Nobody likes fake people. But at the same time, the vast majority of us will all pretend at some point or another.
We do it to make ourselves feel better. We do it because we want others to like us. Sometimes we do it without even realizing it.
So why do people pretend?
In this article, we’ll run through the reasons, how to deal with fake people and how we can all feel freer to be who we really are.
Why do we pretend to be someone we are not?
1) To manipulate others
When we can tell someone isn’t being real with us, we often feel deceived.
We might feel like someone has pretended to be our friend or pretended to care about us, but only for their own benefit.
This usually feels like the worst kind of pretending. We may feel cheated, lied to, and used.
Sometimes people pretend in order to get what they want. They realize that telling the truth or revealing how they really feel won’t serve their best interests.
Pretending and lying are often indistinguishable. Just like all of us lie, all of us pretend too sometimes.
Perhaps the intention behind both the lie and the pretence is often what makes us decide how harmful we think it is.
So understandably, when we know someone is pretending in order to manipulate us, we are far less forgiving about it.
People can be very self-serving.
In certain situations, people may pretend to be someone they are not, or feel and think something that they don’t, simply because they believe it’s more likely to help them achieve their goals.
2) To avoid conflict
At its very heart, pretending is a form of avoidance. Some people choose to pretend so as to avoid conflict.
Maybe they’re afraid of being criticized if they reveal themselves. Or maybe they just don’t want to have a difficult conversation.
They may even pretend to be someone else in order to avoid having to confront their true feelings.
In this way, they are not only avoiding conflict with others, but they are trying to avoid internal conflict with themselves. They don’t want to have to question themselves.
The way they act on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect how they feel inside. It could mean that they’re trying to protect themselves by concealing how they truly feel.
People who want to avoid conflict are often scared to get angry or upset because they fear rejection. They worry that showing undesirable emotions or having disputes will leave them isolated.
Passive aggression is a classic outlet of someone who is pretending to not be upset or mad when really they are.
Because they feel unable to voice how they really feel and bury it, it seeps out in other ways.
Another example might be one partner going along with things in a relationship to try to “keep the peace”.
They may worry that voicing their grievances will rock the boat and push their partner away, leaving them alone.
3) To fit in
Sometimes we pretend to be someone else because we want to fit in.
Maybe we want to seem cool or popular. Maybe we want to appear friendly or nice. Or perhaps we want to make ourselves look better than we feel we actually are.
We may pretend to be someone we aren’t in order to gain acceptance from society in general.
It may also be that we want to try to impress someone in particular.
For example, you may pretend to be outgoing and funny in order to win over your boss. You may pretend to be smart and studious in order to impress a girl.
You may pretend to be interested in sports in order to fit in at school. You may pretend to be religious in order to fit in with your family.
The truth is that we all feel pressure to fit into social groups. The need for acceptance is innate. It is part of the human instinct.
As psychiatrist Joanna Cannon points out in Psychology Today, this can lead us to present different sides of ourselves depending on who we are with and where we are:
“We might have numerous ‘editions’ of ourselves – for work, or at home, or even online. All tweaked and modified in order to be accepted in that particular situation (of course, the question is, are we being accepted for who we truly are, or merely for the version we choose to present of ourselves?) And the reality is that those people who can’t or won’t pretend at least a little bit, can feel excluded:
“This duplicity works very well for most of us, but some people only have one version of themselves to present. They are unable, or unwilling, to sandpaper themselves down to fit society’s expectations, and because their behavior or appearance doesn’t quite match the herd, they are pushed further and further to the periphery of a community.”
4) We don’t feel good enough
Many of us live with a dark secret buried deep inside.
Behind so much of the pretending that anyone does is this secret that we desperately try to protect:
Not feeling good enough as you are.
We know that it is part of our genetic makeup as human beings to want to fit in. But the question remains, why don’t we feel like being ourselves will allow us to do this?
And the answer for many people is that they are scared that they are not good enough to be accepted, loved, or admired.
So instead they hide behind pretenses. They create masks that cover up what they really think and feel.
They put up walls around themselves. And they pretend to be something they aren’t.
But this is hiding low self-esteem.
Usually, it is the most arrogant and overconfident people who underneath are the most insecure.
Showing off, bragging, exaggerating — they’re all a cover-up for a feeling of lack.
Pretending to know something that you don’t. Inflating your status. Pretending to have money or possessions to impress people. All of these acts are about trying to protect the ego.
