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It’s better to express your authentic thoughts and feelings and be excluded than to minimize these thoughts and feelings and be accepted. But the fear of social ostracism hangs over a lot of what we do and many unconsciously prefer being included to being themselves. Ostracism really does hurt. The brain apparently interprets rejection just like it interprets physical pain. Scans show that the same area of the brain lights up whether the pain is social or physical.

It would seem then that doing whatever you need to do to find social acceptance, including adjusting or dampening down who you really are, is the prudent route. No one likes pain. But existential thought comes to the rescue by helping us consider the inherent paradox. If you change who you are to fit in then the real you is ostracized while the modified you is accepted. You don’t have to deal with the pain of being left out, but at a much deeper level you do have to deal with the pain of betraying Self.

There is no easy solution to the problem of Self because so many people wear their own masks and are obsessed with acceptance at any cost. Inauthentic people tend to repress the knowledge that they are betraying Self, making them more likely to try to exclude people from group membership who are authentic, since on an unconscious level seeing authenticity in another reminds them of the uncomfortable sacrifice they have made.

One way to become more courageous about showing people who you really are in spite of the risk is to think in the long run, realizing that both physical and emotional pain are almost always transient while the pain of betraying Self is permanent. If you just hang in there you’ll eventually be able to have your cake and eat it too, finding people who accept and love you for who you really are, feeling the warmth of social acceptance while knowing it is you and not some caricature who is accepted. But you’ll probably have to deal with your fair share of rejection along the way.