an emotional response within you. That type of smile and the feeling it creates inside of you is completely different from a fake smile. Similarly, when you ask someone who’s clearly upset how they’re feeling and they respond, “I’m fine,” that feels very different than if they’re honest with you. Chances are, when they’re opening their heart to you, you feel more inclined to help, or at least respect them. It also makes you more likely to share how you really feel too. Because authenticity makes you and others feel better, replace your fakeness with genuine transparency.
If and when you attempt to stop this practice of faking emotions, you will realize how deeply ingrained this habit is, and you will struggle to cancel such an automated process. However, if you are able to stop hiding your emotions to make others more comfortable, it may provide you with space to be who you are, and allow you to share that with others. And once you become more comfortable sharing your true self with others, you might just find a real reason to smile.