A client in one my therapy groups recently shared that he sometimes will go to a party ‘in character’ (i.e. perform as someone he’s not) to help get over social anxiety and free him up from nervousness when interacting with others.
I thought that was an exiting and creative way to play with identity, anxiety, and socializing. Some group members were a bit surprised, perhaps even offended, by my support of what they saw as dishonesty, lying. After all, aren’t I as a therapist supposed to be supporting people to become comfortable in their own skin, and to be authentic to their true selves?
I’m all for people honoring, respecting, and loving themselves and others. I do not advocate people hurting each other with dishonesty that is carried out to avoid responsibility for one’s actions or to manipulate others out of ill will. However, I am a developmentalist, and therefore am not overly interested in helping clients find and then stay authentic to their True Selves.
The idea that we have one, static and unchanging self that is out there to find in the first place is rigid and keeps us from growing.
I am interested more in helping people to evolve, to continuously create our “selves” with others, and to practice being who we are now and who we can become.
I support faking, pretending, ‘lying’ when it is done in the name of development or to allow us to be more giving to ourselves and others, or to be more creative in our every day lives. Performing who we are not helps liberate us from our chains of ‘this is who I am and that’s the end of the story’! If we only stay within the confines of ‘this is who I am: I’m awkward at parties, I’m shy… I’m [fill in the blank]’, then we can never be innovative with what is possible. By letting go of “who we are,” we can allow ourselves to discover new ways of practicing life, our relationships, and our selves.
I spoke about this in all of my groups, which as you can imagine led to very interesting, colorful conversations on the role of deceit, creativity, innovation, being stuck in our Identities, authenticity. Very rich and thoughtful responses and reactions ran the gamut from ‘No way! You should not have lied about who you are and played a character at the party. That party wasn’t a theater play!’ to ‘Wow this is exiting! It’s like all the world is our stage!’
What do you think?
Jennifer Bullock, M.Ed., M.L.S.P., LPC | The Philadelphia Social Therapy Group