“Just relax, have fun, and be yourself.”
Usually when I hear this phrase someone is trying to talk me out of being anxious about something. I’m sure they mean well. It’s supposed to be reassuring. Maybe they mean it as a promise that I’ll find acceptance and enjoy myself if I just stop thinking too much about things. But when someone says, “Just relax, have fun, and be yourself” what I hear is, “Be the person I want you to be and have fun doing it.”
What if my real self simply can’t relax in that situation? Or “myself” doesn’t have fun with activities like the one you’re trying to talk me into? In that case, I assume that you’ll either judge me for failing at such a simple instruction or you’ll feel bad that I haven’t enjoyed myself. So instead of actually being myself when I hear this, I want to try to be whatever version of myself I think you expect in response to what you said.
To Chameleon or Not To Chameleon
INFJs interact with the outer world using a function called Extroverted Feeling. Personality Hacker calls this mental process Harmony because it’s concerned with creating and maintaining harmonious relationships between people. It’s often (but not always) something that INFJs are tempted to skip developing because it’s more comfortable for us to stay in our introverted side with Intuition and Thinking.
When you pair a Harmony process that isn’t very well developed with anxiety (not all INFJs have anxiety, but I do), you end up with the sort of situation I described above. You try to “chameleon” into what other people want desperately trying to keep things in a comfortable state of non-confrontation.
But sometimes, achieving real Harmony means that confrontations do have to happen. You can’t live your life as a chameleon and be happy. INFJs don’t have the function called Authenticity in their stack (that’s what personality Hacker calls Introverted Feeling), but the concept of living authentically is a core value for many of us. I don’t like being fake. I want to be in harmony with other people, but not by pretending to be something I’m not. If I do that, then I wouldn’t be in harmony with myself.
When Your Shell Doesn’t Work
True harmony isn’t achieved by hiding your genuine self. It comes with honesty, vulnerability, and a willingness to work through the messiness of real relationships. I know this well enough that I can write it and believe it’s true. But implementing it is much easier said than done.
Time for an embarrassing story. Early in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend he introduced me to a couple of his friends. His friend group loves games, and they suggested playing one that I’d never heard of. (New situations = anxiety trigger.) But I agreed to have them explain the game and see what I thought. It involved crude humor, reading aloud, and developing a character voice. (Spontaneous verbal performance in front of strangers = enormous anxiety trigger.) But the thought of actually saying, “I’m not comfortable with this and don’t want to play this game” seemed just as daunting. (Asserting my own opinion = anxiety trigger.)
I ended up trying to agree to play, but telegraphing my anxiety so much that my ex drew me aside and said something like, “It’s clear that you don’t want to play but you have to use words to tell me that since I can’t be expected to read your mind.” Which was embarrassing and made me feel stupid, but ultimately led to us not playing that game.
Fast-forward almost a year to another situation where I’m invited to play a game that involves a certain amount of acting. The people I was playing with said it was guaranteed to get someone out of their shell and there’s no pressure other than to “just be yourself.” Once again, I tried to play instead of admitting I didn’t think I could do it. Only this time my heart started racing, I couldn’t put words together, and I had to leave the table to walk-off some energy and try to hold off a full-blown panic attack with deep breathing.
Acceptance And Harmony
So yeah. That happened. I panicked in front of my new friend and his parents. Shockingly, the world didn’t end or anything like that. In fact they apologized for triggering my anxiety and seemed really worried that I wouldn’t want to come back, which seemed kinda strange to me because 1) my anxiety is my problem and I feel like I should be able to control it so it doesn’t inconvenience anyone else, and 2) I expect people to think I’m strange and not want to be around me anymore if they see me panicking. I’m the one who should be apologizing for not being able to handle normal-life things that are supposed to be fun.
Ironically, things probably would have been better if I actually followed the original advice “Just be yourself.” Because if I’d said that I’d rather not play this game because there’s a good chance it will trigger my anxiety we could have avoided a whole lot of awkwardness for everyone.
Sometimes people might actually mean, “Meet my expectations for what you should be” when they say, “Just relax and be yourself.” But if they do that’s their problem, not yours. And I suspect that more often than not, people might actually be okay with you being yourself. Maybe the real problem is with my own expectation that “myself” isn’t good enough for people. Maybe if I wasn’t afraid to live authentically, I’d be a huge step closer to finding the acceptance and harmony I crave from myself and others.