But it only goes to show that their ego is very fragile.
Truly secure people do not need to pretend. But it actually takes a lot of quiet self-belief to never feel the need to hide behind any pretences.
5) We are scared to be vulnerable
Sometimes it can almost seem like pretending makes life easier for us on the surface. But it is a defence mechanism.
Maybe we pretend to someone that everything is ok when really it’s not. Perhaps we pretend that we don’t need anyone else when really we feel the opposite deep down inside.
When we pretend we don’t have to deal with difficult emotions if we are able to hide them away.
Our brain may tell us that if we pretend to be happy when we’re sad, then we don’t have to face the pain.
If we pretend to be fine when we’re feeling scared, then we don’t need to deal with the fear.
Or maybe we pretend to be someone we’re not just to avoid having to talk about things that make us uncomfortable.
The problem is that pretending can become an addiction. It becomes a way to cope with problems rather than deal with them head-on.
It also means that we are missing out on opportunities to grow and learn more about ourselves.
It prevents us from learning how to manage our own feelings better.
And it keeps us from developing healthy relationships with other people. Because without genuine honesty and vulnerability, there is no real connection between two people.
6) We’re conditioned to pretend
Pretending is so deeply ingrained into our culture that most of us learn it from an early age.
It’s likely that some will be more conditioned to pretend depending upon both their genetics and environment.
That doesn’t mean we can’t change. But we’re all pre-programmed to a certain extent by these factors.
For example, if you grow up in a very fake household where both your parents or caregivers constantly pretended, you’re more likely to copy that behavior.
If you learn that it isn’t safe to be yourself, or that it is expected of you to be a certain way, then pretending can even be a trauma response.
Society has certain expectations of us and we may pretend to try and fit into that.
The truth is, most of us never realize how much power and potential lies within us.
We become bogged down by continuous conditioning from society, the media, our education system and more.
The reality we create becomes detached from the reality that lives within our consciousness.
I learned this (and much more) from the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandé. In this excellent free video.
A word of caution – Rudá isn’t your typical shaman.
He doesn’t paint a pretty picture or sprout toxic positivity like so many other gurus do.
Instead, he’s going to force you to look inwards and confront the demons within. It’s a powerful approach, but one that works.
So if you’re ready to take this first step and align your dreams with your reality, there’s no better place to start than with Rudá’s unique technique
7) We’re afraid of what others think of us
Perhaps if we knew that we would never face judgment, we would never feel the need to pretend.
But because we are naturally social creatures, we rely on the support of the group for our survival.
That means we also naturally fear the judgment of others. Losing their approval could have meant being cast out of the group, and this biological fear still plays heavily upon us.
The threat may have changed now, but we still don’t want to be rejected, ridiculed, or judged.
So often we don’t want anyone to know that we have doubts, fears, or weaknesses. And so we pretend. But it comes with a very big catch:
If we believe that we must hide our true selves from others, we won’t be able to develop authentic connections.
This leads to isolation, loneliness, and depression.
When we’re not living authentically, we end up feeling empty and disconnected.
8) To avoid intimacy
Pretending is both a defence mechanism and a way of self-sabotaging.
When we pretend to be someone we are not, we create a barrier around ourselves.
This prevents people from seeing the real us, which can make us feel less exposed.
True intimacy can feel scary. Letting someone know the real us requires that we let them get close to us.
In doing so we must open ourselves up to all those things that we have already established can feel incredibly threatening:
Judgment, criticism, rejection, disapproval, and more.
Pretending can be an effective way of dodging intimacy by keeping people at arms-length from the real you.
How do you deal with people who pretend?
Try to have compassion
If we’re honest, we all pretend to a certain extent. All of us have defence mechanisms. We all wear masks in particular social situations.
Although our motives will differ, the root causes all stem from fear.
That doesn’t mean it’s healthy to pretend or even ok to. But whenever we or others pretend it is an attempt to protect.
Recognizing and remembering this may help us to feel compassion and understanding when we encounter pretence.
That’s always a better response than getting angry or frustrated, which will only serve to increase the gap between us.
Don’t take it personally
We can get very annoyed when we feel like someone is pretending toward us because we feel like they’re lying to us.
But it’s important to remember that actually, they are lying to themselves.
They’re trying to keep themselves safe by hiding something about themselves.
It’s not about you. It’s about them. You are just a spectator in their attempts at validation.
Don’t fool yourself that it is a reflection on you, because it’s always just a reflection of them.
