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The Real Me?

2009 April 15
by Julie Clawson

I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis recently. It’s kinda silly really. Since I spend so much time of Facebook and the like while I am nursing Aidan, I’ve ended up doing a ton of those quiz things. Now, while knowing what color or 1980’s movie I am is deeply important in the grand scheme of things, there are a few of the quizzes there that are actually somewhat insightful. They ask good questions and get people to think about themselves. But my problem that I have noticed as I’ve taken them recently is that I don’t know which “me” to answer them as. I find myself debating if I should answer as the person I act like in “real life” or as who I am online.

Now before I get jumped on for confusing the virtual world with reality or something, I have to admit that I feel like the person I am online is more “me” than what I act like around actual physical people. Yes, I’m weird and probably have serious issues or something, but that’s the way it is.  I can think of a number of reasons for why it is the case. In my day to day interactions with people, I don’t often (ever?) have the chance to be myself. I generally am trying to hide who I really am, or at least what I think about things, from family and acquaintances because I hate conflict. I’d rather have a semblance of a relationship than not pretend to be who they want me to be. Mike knows the difference, and gets to listen to my rants about what I wish I would have said at say, MOPS, but I let the facade continue.

Or I am not me because, I am simply trying to divide my attention between having a conversation with people and paying attention to my two very demanding kids. Since I am with the kids some 95% of the time, I feel like the “me” I most often portray to the world is the brainless, tired, too-stressed-to-form-complete-sentences mom. I think the other students at Mike’s seminary must think I am either completely stupid or utterly anti-social since I generally have to ignore them all to chase after the kids when I’m down there. It’s kinda hard to be a self-assured empowered women when you are covered in spit-up and have the “mommy, mommy, mommy” broken record playing at all times. I haven’t had time to make any friends here in Austin who I can just be myself with, so all of my public interactions are me being these strange parodies of myself and hating it.

So it is in the online world that I feel like I can be myself. On one hand, it’s nice to have that outlet.  I think I’d go insane otherwise.  But I have to ask myself if I don’t have the opportunity to be myself in “real life” is that really me? Hence my strange Facebook quiz dilemma. It’s who I think I am, it’s who I want to be, but it’s not what I act on a daily basis.

So what do you think (besides that I’m a messed up freak…)? Can your online persona be the “real you”? Or is that not real if it doesn’t surface in actual human interactions? Is this just me, or do others of you experience the same issue?


20 Responses leave one →
  1. Stacie B permalink
    April 15, 2009

    I completely relate….especially the non-social person cause I’m too distracted keeping track of the kids. I often fear I come across very rude as I don’t have a moment to finish the conversation before being interrupted and distracted by a kid. Then there’s the side of me that just wants to be liked so between the two, I’d say I’m rarely myself in person. I think the ‘real me’ is the me on facebook though depending on who I’m answering, I edit those responses at times too. But much more myself more often…

  2. April 15, 2009

    “others of you experience the same issue?”

    I do. Some of my friends and family members know me, but I really have to guard myself around others.

    It can be pretty tiring. But I fear that my only other option is to lose those people from my life permanently.

  3. April 15, 2009

    i can certainly relate.

  4. April 15, 2009

    These are really good questions. As a writer, I would almost always prefer to express myself with the written word. It gives me the option to backspace, pause, think, and rewrite. When I’m talking to someone in person, the “real me” just tumbles out, reckless, awkward, head-over-heels with my underwear showing. I don’t have young kids anymore, but I can’t even say how many times I’ve left an interaction with someone feeling like a complete idiot because I got tongue tied or otherwise too intimidated to say what I honestly think. I really resonated with your observation about not wanting to reveal the “real” you to some family and friends who may misunderstand and label. Sometimes it’s just not worth the muddiness. I think if many of the people in my former faith community knew the details of the ways I have changed and how my theology has changed, they’d say I have gone off the deep end. I’m still very much in process with all of that and am thus selective with whom I enter these deeper conversations. For now I am content to let people believe I am where they want me to be. My writing, however, is where the “real” me is dipping her toes into the water of authenticity.

