Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
How many different lives do you lead? How many different versions of you are there?
Most people tend to adapt to their surroundings, some much more so than others. We probably all know people who are “just themselves” – who don’t seem to change regardless of their environment. This can be refreshing and charming – or seem embarrassing and rude – and sometimes it is not something that person can choose to change, for example if they are, to a greater or lesser extent, autistic.
But most of us would behave differently at home with our family to how we are at work. Our parents probably know us differently to our best friend. It’s likely that we behave differently after a couple of drinks on a Friday night to how we would be at a Buckingham Palace garden party.
We are different in different circumstances, with different people. You may have noticed this if you have a partner – very often they are very different with their parents to how they are with you; they perhaps revert more to being a child, maybe they are quite concerned to impress or please their parents. And of course your partner may have noticed this in you too.
It can be difficult when two different worlds meet. Taking your partner to a work function can be awkward, for example, and this is, I think, because you don’t know who to be. Which persona should you adopt? The work you or the home you? Perhaps there are even things your work colleagues know about you that you don’t want your partner to know – that you are a secret smoker, or that you swear a lot at work, or flirt, for example.
If we imagine these different selves as overlapping circles, they might overlap to different degrees. We may have two sets of friends but behave largely in the same way with both sets, so the overlap is large, and it will not be particularly uncomfortable if the two sets of friends meet. But in other cases there may be little or no overlap between our different selves. Would you want your kids to join you for a night out with your mates? What would be like if your granny sat in your next date with your boyfriend?
There’s something in all this about how much you value yourself, I think. If you have a low opinion of yourself, if you feel that your needs don’t matter, it seems to me to be more likely that you will adapt quite a lot to different circumstances. You will see it as appropriate to be flexible, to try to keep others happy, because what they want seems much more important than what you want. And indeed, this can become habit-forming – after years of adapting to other people’s needs, you may have completely stopped thinking about your own needs. When asked what you want to do, you may automatically defer to others : “Whatever you like” ; “I’m easy” and if pressed, may actually be unable to find a preference, because you are so out of the habit of doing so.
If you do too much of this, one of two things might happen. The first is that you find a new environment where you can adopt a new, more selfish persona. This may come out as a new interest or hobby, or an affair, or just the need for time on your own. The second thing that sometimes happens is that the easy-going, flexible individual suddenly flips in an outraged way. “WE NEVER DO WHAT I WANT!” “YOU ARE SO SELFISH!!” Which can surprise those on the receiving end – “But you’ve always said you are happy for me to choose!”
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should all be the same in all environments, or that we should always hold out for what we want, that we should never be flexible. It’s about striking a balance – the right balance for you – and that can mean trying to change the habits of a lifetime, which is not an easy thing to do.