The most dangerous aspect of performing for other people is slowly forgetting who you are when you aren’t putting on a show.
Have you ever been around a person or a group of people who made you feel anxious and nervous when they were around, and then mentally drained and exhausted once you left their company? Chances are, you were dealing with a person with whom you’re afraid to show your true self. Whether directly or indirectly, this person or group of people have made you feel as if your true self wouldn’t be wanted, needed, or accepted in that space. You then internalized this, and processed a copy/paste/delete/edit on your appearance, your personality, etc. in order to meet their standard, or at least pretend to.
Most people know exactly what I’m talking about; nearly all of us have performed this way at some point during our lives for our parents, bosses/supervisors, even friends and lovers. While being phony is nothing to praise, this sort of performance is deeply rooted in the human survival instinct, and part of our survival as a gregarious species is rooted in establishing and maintaining strong communal relationships. As humans, we innately fear being socially rejected, or worse, completely ostracized. And so we learn to either conform, or perform. Performance, only appearing to change who you are in limited times and spaces, appears to be the better of the two options. But it is just as disingenuous to the self as conforming and, because it only takes one bad performance to expose a person, it’s incredibly demanding and stressful.
We cannot always control the spaces that we’re in. Financially dependent minors, people who have to earn a living doing work where they have managers, children in classrooms, etc. might have little to no choice in how they show up in potentially very repressive environments. But too many of us choose to show up in spaces where we know performance will be necessary, because we are less afraid of losing our own identities than we are of losing friends, lovers, and family members who don’t know the real versions of us. We’ve been performing for these people for so long that we become convinced they’d want nothing to do with our true selves and even worse, no one else ever would, either. But even if the former is true, the latter is absolutely false.
Performance eats away at the integrity of our relationships because, over time, we become convinced that we have to do this with everyone we’ll ever know, forever. Performance plays on and feeds itself with your insecurities; it tells you that no one likes you, wants you, or will ever truly understand you. It tells you that all the world is a stage and you must stay in character. Freedom is what happens if and when you finally decide to retire and step off that stage. Understanding is found when you give other people the immense privilege of getting to know the real you.