  5. April 16, 2009

    Someone told me once that when two people interact, there are actually eight “people” involved…

    1. Who I am
    2. Who you are
    3. Who I think I am
    4. Who you think you are
    5. Who I think you are
    6. Who you think I am
    7. Who I think you think I am
    8. Who you think I think you are

    And every time I take one of those Meyers-Briggs personality inventories (or those online quizzes), I always am confounded by whether or not I should answer as who I think I am or who others probably think I am. Or maybe I should just give the test to my wife and let her answer for me!

    I guess my point is that we spend a lot of time trying to “emerge” from concrete labels and definitions in our faith and spirituality. But why would our personality be any more definable? I think we are some crazy mix of who we think we are and who others think we are and who we think others think we are and on and on. I don’t know if there is such a thing as the “real” me.

    Maybe the online phenomenon is a result of the distance between us and the recipient of our communication. Without the immediate feedback of “who others think I am” that happens in face-to-face encounters, I am more free to be “who I think I am.”

    I don’t have any answers here, but I agree with you, Julie, that I feel like a somewhat different person when I am online. I don’t know if it’s any more “real,” but it’s certainly different. And I think that’s probably okay.

  6. April 16, 2009

    You aren’t a freak. Or maybe all of us are…

    I struggle with some of the same things you & others have written about here. I spent my whole life trying to be who I thought my parents & others thought I should be. Then I became a Christian in college and spent several years trying to be who the white, evangelical church thought I should be. Then I became a wife and mom & tried to include all of those expectations in the white evangelical church bucket. Then we were part of a church plant with a group of people who wanted community, authenticity, etc. So I’ve spent several years adding “trying to be cool” to the mix. Well, I realize I’m not cool, but I spend time with some very cool people.

    Anyway… all of that to say… It is only in this last year that I’ve begun to let go of all of this. Not to be overly dramatic, but it kind of feels like scales have come off my eyes. I have experienced some freedom with all of this, although it can still be hard at times. The funny part is that some of my family think I’m a crazy liberal (politically, socially, spiritually) & some friends in my church and community think I’m a crazy conservative. In actuality, I’m a crazy mixed-up version of both while trying to have the gospel as the most important thing at the root of all of my views, ideas, positions. I ask a whole lot of questions & I don’t claim to have very many answers…

    Anyway, they all still love me & I think they sense my higher level comfort that I have with myself. That draws some people to me, while it repels others. It has been interesting to see all of that play out…

    Not sure any of this makes sense. Great post, though. Thanks for helping me think through some of this.

  7. April 16, 2009

    Oh my goodness, Julie, I have been contemplating a post titled something like “I think I’m having an identity crisis” and then yours popped up. I think Caryn’s Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. book has got me wrestling with this, in a hard but important way.

    I went out with some friends the other night, and when I came home I had a mini-meltdown because I couldn’t stop thinking, “I’ve known this couple for years, but they don’t really know me.” Many of my friends have no idea how (or why) I spend so much time writing online and how much it means to me. They might be offended by the different angles on Christianity I’m so passionate about, or the idea that being a full time mom doesn’t complete me. Most people I interact with daily also don’t know anything about my “past” life, education, career, or passions that were such a big part of my life before I became a SAHM.

    I’m trying to connect again with those parts I neglected as full time parenting took over. I don’t regret my choices, but now I feel like it’s time to shift seasons again. I’ve just had some trouble figuring out where I want to go next.

    It isn’t necessarily that these friends would not accept those parts of me, but I haven’t been comfortable or brave enough to express them. Like you said, there might be conflict to work through, or it would be time consuming.

    I think I just wrote my post on your blog. Thanks for getting me started ;-).

  8. April 16, 2009

    Um – yes. For some of us, as you said, the online person is quite often more the real you than the you people see. I get that. And boy do I miss the few friends I could be the real me with! I am still very, very hesitant to let most (almost all) people see the real me. What is worse is, like you said, when you have had that and now you don’t. sigh.

