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“It is like I have two different roles to play, two sides of my life that can’t ever be joined up. There’s the person I am at home… the laid-back, happy me. I’m able to have a laugh and be really open with my family and friends about what’s going on and how I’m feeling. Then there’s the person I have to be at work. I have to dress up in a suit and tie - I’ve never felt comfortable in formal clothes - and I find that I can’t relate to people in the office the same way I would people outside of work. Everything is so ‘professional’ and stilted, I don’t feel I can really communicate to anyone there. People in the office see me as reliable and a bit dull, but they don’t know the real me. When I step into the office, it’s like I have to wear a mask that hides my true self. I’m afraid that if they knew the real me, they wouldn’t take me seriously. So I have to keep up the charade and it is exhausting.”

We can often find ourselves in situations where we behave differently to how we would naturally. This might be because we worry that people might reject us if we show them our true self so we adopt a way of behaving that we feel is more acceptable to the social situation. It does not always feel comfortable to behave contrary to our true nature and, as highlighted above, it takes a lot of effort to sustain this act. A common example might be someone who hides their true sexuality from their family for fear of rejection or someone who adopts the behaviour of their peers in order to gain acceptance, even if such behaviour is contrary to their own nature.

Congruence can best be described as genuineness - that quality where the person we present to the world is as close as possible to our true self. We make no effort to hide behind a facade or a “front” that we think people want to see.  Instead, we reveal our true self to the world around us.  This is not always easy. It can take a great deal of courage to reveal this side of our personality as opening ourselves up to others in this way can leave us feeling quite exposed. In her book “Daring Greatly”, the author Brené Brown describes how being openly vulnerable in this manner is empowering and can actually help strengthen our interpersonal relationships with others. For many people, being able to drop the “front” can be a real relief and, when they see that other people accept them for who they are, lead them to feel more comfortable in their own skin.

The psychologist Carl Rogers believed that congruence was one of the most important qualities for personal growth. He stated that our personality was made up of three parts. First was the real self, the person we truly are inside. Secondly was the perceived self, how we see ourselves and assume how others see us. Third was the ideal self, the person we would like to become. For Rogers, when an individual is able to have a balance of all three aspects, they will have congruence. In other words, when an individual is comfortable with their inner self (the real self), their self-image (the perceived self) and their idealised self, then they will be in a position to grow emotionally and develop as an individual.

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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