If you have heard yourself saying, "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 likely have 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 the other person. While they may be contributing to an unsupportive dynamic, trying to get someone else to change so that you can stay true to yourself is a disempowering option. Focusing compassionately on what's happening for you, on the other hand, empowers you to create healthy change.
Compassionate focus on yourself can start with asking exactly what is keeping you from being yourself. It's a tricky question because to answer it you first have to know what "being yourself" really entails. Knowing what it is to express the authentic and unique you is a life’s work. As you live a life of mindfulness and self-reflection, you peel away layers of ideas about who you think you are. This often can be a painful process. But sometimes you just see through an old belief, and it drops away easily. In the end, being more connected to your authenticity is like coming home in a deep way.
Through the process of gaining confidence that you can be authentic and true to yourself in any relationship, you will find that knowing who you are is less and less about a set of descriptive labels and more about your deepest values and how they arise and ask to be expressed in a given moment. Being yourself is a process of subtle attunement to what really matters and is most alive moment by moment.
Unfortunately, this kind of attunement often is not supported and taught. Instead, in an attempt to adapt to your environment, you learn habits that take you away from yourself. These habits come in many forms. Viewing the world through unconscious limiting beliefs is one.
Here are some common limiting beliefs that could keep you from being yourself in relationship:
I can’t fully be myself and have an intimate relationship.
Being myself hurts you or will be a burden for you, so I have to deny myself to stay in relationship. This is the way it is, and I just have to endure it.
I'm not good enough as I am. I have to continuously secure your love by being better.
It's not safe to be me. The real me isn’t welcome here.
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 (rejected, made fun of, shamed, etc.).
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 you experience any sense of familiarity or resonance with particular ones. If one sounds familiar, rewrite it until it matches the voice of your subconscious. Once you've identified an unconscious limiting belief, the next step is to catch it in action. Where is it showing up? What are the clues that it is operating?
Here are some telltale 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 that with you so you should do this with me.")
A sudden feeling of dislike or hate for the other person
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, bring them out into the open. For example, you notice that you don't really want to go with your partner and their parents for dinner on Friday. You feel tension rise yet hear yourself say yes anyway. Now is the time for transparency. 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 your need for family?"
Immediately taking responsibility for your inner struggle by making a specific and doable 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 they have to be your therapist or somehow fix the situation. True collaboration means you care for another's needs but are not ultimately responsible for meeting them.
It’s difficult for an unconscious limiting belief to keep its hold on you when you bring it into the light of compassionate awareness. Ideally, you are able to do this in a dialogue with another; but if that approach is not available to you in this context, then in your own journaling practice.
We are only scratching the surface here regarding what can help you to stay true to yourself in relationship. But identifying that you have agency is the first, most important step. Working with unconscious limiting beliefs and replacing them with empowered experiences and beliefs is central to creating a change. Other aspects of this practice include self-empathy, self-forgiveness, anchoring, boundary setting, and needs-based negotiation.
Take a moment now to reflect on a situation in which you think you are not being true to yourself. With the above in mind, complete these steps:
Identify the signs that a limiting belief may be operating.
Identify the unconscious limiting belief that is operating.
Identify your actual needs in that situation. Make a guess at the other person's needs.
Write out how you could have expressed your own needs while also caring about the other person's needs and then started a needs-based negotiation.