"I can't be myself in this relationship"
If you have heard yourself say, "I can't be myself in this relationship." It's a good time to stop and ask 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, how relationships work and the habits that go with both (all of which you may have previously identified as "my self"). 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 perception of things and prevent you from asking for what you need.
Here are the most basic forms of limiting beliefs around 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
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 a 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 scared voice is telling me that if I don't say yes, I am risking our relationship. I don't want to make decisions from that place. I'm wondering if you could help me find a way I could meet my need for down time on Friday and still meet the need for family?"
Immediately taking responsibility by making a concrete do-able request is the key. Just sharing the limiting belief doesn't provide a new way forward and may lead to trouble. A jackal party could ensue in which your partner hears criticism or imagines she has to be your therapist or somehow fix the situation.
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. 3. Bring the belief into the open and make a specific do-able request.) to become aware of and intervene with beliefs and actions that keep you from being yourself in your relationship.