Being true to yourself sounds like a vitally important ingredient for living a happy life.
So why are so many of us failing to do it?
Because the number one reported regret of people on their deathbeds is:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
It seems staying true to you is easier said than done.
But how do you know if you’re not being true to yourself?
…Preferably before it’s too late!
Here are the signs to watch out for.
1) Your gut tells you
Instincts are powerful. Often we are sent signals when we feel like something isn’t quite right.
We may not be able to put it into words. We may even attempt to dismiss these feelings through excuses and justifications.
But despite this, your body has an intuitive knowledge that something is “off”.
It might present as a heavy heart. You may experience some low-level anxiety or depression without understanding why.
You are left scratching your head over whether you’re bored, lonely, sad, or simply exhausted.
This happened to me.
Even though I had a good life that I appreciated, I couldn’t understand why I felt so discontented.
I felt really dissatisfied. I felt that I wasn’t truly living. But that also made me feel really ungrateful.
It was almost like admitting my discontent was showing disrespect for how fortunate I already was.
So I tried to bury these feelings. But eventually, I could not.
These emotions forced me to confront the reality that I wasn’t living my life according to my own values, and what was most important to me.
No matter how good it looked from the outside, I had been chasing the life that I felt was expected of me, not the one I wanted.
2) You make important decisions based on other people’s expectations of you
So many of us feel the weight of expectation.
Often, without even realizing it.
We unwittingly bend to external pressure, whether it comes from our parents, peers, or society in general.
So many decisions that most of us make were probably mapped out well before we were even born.
Perhaps your parents expect you to enter into the family business. Maybe all your friends are going to college and so you feel you ought to. It might be that in your community, most people have already settled down and are married by 30.
It’s so easy to end up following the path we feel like we should follow, rather than the one we want to.
It’s not easy to go against the grain. But that can leave you feeling like you are living a lie.
And to make matters worse:
The tricky part is, we can spend so much of our lives following others’ expectations that we’re not even sure what it is that we want.
3) You don’t really know what it is that you want, believe, or think
Sometimes I feel like I popped out of the womb with an opinion on pretty much everything.
For most of my life, I called them “my opinion” without giving it much deeper thought.
Until I started to realize that maybe, they weren’t my opinions after all. Yet again, they were the attitudes and ideas of:
- The society I belonged to
- The community I was part of
- The peers I surrounded myself with
- The family I was born into
Because here’s the thing:
Even in the free world, free thinking isn’t a given.
In order to truly be a free thinker we have to actively question a lot of what we have automatically accepted as truth — but is really someone else’s truth.
Unless you take the time and energy to delve deeper into your own values, beliefs, and opinions you might not be being true to yourself.
You may just be unwittingly repeating someone else’s vision of how you should live.
4) You hide significant parts of who you are in order to try to fit in
Perhaps you are fortunate enough to know yourself. But even then, the reality is that most of us still wear masks.
We’ve learned to do so from an early age.
It’s understandable too as studies show that social rejection is felt in the brain as physical pain.
So is it any wonder that it’s so difficult to find the strength to be vulnerable enough to be your unapologetic self?
If you feel like you are always playing a role, and rarely get to be yourself it can be incredibly isolating.
You might feel like you need to disguise certain sides of yourself, hiding who you really are.
That might be your feelings and opinions. Or more tangible things like your hobbies/interests, your past, or your sexuality.
Deep down you worry that the consequences of just being yourself would render you unlovable…
5) You worry that the real you is unlovable
It sounds extreme when we see it written out.
But plenty of us harbor this deep dark secret inside:
That maybe we’re not good enough as we are.
And so we feel like we have to pretend to be something we’re not in order to try and measure up.
Because no matter how good of a person you are, all human nature has a darker side.
I’m not talking about anything particularly sinister either. Just the natural light and shade of life.
It’s all those perfectly natural negative traits that we are all capable of displaying from time to time.
We all mess up. We are all capable of acting in selfish, unkind, or unreasonable ways.
And so we can be afraid that if we show our imperfections then others won’t be able to love us.
If you are completely preoccupied with what others think of you, it’s so hard to be true to yourself.
The irony is, that whilst we fear the thought of showing our own flaws, research shows that we actually admire this vulnerability in others.
Because seeing someone’s imperfections makes them seem more authentic, relatable, and sincere.
6) You usually take the easy option
Don’t get me wrong, I’m the laziest person in the world.
And I wear that badge proudly.
Because to me, it feels like a much-needed rebellion against a world so obsessed with productivity as a measure of worth.
It was one of the conclusions I came to after my own re-evaluation of the life I was living and the goals I was chasing.
But what I really mean when I say ‘take the easy option’ is this:
You aren’t prepared to fight for what is important to you. Whether that’s your values, principles, ideas, preferences, or desires.
It feels easier to just give in and go with whatever makes life easier in the short term.
You find yourself giving up before you’ve even tried. This hints at some self-esteem issues.
You may even feel defeatest about what you can have or achieve in life…
7) You have dreams that you feel are “pointless” chasing
When we’re kids, we often have all sorts of ambitions and desires. And we don’t feel shy about making them known.
We have a far more enthusiastic innocence that allows us to express ourselves.
As a child, I decided that I either wanted to be an actor or a “beep beep” woman at the checkout (because to an 8-year-old, it looked pretty fun).
Of course, it’s natural that when we grow up, our dreams may change. But what is just as common is that we start to feel like our dreams are unreachable or even silly.
I’m a realist. So I’m not going to sit here and say that everyone can be a famous pop star, invent the latest tech craze, or make a billion on the stock market.
But usually, our self-abandonment is far more subtle and low-key than that.
For example, you give up drawing because you decide you’re no good at it, so what’s even the point?
You once loved to play the drums, but if you’re not going to make a living from it maybe it’s not worth your time anymore.
I know that pursuing passions isn’t always easy. There are only so many hours in the day, and we all need to put food on the table.
But we so often let negative thinking get in the way. We create false beliefs that hold us back from fulfilling our potential.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned about our desires:
They’re not all going to work out. But either way, chasing them is what creates the adventures that make life worth living.
8) You feel resentful about all your obligations
People pleasing can quickly lead us down the route of over-committing. So much so, that you could feel constantly close to burnout.
Our emotions are messengers.
Whilst we shouldn’t automatically follow every single feeling on a whim, they do have things to tell us.
When you feel resentful it is a clue that you could be busy doing too many things for other people and not enough for yourself.
Your priorities, needs, and wants might be taking a back seat as you spend your time looking toward the needs of others.
You’re feeling pulled in so many directions, that it’s disorientating as well as exhausting.
Final thoughts: Not being true to yourself can cause serious regrets
Ultimately, not being true to yourself could come back to haunt you.
If you don’t already feel regret, it may hit you later — and none of us wants it to be on our deathbeds.
If you have identified some warning signs you’re not being true to yourself, you’re lucky!
Because it means you can do something about it way before it’s too late to make changes.