  9. April 16, 2009

    I often feel that I cannot let my true self out, for as you said, fear of conflict. I don’t know many people who believe in the same things I do so it is hard to reconcile that with everyday living. I have seen an immense decrease in friendships and “hanging out” time since I have experienced a lifestyle change. But in many ways I am still the same in personality. So what gives? I don’t know. I would say the real you is your heart and your convictions, perhaps the (our) prayer should be for God to give us the wisdom and courage to be who we were made to be in any situation. Who knows, it may even open doors we didn’t know were there. (For example, I agree with you on a lot of topics and was thinking about joining MOPS as well- but was AFRAID of what I would find there, so I guess you never know).

  10. Karl permalink
    April 16, 2009

    I can relate too. Do you think that for those who feel like they have to suppress their “real” self in many of their in-person interactions, when that real self gets to express itself online it does so with a bit of a chip on its shoulder, because it’s been cooped up so much? Maybe more than the “real us” would really want to have? Or maybe it’s just that in the online world we can’t convey with body language, voice tone and eye contact that we mean well and intend to be friendly, and the typed word can come across a lot colder or disagreeable than we meant for it to? I know that can to some degree be avoided by additional, otherwise superfluous sentences explaining our emotions and intent . . . but that takes time and space and we often forego it. I know (or strongly suspect) I’ve made you mad with my posts on your other thread and probably in other discussions, too. But I think if we met in person we’d probably like each other. I hope that would be the case anyway, and I hope it wouldn’t be because we were being fake.

  11. April 16, 2009

    I can relate. I just read a really amazing book called “The Authentic Leader” (Irvine & Regehr) that helped clarify some of the thoughts I’d had on this topic. They talk about the three versions of self…the model self (the ideal that is concocted from the expectations of the myriad of cultures surrounding us – families, friends, schools, communities, churches, and workplaces), the constructed self (a self that we build in response to these cultures – in an attempt to get closer to the model self in each context), and the authentic self (the person we are when we’re most honest about our passions and our values). They talk about how we experience stress when there is the least alignment between these selves.

  12. April 16, 2009

    I think that I just get confused about what constitutes “the real me.” Is “real” defined by what people experience about me the majority of the time, or is “real” defined by who I think I am/try to be, even when I’m lousy at expressing it?

    I’m two different people in person and online – in person is the commonplace, awkward me, and online is the thoughtful, passionate me. I’d say that the online me is “realer” because it’s who I am on the inside, even if I can’t make it show on the outside, and yet if seeing-is-believing, then the me-in-person is “realer” because it’s what most people see 95% of the time.

  13. April 16, 2009

    Obviously, you’ve articulated something many of us are feeling and wrestling with, Julie. I tend to relate more to the first part — not being real with people when it might provoke conflict, (or what I really fear — good, churchy advice to pray more, etc.). I have resisted getting involved with people at church for just this reason, even though I crave substantive fellowship. After trying for a couple of years, I gave up on MOPS (or the equivalent) because the superficial connection was just making me feel more lonely and alienated, not less. Connecting with a few people on line has saved my sanity, I think.

    Still, it’s not how I want to live in the long run. As my kids get older and I have a little more breathing room in my days, I can start to see where I might begin to have that “real” life again. It’s interesting, though — the last place I want to hang out is a women’s Bible study or some such group. I find the folks working at the AIDS food pantry a lot more real (OK, sometimes too real).

  14. April 16, 2009

    Wow thanks for the comments. A few thoughts…

    I think there is a difference between being diplomatic and hiding the real you. There are times when arguing or asserting myself is inappropriate and to stay silent is simply the nice thing to do. Then there is letting others assume things about me that are untrue because I am too afraid to speak up and tell the truth. Part of that is knowing that sometimes the truth would just take way too much time to explain in full, other times its just not wanting to be judged or told I’m a heretic (or that they will pray for me – which can be one of the most condescending and offensive statements out there).

    And in all honesty I hate the messiness of arguing with overly-emotional people. The ones who start yelling and talking over me. Or the ones who start crying and say I am insulting their faith my disagreeing with them. The internet it far saner for having discussions. It’s harder to be manipulated by tears, intimidated into silence, or simply not allowed to get a word in edgewise in this format.

    And Karl – you are right meeting people in person does really help. It is interesting, I am more able to be myself with people who I knew first online. Even if they spent most of their time attacking me online, when we met we could be very open (and civil) in our discussions. I guess the barriers and facades were already down, so the relationship was able to be more real.

