Why It Takes Courage to Be Yourself

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If you ask anyone who has overcome an illness, broken a negative relationship cycle, started a new habit, or made any meaningful change in their life they will most likely tell you it was really fucking hard, but it was worth it.

Why is it so damn hard? 

And why is it so hard for some people to “be themselves”?

I want to explore this topic a bit in this article and discuss why I think this occurs. 

I’ve been through this process myself and am still working through it so I feel I have enough experience to share my thoughts.

What Does it Even Mean to Be Yourself?

Let me first give you my rough definition of what being yourself means.

The ability to be yourself means that you love yourself enough to express your true feelings, thoughts, and personal idiosyncrasies freely without experiencing shame, guilt, or fear of judgment.

Basically, you can express yourself freely without being worried about what other people think. 

You can live a life and take actions that are based on your own best interest, not what society, your parents, or friends think is best.

This doesn’t mean that everyone will like you or what you have to say, it just means that you have the capability to live true to yourself.

True Personality vs Emotional Discharge

I also want to clarify my thoughts on the difference between expression of true personality vs discharging negative emotions.

Often, people can get these confused.

When someone expresses their true personality it will often be fluid, open, unique, and it usually contains some amount of joy, wit, sparkle, or humor as a subtle undercurrent. 

It will seem as if the person is unblocked and able to act and respond in the way they see fit in the present situation.  

Even if someone has a “stronger”, more blunt personality it will still have the fluidity and openness that I mentioned above.

This is different than when someone is discharging negative emotions. 

If someone gets triggered or is filled with a lot of negative emotion like anger, fear, shame, greed, etc then when they respond or act out of those emotions it won’t be their true self.

If someone has suppressed and pushed down a lot of emotion it will also be harder for them to express their true personality in an open fluid manner because there is a blockage.

This is how I see the difference between true personality (or being yourself) and releasing negative emotions.

How to Know if You Are Able to Be Yourself

I always like to determine how one would test this out to see where they stand. 

For people who have no hesitancy expressing themselves this wouldn’t even register, but for people who are a little more reserved or hesitant to fully be themselves, below is a good way to measure.

There are a couple of ways to test this:

  1. Put yourself in a situation or hangout with people who have opposing beliefs from yours and when discussion starts about a topic tell them your true opinion on the topic
  2. Next time you are around someone with more “social status” or “perceived power” and you are discussing something be sure to speak up when you may not agree with what they are saying and explain to them your thoughts about that topic

If you maintain awareness when you do this you will be able to get instant feedback on your body’s response.

This response will be your test result. 

Did you get super nervous? Did your mind start running wild with thoughts of how to say what you wanted to say? Did you have self-judgment or shame after their response?

You can measure your test result by the level of arousal, emotional response, and mental talk that occurred.

If you had a lot of mental talk and emotional response then this means you still have a hard time being and loving yourself. 

If you had lower levels of mental talk and emotional response from expressing your honest opinion then you are better able to be yourself. 

If it’s a super heated topic it’s normal to get aroused, but if you are able to be yourself you won’t experience self-criticism or negative emotional reactions.

Why It Takes Courage to Be Yourself

If you’re someone who has dealt with anxiety, shyness, or the inability to speak up when you need to then you realize how hard it can be to express yourself in certain situations.

I would imagine even for most people who have not dealt with anxiety or shyness this is still challenging in certain situations.

Your body often has an automatic emotional response and it can be very strong.

I’ve personally dealt with some of this baggage but have gradually started to get better with it. 

Certain situations can still bring on the challenge.

These are a number of different reasons that I think make self-expression difficult for some people.


Let’s face it. Living in our modern world we are put in situations where people have certain perceived levels of power. 

If you have a job then your manager or boss will have a certain level of work power over you making it harder and more tricky to know when to express yourself. Your financial livelihood literally depends on this relationship.

Another example of a power dynamic relationship is in the patient-doctor scenario. A lot of doctors will express a certain degree of power over what the right medical decisions are for people even if the patients are uncertain about the approach. 

If you have a good doctor who you trust then this isn’t an issue because they obviously know way more about medicine than you and they should have a higher degree of weight in the decision-making process, but this is still an example of a power position.

Lastly, another typical situation would be for young children growing up in their parent’s house. When we are younger we are literally dependent on our parents for everything. If our parents are very demanding or they expect us to be a certain way sometimes we have no option but to comply unless we want to be disciplined.

Basically, anytime you are in a situation where someone has more “status”, “perceived power”, “paper prestige”, or they have a certain level of control over you, it can make it challenging to express yourself in an honest way.

Social Pressure 

Another reason why it can be hard to express your true thoughts and emotions is due to social pressure when you are with a group of friends. 

Maybe the discussion leads to a controversial political or religious topic and you disagree with the viewpoint being latched onto. 

In a lot of cases if you don’t have courageous people with differing viewpoints the discussion will quickly become a breeding ground for groupthink. 

This means that everyone will start to agree with the main point of view because either they actually agree with it or they are afraid to share their opinion because they don’t want to deal with the negative repercussions of being the group outcast.

Yes, there is a time and place for not getting involved because you want to maintain peace, but I’m referring to the inability to express yourself in this type of situation without a large amount of fear, shame, or self-criticism in return.

At the root of this issue is the fear and shame associated with friends responding negatively to your alternative opinion and psychologically pushing you out of the circle.

