Personality refers both to who you are at your core and how others perceive you to be. Personality is a slippery word because it includes both what you feel to be true about yourself and what other people think about you - your thoughts that lead to emotion (invisible) and behavior (visible).
So, on the one side of personality, we have the invisible core of “who you are” as defined by you. On the other side of personality, we have the visible version of you as defined by other people. Gurus say that “authentic people” are those who say as they do and do as they say. In effect, the goal of authenticity is to project your definition of yourself to everyone else consistently, and align the invisible with the visible.
Nothing challenges our personalities more than living in The Big Lie (aka abuse). The Big Lie confuses our thoughts and emotions to the point of feeling insane. We see ourselves behave in ways we never thought we’d behave. The resulting emotions of anxiety, fear, and emotional pain reflect our sense of “losing ourselves” and disappearing because our actions and words no longer accurately show “who we are”.
Abuse Survivors’ Authenticity
By and large, the abuse victims I’ve spoken with are the most authentic people I’ve ever met after they’ve come to accept that they’re being abused. These “victims” are now survivors, and they will continue to be survivors so long as they continue to be authentic. Being authentic is a choice, and survivors know it. When it comes down to it, an abusive relationship leaves you with two choices:
- Be authentic, or
- Be who you think your abuser wants you to be
Both choices result in abuse. Your abuser wants you to be exactly like them all of the time so they don’t have to use their energy to control you. This is impossible.
Choice number two keeps you in the cycle of abuse and the cycle of abusing your Self. Pretending to be someone you are not causes confusion, anxiety, irrational thoughts, and erratic emotional reactions. These feelings can hide the fact that you are not being true to yourself and are instead lying to yourself. Choice number two does not allow authenticity because you listen to your abuser instead of your Self.
Choice number one enables you to regain your strength of character. It enables you to honor who you are despite any abuse inflicted on you. Choice number one eliminates confusion, irrationality, emotional dysfunction, and deep-seated anxieties caused by not being you. Choice number one allows you to be honest with your Self (even if it is safer to lie to your abuser). Choice number one helps you move from abuse victim to survivor because it places your Self above your abuser’s voice.
Abuse causes personality changes. It is up to you whether you want to keep those changes or not.
Let’s say that before you met your abuser you were flirtatious, but now you don’t make eye contact with anyone of the opposite sex for fear of your abuser saying you’re cheating and abusing you because of their perception. After you stop the abuse, you still don’t make eye contact and it is affecting your career.
Sometimes, our first rebellious thoughts are to go back to being the way we were before (flirtatious) because “gosh darn it, that abuser doesn’t control me anymore!” But is that what you really want? Would flirting help your career?
Our minds tend to want to revert to what was familiar. When this happens, we might forget that there are options between flirtatious and closed off. After you end the abuse (whether by leaving or staying due to a miracle change), part of the fun is deciding who you are NOW.
You get to make or re-make yourself according to who you want to be. It is an option you felt you didn’t have during the abusive relationship, yet people blessed with normal relationships get to do it all the time. Finding your authenticity after abuse is, to some extent, trial and error. You may make some mistakes. From those mistakes, use your freedom to change your behaviors and thoughts.
Before too long, your emotions will settle into peaceful bliss and your authentic self will learn to appreciate your strengths and accept your weaknesses. Your life will be blissful because you decided who you wanted to become.
Unfortunately, if you stay long enough to experience physical violence resulting in traumatic brain injury, your personality may biologically change and you will no longer get to choose who you are. Verbal abuse is a red flag for physical violence.