  15. April 16, 2009

    I don’t know if the question should be “who is the real me” as much as “who really knows me”.
    I know that in my life only my husband, kids and two long time close friends really know me
    intimately. Some of that comes from our long history (they have known me over a long
    period of time) and some of it comes from me feeling safe enough with them to reveal
    so much about myself to them (they have proven over time that they see past my flaws
    or our different opinions – they see me in a way that is whole).

    Having said all of that I do realize there are some people that I have known for a long time
    that would probably be surprised that I have changed my view on so many things during the
    last 2 or 3 years AND in contrast to that, there are people online that I have never met and have
    been acquainted with for much less time who know more about who I am and what I
    think now than so many who have known me longer.

    Much of that is due to the fact that
    I spent most of my adult years being a pretty conservative evangelical Christian until a few
    years ago when I began to feel like my faith was a barrier instead of a bridge.

    In addition to all of that I think online I have the advantage of putting my best foot forward
    a higher percentage of the time. In other words, I can look better online than I probably really am – It’s not really like I am being deceitful – it is more like I can have more success online being who I desire to be because it is a more controlled environment. Real life – with no back spaces or deletes – sees more of my flaws and failures.

    I do believe my online life seems to help me become a better person in my day to day in person life

  16. April 16, 2009

    As everyone else says, I can relate. A friend once told me that every expression of you is a part of you. They don’t have to be dichotomized, and thinking “I’m not being who I really am” isn’t really helpful. We are complex people, different things come out in different situations and life stages.

    That said – what challenges me about my online persona (where I am much more outgoing and informed than I appear to be in many other situations), is the question – how can I develop the parts of me that are healthy, confident, and glorifying to God?

  17. Karl permalink
    April 16, 2009

    Julie, do the family and friends who you feel like you have to pretend to be someone else with not read your blog? It seems like having an online presence like you do might cut down on some of that dichotomy – might make it impossible to hide what one “really thinks” even if one wanted to.

    Have you ever read Susan Howatch’s “Starbridge” novels? She explores a similar question in “Glittering Images” where the title refers to the false versions of ourselves that we sometimes project in order to gain the approval of (or to avoid hurting) others. While the “real us” languishes beneath the surface and bursts out at inopportune times and maybe even in unhealthy ways. If you haven’t read Howatch, she’s a writer you should definitely check out. A Christian, not an evangelical, has a lot of very interesting things to say, tells a page turning story – right up your alley. I like her a lot.

  18. Wendy permalink
    April 16, 2009

    I can relate only mildly to the online-persona-being-the-real-me phenomenon, but that’s simply because I can’t find much time to spend blogging and discussing things online. I’m sure if I could allocate more time (I wish!), I’d find that to be very true for me, too.

    But I fully resonate with the different-versions-of-myself idea. I am often very uncomfortable with the idea of being real with those around me. I’d say one of my main defining characteristics is my tendency to hold very strong opinions/views, and I often silence that part of myself during conversations for fear of alienating others or not expressing myself clearly. I’m with Laura: “I can’t even say how many times I’ve left an interaction with someone feeling like a complete idiot because I got tongue tied or otherwise too intimidated to say what I honestly think.”

    In addition to having strong opinions and having a tendency to get flustered and not express myself clearly, I also have a deep desire for people to like me. This combination of characteristics sometimes seems like a cruel joke. I’m not secure enough in myself to let it roll off my back when others don’t understand me or think I’m weird. Instead, it really bugs me. It makes me feel wronged or misunderstood–or even guilty, depending on the situation.

    Julie, I strongly identify with you and with Liz; there are only a few (very few) people with whom I can truly be myself. My poor husband. He has to listen to me rant all the time. I’d like to think that he’s privileged to the only human who REALLY knows me, but I fear that’s more of a burden to him than a blessing. If I had other people to rant with, I imagine he’d be able to enjoy the real me more.

    I think Irvine & Regehr (thanks, Heather) nailed it with the suggestion that the bigger the disconnect between who we really are and the persona we project, the more stress we experience. I know–KNOW!–that I would be happier, my husband would be happier, my son would be happier, and even my dog would be happier if I could be myself in community more often (or at all!). I don’t like the way I find myself acting due to a lack of authentic relationships.

