“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
E.E. Cummings’ words rang true when he wrote them decades ago, and they still do today. Our culture preaches authenticity, but at the same time, we are more concerned with what others think of us than becoming who we truly are. There are two versions of you that exist: how you perceive yourself to be and how others perceive you. The latter is based on how you present yourself to the world, and it doesn’t always match up with who you perceive yourself to be.
In my eyes, the first step in becoming who you truly are is being honest with yourself, which is not always as easy as it sounds. Because if you think about it, we really exist in our minds; the only person who can know what’s going on in your head is you. If you don’t self-evaluate and really take a hard look at yourself every once in a while, how can you truly know yourself? You cannot become who you truly are if you aren’t self-aware. You cannot be self-aware if you aren’t brutally honest with yourself sometimes.
Part of being self-aware is being emotionally intelligent. A lot of research has been done on emotional intelligence and as a psychology minor, I find it incredibly interesting. In a study published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal in 2019, researchers list four skills involved in emotional intelligence: the ability to perceive emotions, to reason with emotions, to understand emotions and to manage emotions.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot of work. The ability to perceive your own emotions isn’t always easy, at least for me. It’s much easier to let yourself be reactionary when it comes to your emotions and never examine your emotional responses, let alone reason with your emotions and manage them.
But being self-aware of your emotions improves how you interact with others. Part of understanding emotions involves a high level of empathy. The more you condition yourself to remember that everyone’s’ experiences are different and personal, the more understanding of their emotions you’ll be. The more you communicate with those close to you about your emotions and theirs, the more you’ll understand why they act or react the way they do.
Conversations like that aren’t easy, and being vulnerable is sometimes the last thing I want to do. But it’s all part of growing as a person and actually presenting the person you perceive yourself to be to the world. Am I good at this? I’d like to think I’ve gotten better, but there are still times when I catch myself realizing that I’ve assumed someone knows certain things about me but in reality, I can’t think of a time I actually expressed those things to them. I’m not as open with others as I sometimes think I am.
I’m not saying you have to be an open book and completely vulnerable all the time. There are still things we all keep private or only share with a few people. You can still be your authentic self without revealing everything about yourself to everyone. My point is, you have to be self-aware and have some level of emotional intelligence to be your authentic self.
One of the benefits of working on your emotional intelligence is that you’ll start to recognize the underlying causes of your emotions. Part of becoming who you truly are is truly knowing yourself, right? If you don’t understand the reasons why you feel certain ways or react to certain things, how can you say you know yourself? Knowing why you react to certain situations emotionally will help you begin to manage your emotions, which in turn will help you act truer to how you perceive yourself.
So if you do anything for yourself this year, take time to evaluate your emotions and understand yourself. Have the courage to truly become the person you perceive yourself as.