Family & Genetics

I talked about this a little bit in the power section but your family traditions, beliefs, and your genetic memory passed down can have a pretty big impact on your ability to express yourself freely.

Since we are little kids we are literally trained by our parents and family to act a certain way.

Not to mention, certain people are literally hardwired by their genetics to be more sensitive.

Hopefully, your family allows you to blossom into yourself and express your true personality, but unfortunately, this can often not be the case.

Once we get older we discover that we can rebel and think for ourselves but it often comes at a significant cost if the family is not respectful of differences.

These habitual responses often stick with people for the entirety of their lives unless they develop the self-awareness to recognize them and take action to change.

Programmed Emotions & Fear

When you make the decision to be yourself and express your honest thoughts and opinions even in situations that are challenging you will most likely have to deal with a certain amount of fear and emotion.

This is unless you are already very mentally strong and have routinely done this in the past.

The reason this occurs is because your brain and body have literally been wired to produce these emotions in certain situations ever since you were younger. 

Most of the time this process occurs subconsciously and when you finally become aware of the response you realize how challenging it is to feel these emotional responses and proceed forward with courage.

There is no getting around the fact that fear, shame, guilt, social shunning, and other emotions will perhaps arise when you try to muster up the courage to be yourself. 

It takes time to work through these bodily responses.

So why does it take so much courage to truly be yourself? 

I think the reason it’s so challenging for some people is that you have to overcome the intense emotions such as fear, shame, guilt, and isolation that occur from the dynamics of society discussed above such as power, social pressure, and family. 

You have to be willing to figure things out on your own, sever negative relationships, make people angry, and make changes in your life that can bring on a high level of uncertainty. 

You have to develop the confidence and love for yourself that no matter what other people say or think about you, at the end of the day the only thing that matters is that you were truthful and honest.    

Being yourself isn’t for the faint of heart. 

The Ebb and Flow of Self Expression

With everything else being said there is still an ebb and flow process to self-expression.

There are definitely times when you will have to restrict your honest expression a little bit if you are trying to achieve a certain outcome or goal.

Let’s say you work in a job where the result of your honest opinions would call for termination and you currently need the income to pay for food and bills.

Then it would be wise to hold back on your opinions for the current time.

Or you are running a business and in order to achieve your goals, you need to present yourself a certain way in order to win a deal that will help you accomplish this task.

Ideally, it’s best to get to a point in your life where you can totally be yourself in all situations but sometimes you have to be smart about when to hold back if you’re trying to achieve something. 

Being yourself doesn’t mean that there aren’t times where you have to tone it down a bit based on the situation, it just means you have the capability to express yourself when you want without fear, shame, or guilt. 

Especially in all situations that really matter to your personal well-being.

Steps to Become More Yourself

These are a few steps I’ve found helpful to become more yourself.

  1. Cultivate Better Personal Awareness To Know Your Tendencies

If you’re not aware of what’s driving your emotional reactions or where you have blockages then it’s going to be hard to change or release these patterns.

Activities like self-reflection, journaling, meditating, therapy, or taking time to yourself are important to recognize your patterns. 

  1. Develop The Courage To Face Your Fears

This is easier said than done and often takes time but usually at the root of the issue is unpleasant emotions that occur in response to certain situations which block personal expression.

Taking small steps and gradually putting yourself out there more when you feel strong enough is key. 

  1. Implement New Habits

Once you are aware of your habitual tendencies and develop the courage to face your fears it helps to implement new habits in replacement of your old patterns. If you do this consistently over time it will help to rewire your programming so you have fewer habitual blockages. 

New thought patterns, reactions to emotion, and action steps to take in response to your habitual patterns.

  1. Cultivate Wisdom & Faith

By growing in wisdom and faith it helps you to realize that as long as you are expressing your true self and not discharging negative emotions there is nothing that you do that can harm you. 

I believe everyone’s true personality is inherently good and it will lead them in the right direction as long as they allow it to flow. 

If other people don’t like you then they will naturally fall out of your life and you will be better for it. This goes with pretty much everything else. Your work situations, friends, living, and life.

It will probably be painful at the beginning of this change, but you will be better off in the long run. 

People usually grow wiser and develop more faith through life experience, learning about a diverse range of topics, having a spiritual practice, or any other activity that allows you to transcend your “smaller self” and see the world from a larger perspective. 

Why True Expression of Yourself Matters

I think it’s actually a very important thing that more people can honestly express themselves and get along with other people who they don’t agree with.

If on a personal level and as a society we can overcome this roadblock then I really believe the world will be a better place.

Just think about it. Do you really want everyone to agree with your point of view or beliefs?

Doesn’t learning and growth occur when existing patterns are challenged and diversified? 

Doesn’t it make the whole world, consensus views, and society a stronger and more vibrant place to be when ideas are challenged by differing opinions and there are many different traditions and ways of doing things?

Take a trip to an ethnic food market or a growing startup company and often you will find that the beauty is in the diversity of people, ideas, and traditions that work together in a synergistic way. 

This definitely has a positive impact on health outcomes, peace, and the growth and strength of human civilization.

If you are better able to be yourself you will also naturally attract people and things that are better for your life and your well-being.    

So have the courage to be yourself.

Appreciate other people for who they are even if you don’t like what they believe. Remember that the uniqueness and differences are what give this life its mystery and sparkle.

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.