    Our family recently moved away from an area where we’d lived for twelve years. After so many years of building relationships and authentic community (especially with our church family), it’s been very difficult to start over. It’s daunting to think of trying to discover and cultivate that sort of community again. We’re starting from scratch. It took us twelve years before! I have no friends here with whom I can be myself. I have made a grand total of one friend in our area, and I don’t even feel truly comfortable with her. As Karen said, “Boy do I miss the few friends I could be the real me with!” Having experienced something like that makes it exponentially more difficult when you don’t have it anymore.

    We’ve really been looking for a group of people in our area who are passionate about what we’re passionate about (social justice, living responsibly in relation to the earth, truly seeking to emulate Christ, etc.), and we’ve been dismayed to discover that it’s very difficult to get all those things at once–at least around here. We live in what could be called a very liberal area, and it seems like most faith communities around here have reacted by determining to be the opposite (after all, anything liberal must be bad, right?). 😉 So we’re torn between being part of a faith community that differs in fundamental ways from our views, or not being part of a faith community at all. (Perhaps the answer is to start building such a faith community? Gulp.)

    * * *

    I also resonate with Pam when she says that few people know about her past accomplishments and experiences. I feel like I was so interesting before I became a stay-at-home mom! I know those parts of myself are still in there, but they rarely have an outlet these days, and most people I’ve met here would be stunned to know all of the things I’ve done and experienced in my life.

    I feel the “hypocrisy in encouraging my kids to develop as unique individuals while I gave up my identity at the motherhood door.” For years I privately criticized my mother-in-law for not having a life. It seemed like the closest thing she had to a self was her kids. She didn’t have friends, she never did anything for fun, she and my father-in-law never went out . . . I just couldn’t believe that she was wholly fulfilled. But I look at my life now, and I realize that I don’t really have much of a self anymore either! Surely that is not good for me or for my loved ones. Surely I could be a better mother if being a mother weren’t ALL I found myself being–especially considering that I don’t even have much interaction with other moms.

    But like Maria, I have resisted participating in moms’ groups and the like despite my craving for, as she puts it, “substantive fellowship.” I’ve been afraid that “the superficial connection [would make] me feel more lonely and alienated, not less.”

    I’m sure it could seem snobby or condescending that I assume that MOPS-type groups would be shallow and unfulfilling. I probably have no right to judge them without ever having attended a single meeting of that sort. And perhaps I could find real connection there.

    I was recently invited to be part of a women’s Bible study at a local church. I’m just desperate for community of some sort, even if it’s not a community with which I feel a deep connection, so I was seriously considering it. But then the woman who invited me mentioned the author of the “workbook” they were currently using (take a guess). Sigh.

    I’m left to wonder, at least for now: Is it better for me to have inauthentic relationships with others (in which I can’t be fully me) or to have no relationships at all? A discouraging choice, to be sure. And perhaps not an accurate one.

    I like what Andrea said: “Perhaps the (our) prayer should be for God to give us the wisdom and courage to be who we were made to be in any situation. Who knows, it may even open doors we didn’t know were there.”

  19. April 17, 2009

    Kacie – interesting about how we are just expressing our full complexity.

    Karl – I think some of friends and family read this blog – at least every now and then. But it is rarely (ever?) something that gets mentioned. I still somewhat censor what I write for that reason, but I gave up trying to be a person I’m not here a couple of years ago. In a completely cowardly way – I’ve decided to just be myself here and if they have problems with that, the balls in their court to respond.

    Wendy – that choice between inauthentic relationships or no relationships is hard. I generally go for having relationships with the hope that they can one day develop into authentic ones – which has happened to some extent in a few relationships. But then of course that still leaves Mike to deal with my rants about the other ones…

  20. April 29, 2009

    I think I could have written that entire post. I have often felt that the online me is more the real me, but because I don’t get to participate in online discussions very much anymore, and pretty much change diapers and clean up after my son all the time, I am starting to again go through some kind of identity crisis. While I’ve never thought that I am “just” a mom, because I think being a mom is important and that implies otherwise, lately I feel that I am just a “mom” and not much else.

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