Set an example of sincerity
On many occasions, sincerity isn’t the easiest option to choose.
It takes true courage to reveal what we really feel, think and believe.
It can be tempting to take the easy way out and just pretend, go along with the crowd or hide who you really are.
But in the long run, there is a knock-on effect to pretending. Rather than resolving anything, you run from it.
Without being free to be your real self, you can struggle to create genuine intimacy. That’s bound to leave you feeling even more isolated, and excluded in the long run.
We all need to be honest about when and where we may fall foul of pretending, as well as why we’re doing it.
This self-reflection helps us to find the strength to be how we are, rather than fake it. It also requires a lot of self-esteem and security.
When we notice someone is pretending around us, it can be tempting to react negatively.
But in reality, this can make things worse. Remember this person is most likely pretending because they feel threatened. Attacking them is going to exasperate things.
Setting an example of sincerity makes it known that it is safe for them to be themself around you. It also helps to contribute to creating a society that makes being yourself ok.
Sometimes the boldest thing you can do when you are faced with people who are pretending is to be yourself. This in itself is an act of rebellion against pretence.
Having compassion, trying to understand where they are coming from, not taking it personally, and not reacting negatively towards them doesn’t mean you have to put up with fakery.
It’s important to have safe and clear boundaries that protect us.
In some circumstances that may mean limiting exposure where possible and creating protection when it’s not possible.
Compassion can be enough to defuse your frustration sometimes. For example, if your boss is a bragging know it all, reminding yourself that he’s pretending because deep down he’s insecure might stop it from triggering you quite as much.
But you probably will still want to distance yourself from people who you feel are fake wherever you can.
It’s ok to decide to ditch a fake friend. It’s alright if you can only handle certain family members in small doses.
You also have the right to express how you feel.
If you’re feeling used, you can let someone know. If certain relationships feel fake, you can start a conversation about that.
Not being real about how you feel becomes just another form of pretending.
How can we all pretend less?
So often in life the things that frustrate us in others, we are guilty of ourselves too.
That is why the things that most trigger us can reflect the work that we still have to do on ourselves.
Because of all of that social conditioning, authenticity can take practice.
Here’s how we can all bring more sincerity into our interactions:
Consider when and why you pretend
We all have different sides to us. And it’s always going to be more appropriate to let those different sides come out around different people.
It’s not necessarily “fake” to behave a certain way at work and another around your closest friends.
Neither is it “fake” if you show tact in life rather than bluntly blurting out exactly what you think of everyone.
We do live in societies and that means considering others and co-operating.
On the other hand, we can all become less fake by increasing our own self-awareness.
Reflect on the situations when you feel like you wear a mask. Why do you do it? Should you do it? Can you be truer to yourself?
Are you worried about fitting in? Do you get nervous about saying how you feel for fear of rocking the boat? Do you truly like yourself?
These are profound questions, but answering them will take you (and others) closer to the real you.
Practice expressing yourself
Healthy and constructive communication sits at the center of all strong and successful relationships.
Avoidance seems like the easy way out, but daring to let people know how you feel, and what you think is the antidote.
Learning to express yourself in a clear and reasonable way helps to bring down the walls of pretence that we can all put up.
This can mean telling your truth, even when you worry it isn’t always going to be well received.
Gossip is where we place judgment on others. And as we’ve seen, fear of judgment is one of the reasons so many of us are scared to be ourselves.
If we all make a conscious effort to gossip less, we send a signal to others that we don’t want to judge them.
It helps to create conditions around us where people feel safer to be themselves, without fear of reprisals.
Be honest with yourself
Being authentic doesn’t mean that you have to tell the whole world everything about yourself.
But it does mean that you should be able to confront how you really feel about things without trying to hide from it.
If you lie to yourself, you’ll only end up lying to others. And if you pretend to others, you are also pretending to yourself.
Listen to your inner voice rather than society
The best thing we can do for ourselves is listen to our hearts. Our hearts are the truest source of wisdom and guidance.
Breaking the mold of what society thinks isn’t easy. But once we remove the social conditioning and unrealistic expectations our family, education system, even religion has put onto us, the limits to what we can achieve are endless.
That’s why I’d really recommend checking out that free video I mentioned earlier from Shaman Rudá Iandé.
In it, Rudá explains how you can lift the mental chains and get back to the core of your being.
He’s going to force you to look at yourself in a way you have never before. It’s a powerful approach, but one that works.
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