"I can't be myself in this relationship"
If you have heard yourself say, "I can't be myself in this relationship," the first thing to know is that you are in good company. Intimate relationships are complex and you have likely experienced poor modeling and little to no training about how to navigate them. When you hear yourself saying, "I can't be myself in this relationship," the first impulse may be to blame your partner. While your partner may be contributing to an unsupportive dynamic, trying to get your partner to change so that you can stay true to yourself is a disempowering option. Focusing compassionately on what's happening for you empowers you to create healthy change.
Compassionate focus on yourself might start with asking what exactly is keeping you from being yourself. It's a tricky question because to answer it, you first have to know what "being yourself" really is. Knowing what it is to express the authentic and unique you is a life's work. As you practice a life of mindfulness and self-reflection, you peel away layers of ideas about how you should be and how relationships work. Often this can be a painful process, sometimes like having your skin peeled off (yikes!). But not always; sometimes you just see through a habit and it drops away easily. Being more connected to your authenticity is like coming home in a deep way.
So what gets in the way of you being the authentic you in your relationship? Well, lots of things could get in the way, but let's start with your unconscious. Unconscious limiting beliefs often influence your perceptions and choices and prevent you from asking for what you need.
Here is a list of common limiting beliefs that keep you from being yourself in relationship:
- Being myself hurts you so I have to do what you want to stay in relationship. This is the way it is and I just have to endure it and give up my autonomy.
- I'm not good enough as I am. I have to continuously secure your love by being super productive, dramatic, or sexy.
- It's not safe to be me. You will tell me I'm doing it wrong and that's dangerous.
- I can only rely on myself. If I share my needs, you won't meet them, so why bother.
- If I share who I am, I will be used.
- If I am helpless and endearing, you will be motivated to meet my needs. If I stand in my power and competence, you'll abandon me.
As you read each of the limiting beliefs above notice if there is any sense of familiarity or resonance with particular ones. The fact that you intellectually don't agree with any these doesn't affect their unconscious operation. Habit takes care of that.
The next part is catching these beliefs in action. Where are they showing up? What are the clues that they are operating? Here are some tell tale signs that these beliefs are in operation:
- Feelings of resentment
- Wishing your partner would stay at work later.
- A feeling of deflation or numbness after making a decision or agreement
- Keeping a scorecard, e.g., "I did this with you so you should do this with me."
- A sudden feeling of dislike or hate for your partner
- Anger bursts that seem to come from nowhere
- Asking for alone time more than you ask for connection time
- Making decisions that aren't right for you
Once you start noticing these beliefs in action, the next step is to bring them out into the open. For example, you notice you don't really want to go with your partner for dinner with her parents on Friday. You feel tension rise and hear yourself say yes anyway. Now is the time for transparency with your partner. You might say something like,
"I hear myself saying yes to your request and I notice all this tension. A reactive voice is telling me that I have to say yes even though I need rest. I don't want to make decisions from that place. I'm wondering if you could help me brainstorm ways I could meet my need for rest and still meet the need for family?"
Immediately taking responsibility for your inner struggle by making a concrete do-able request opens the door for collaboration. Just sharing the limiting belief doesn't provide a new way forward and may lead to a conflict in which your partner hears criticism or imagines s/he has to be your therapist or somehow fix the situation. Also, true collaboration means you care for your partner's needs, but you are not ultimately responsible for meeting them.
We are only scratching the surface here regarding what can help you to stay true to yourself in relationship. Other aspects of this practice include self-empathy, self-forgiveness, boundary setting, and how to create true collaboration.
Take a moment now to reflect on the last week with your partner. Follow the three steps above:
1. Notice clues that a limiting belief may be operating.
2. Identify the belief by reading through the ones listed above or writing out all your thoughts related to a particular situation and then looking for the belief driving those thoughts.
3. Find one simple situation in which you can take action based on what you want and need even though it differs from your partner's choice.