How many emails have you opened in the first three weeks of 2022 that have had a version of ‘New Year, new you’ in the subject line? If you’re anything like me then I’m guessing it’s a lot.
Sometimes it’s felt like I can’t open my inbox without being drowned in a deluge of messages exhorting me to take up yoga, ‘do’ Dry January, rethink my entire wardrobe, find that dream job or book a summer holiday – all in the name of reinventing myself.
Three paragraphs in feels too early to go down the sweary path, but the whole ‘New Year, new you’ thing is all bollocks. Really, you’re fine just the way you are – and if anything, you probably need to be more of who you are.
And you certainly need to be less of who you aren’t.
In a moment, I’ll tell you why that is. But first let’s just tip a hat to some of the beliefs that the whole ‘New Year, new you’ mantra plays on.
It’s natural to see the turning of the year as a fresh page in life’s book. A chance to draw a line under what’s gone before and to write a new part of your story that sees you become the person you really want to be.
Spoiler alert: identifying with an ideal is the first and fundamental mistake we make, because it’s a personal acknowledgement that we believe the person we really are is in some way inferior to what we imagined for ourselves.
But now that we’ve decided that who we really are is different to who we – er – really are we chase improbable outcomes that have their genesis in improbable assumptions.
Assumptions like, if I lose a stone in weight, I’ll be the new me. Or, if I change my wardrobe, I can reinvent myself. Or, if I can become the Chief Executive of Google, I’ll be where I always thought I should be.
None of this – none of it – is real. It’s all just a flight of fancy we concoct for ourselves (and that clothes retailers, recruiters and the rest actively encourage) to distract us from the hard work of growing to like the person we actually are.
Here’s the absolute stone-cold truth, all wrapped up in some tough love.
If you want to reinvent who you’ve become, then you need to discover (or perhaps rediscover) the real you, not waste time chasing the version of yourself you’ve created in your own mind.
We all have character traits we don’t much like. There’s always room for improvement. None of us can ever look in the mirror and truly think we’re perfect. Not even Justin Bieber.
But where we need to put in the hard yards is in uncovering the authentic self. It’s not easy, because that person might well be buried under years of negative self-perception, trauma and poor self-esteem.
But he or she is in there somewhere. You just have the courage to look – because when you find them, you’ll be amazed at just how much like the real you they actually are.
That process isn’t always easy because we have to deconstruct everything we believed about ourselves and what we would and could become. So, here’s where I think the journey of self-acceptance and self-realisation begins.
First, we have to accept that, pre-existing genetic conditions or ante-natal complications aside, we all start life with the same playing piece on a blank canvas. But as we grow and the years pass, we acquire experiences that we learn from. This self-education can be positive or negative, but it all shapes us.
Our individualism is created through our responses to these experiences. It’s essential we understand that none of what we acquire is our fault, but it does become our problem.
Trauma is one of life’s great sculptors
Trauma leaves the deepest impressions and scars and moulds our emotional identity.
When we talk about trauma, we often imagine it as Big T trauma – physical, emotional or sexual abuse, for example. But trauma doesn’t have to be catastrophic in nature to change the perceptions we have of ourselves and others.
The steady drip-drip-drip of passive chronic neglect or persistent belittlement as a child can be just as emotionally damaging as bigger ‘T’ trauma because it’s the ‘shaming’ (direct or indirect) that causes us to believe we are ‘not good enough’
We begin to believe that what happened to us (big T Trauma) or didn’t happen to us (adequate love, care & nurturing) is ‘who we are’.
Getting knocked down is inevitable, but it’s how you get back up that counts
To fail or to err is human – but so often we feel pressured into pretending we’re superhuman. We’re not.
When we’re not given the message that it’s okay to be who we are – or we fail to hear it – then our ‘true self’ splinters and we become the collapsed self – and the collapsed self is corrosive, reinforcing the message that we unworthy, defective and flawed, that we are ugly or unlovable.
Ultimately, and over time, when we identify strongly with our collapsed self & falsely believe this is who we really are, we experience shame.
Who’s policing the police?
The defences we erect to combat wounding are important – but they can sometimes lead to negative outcomes.
For example, maybe you cope with those scars by creating a fiercely independent, grounded ‘cool girl’ persona that reinforces positive self-perception.
Great – except that the cool girl you become may not feel able to ask for the help and support she really needs from others.
Self-awareness that allows you to recognise when a defence has stopped working and is instead contributing to the problem is essential – but it requires reinvention and adaptive thinking.
Each time you reinvent yourself you are actually just accessing another part of who you really are
It’s a great soundbite, right? But what does that really mean?
Using others’ perceptions of you to prove you can do and be all the things they’ve decided you can’t
speaking up and speaking out
standing firm to get what you know you need, even if that risks disconnection from others (although it’s never a bad thing to let go of the people in your life who don’t accept you for the person you are, however important you might think they are)
being vulnerable and honest with yourself and others – and your defences will work hard to stop you from doing that btw!
setting boundaries to transition from being a recovering people pleaser
having your own back
not abandoning yourself
peeling away the layers of your self-perception and the perception of others to get to and getting to the core of you
As a list of bullet points that looks simple, doesn’t it? But it’s not, and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who says it is.
It requires difficult but objective self-evaluation that challenges you to confront your own perceptions of who you are. And that’s always much more difficult than dealing with someone else’s notion of your emotional or physical identity.
To honour yourself by trusting in the person you really are requires compassion, too. You have to be prepared to forgive your own misfittery & flaws, and to accept that perfection is often and counter-intuitively imperfect.
This process may be the most difficult you will ever go through, and you may well need support to do it.
But I promise you with every fibre of my being that when you do find the real you (& it’s a journey not a destination) – that authentic, imperfect, unfailingly vulnerable individual you’ve lost touch with for so long – they’ll be one of the most startlingly inspiring people you’d ever wish to know.