“Authentic human interactions become impossible when you lose yourself in a role.” – Eckhart Tolle
Over the course of our lives we learn many informative techniques to advance our personal lives in one direction or another. We may even choose a role in life often associated with our strong need for personal satisfaction or for our sense of inner fulfillment. Or sometimes we seem to fall naturally into a role that seems most necessary for us to adopt at the time.
That was an inarticulate but politically correct way of saying that we often become a facsimile of whomever we need to be at the time most necessary for us to be that person.
We tend to play roles in life. Sometimes we do it automatically—we mother, we protect, we defend, we humble ourselves before others, we lead, we follow, we pretend, we appease, we often do whatever is required of us at the time, even if we don’t know WHY we are doing it.
So why do we play these roles?
We may do so because we feel that we must play a certain role in that scenario to ‘get along’ with a significant person in our life (spouse, parent, boss, friend), or we may feel a strong inner compulsion to ‘act a certain way’ because we need that other person that we are role-playing for to like us—to accept us—or at least to NOT ostracize us from their apparent influence in our life.
Role-playing became extremely important to us when we were dependent on others to provide for our most basic needs—like when we were children and had no other means of supporting or defending ourselves. Childhood is often when we learn the roles most necessary for our simple survival in a more hostile family environment: good girl—mother’s helper—friend to the lonely—daddy’s little girl—caretaker—confidant.
Or there were worse roles that we had few options in choosing as a child because we were forced to pretend that they were ‘normal’ for our family’s living arrangement back then, like the role of: family scapegoat, primary recipient of a parent’s ridicule, disgust, anger, or even parental sexual frustration.
Sometimes ‘normal’ was a strange word to use for what roles many children were required to adopt to simply survive their childhood, so I try to be very careful when I critique role-playing in general.
While we often think of ‘playing a role’ in life like putting on a different weight coat depending on the weather outside—meaning that you don what is required for your immediate comfort—role-playing can actually be a far deeper ‘need response’ than that, and can have primal childhood roots for that particular role’s development.
But when you become an adult and decide to live more authentically as the person that you have the true potential to be, it helps if you can recognize the previous ‘role-playing’ for what it often was: theatrical attempts to appease or placate, or to appear to be more “likeable” than we think we naturally are; or perhaps role-playing was your primary childhood survival-technique to make it through the day or night with what’s left of your sanity intact.
More enlightened folks can talk about showing ‘greater authenticity’ all that they want (including myself at times), but if there is an existential reason for the role-playing, then there will be deeper issues to address than uncovering a relationship’s more shallow, interactive plasticity.
Role-playing is often about developing some form of extroverted demeanor to gain acceptance by others (or at least to not incur their wrath), while authenticity is to stand strongly in your own skin and say to anyone within earshot that, “I have value in and of myself, with or without your personal approval or acceptance.”
Sounds obvious in a way but for whatever reason, not everyone can easily make that simple statement. Sometimes our inner fear or insecurity is too overpowering to allow us the courage of standing strongly on our own without the need for someone else’s approval.
If a ‘strong sense of self’ wasn’t something that we developed at an early age, then role-playing to counter not having it is often a hard behavioral habit to change, so I’m not condemning anyone or criticizing their manner of behavior if my talking about authenticity feels awkward or too foreign to them. Not at all.
But the hardest aspect of making a core personal change—especially when we’ve been relying on a deeply-evolved behavioral standby that has helped us survive to our current age, is to realize first and foremost that we are ‘falling into a role’ of some sort for whatever reason, whenever we naturally do it.
Self-awareness is only one step toward greater self-understanding.
And self-understanding can lead first to self-acceptance and then to self-empowerment, which often eliminates the need for most role-playing in our lives.
Finding your truth means to better understand who you truly are, and to appreciate yourself for being that remarkable person.