At one point or another we’ve all been given this advice:
Just be yourself.
It’s great advice but do you ever get the sense that some of your nearest and dearest would rather you didn’t? Do you have friends who can’t help but let you know when you’re showing them up?
In their body language and veiled comments you can tell that they’re a little irritated by positive things that are happening for you or if you’re getting more attention:
“Is that what you’re wearing?”
“Do you have to do that now?”
“I can’t believe you got promoted after only a year…Who did you have to sleep with?”
To keep the peace, maintain the friendship and fit in, you may be tempted to dim your light and hide it under a bushel. That, my dears, is not necessarily a good idea.
A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself. – Jim Morrison
Support and acceptance from the people we love is probably the number one way we gain confidence and a sense of belonging. When we feel judged by those same people, we fear being alienated from the community and will want to do the safe thing – even when it means not being ourselves.
But the way we make new friends, express and better understand ourselves is by being authentic.
It’s a conundrum:
Should you be authentic at the risk of alienating friends?
I am always going to say yes to being authentic. If you want to conquer the world, make your mark in it, or just grow comfortable in your skin, authenticity is important. It’s how we develop true confidence, learn what sets us apart and become comfortable with criticism to speak up for ourselves – to find our voice.
There is a fine line though and this is a question of finding the line.
Agreeability is important but so is authenticity
So how do you balance the two? How do you know when you’re being authentic versus being a show-off?
The answer and how to guide your actions is to be “genuine.” If you’re being genuine, you will be both a good friend and the occasional show-off.
Traits of a good friend
You’re a good friend if you exhibit these qualities most of the time and should, therefore, feel free to be authentic and risk outshining your friends sometimes (aka be Beyoncé).
- You cheer loudly and celebrate when something good happens to your friends.
- You show up for them emotionally.
- You are gracious when they show up for you emotionally.
- You aren’t preoccupied with your looks.
- You don’t share how much everything you own costs.
- You don’t treat your friends like they’re your entourage.
- You seek compromise and isn’t always dictating the terms.
- When you steal the spotlight at Karaoke, you may call your friends up onstage to join you.
- You don’t gossip about them behind their backs.
- You apologize sincerely and quickly when you mess up.
Focus on being genuine
Being genuine implies both kindness and thoughtfulness as well as moments of genuinely being “extra.” True friends will not be annoyed when being “extra” is you being yourself.
On the other hand, if EVERYONE is giving you “the look” and indicating you’re being a jerk, then your “extra” might be out of line and you absolutely should check your behavior.
You know you’re not a good friend if:
- Truth be told, you’re nothing like the person described above.
- You’re working out some stuff – how not to be so touchy, for example.
- You’re a big time complainer, you’re selfish and make everything about you.
- A few people have called you out for hogging the spotlight or being a pill before.
You don’t want to risk alienating friends and we all must learn self-awareness. If you take more than you give – more time, spotlight, you name – then you can understand why you might be a problem for some people.
Let me be blunt: Only an idiot would insist of being “completely themselves” when who they are is unfriendly. You risk loneliness if you refuse to change, refuse to accept common codes of decency and respect. Likeability is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of healthy self-esteem.
Being emotionally intelligent
In a group, it’s usually one on one jealousy that causes friction. The group may be okay with your success and love your new hair color or your new guy, but it’s that one friend who wants to call you out. Maybe it’s her jealousy that makes you question whether you should pull back. In this case, don’t.
Do this instead, find a way to spend one on one time together.
Let’s call it being sensitive or empathetic. In psychology, it’s called being emotionally intelligent. Recognize that we all get jealous from time to time. Maybe your friend has been striking out in the love department and doesn’t understand why it comes so easy for you. Maybe she’d be less jealous if she knew your secret to snag guys or if she got to know you better.
This situation can benefit from spending time alone where you can ask about her life. It’s an opportunity to catch up or get to know each other better.
Secrets between you may spill and new understandings reached. She may learn that your new hair color is one of the ways you pulled yourself out of a rut. Or she may learn that you’re having a hard time with something that comes naturally to her or that you’re having a difficult time at home.
By giving your friend the opportunity to help you or just to be your confidant, you would have shown up for her. This is what we owe our friends.
We don’t owe them the sacrifice of our individuality and authenticity. We can show up and be understanding for those people who matter without dimming our light. But if your sincere efforts don’t work or someone insists of being unlikeable, let them be and you do you.
Christine is a lifestyle coach living in Los Angeles. She believes the way we live predicts our future health and motivation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about working with Christine.