“Acting as if ” and “pretending to be.”
Roberto Assagioli, one of the pioneers of the humanistic and transpersonal movement in psychotherapy, discusses in his book the The Act of Will the concept of will power, its influence on the human experience and techniques of will power.
I first was introduced to this book in May when I was visiting my Oma in the Netherlands, and she asked me:
“What is the difference between acting as if and pretending to be?”
This question has been pestering me in the back of my mind, but I finally think I have the answer.
So, what is the difference between acting as if and pretending to be?
Acting as if. When I imagine a person who is “acting as if,” I can easily see a person who holds a strong front. He or she is not shackled by their emotions, but rather picks them up and carries them through whatever their experience is, and only acknowledges them if it is necessary for them to do so.
If one needs to be brave, one does not necessarily need to believe in one’s bravery, but simply act as if one is brave, to convince their body to react the same way.
If one is afraid, one does not need to be courageous, but only imagine what courage may feel like in another situation and then transfer it to the present moment. Here, one is aware of his or her emotions, but does not let them be one’s controller. It may not be easy, but one allows for transformation to take place. One has the potential to journey through their emotions, rather than staying in them.
One of my favorite sayings is “If you say you can’t, then you must.” To me, it is not about forcing yourself to do something you do not want to do, but about allowing yourself to be uncomfortable. Some of my favorite experiences happened because I allowed myself to be uncomfortable. We learn the most about ourselves when we step out of our comfort zones and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Being uncomfortable is not always a bad thing, although I do recommend using sound judgment when making decisions.
Pretending to be. To me, pretending to be is when one says “My one true genuine self is not acceptable or good enough to show.” One simply changes oneself to what his or her environment calls for, and has chameleon-like behavior.
We change the mask we put on as the environment around us changes. Here, one is putting on a show for others to see, and is living from a place to please rather than to transform. We say to ourselves “I need to be_________, so I can be like these people around me and have what they think I want.” We can insert a billion words into this blank. We have all done this; we’ve all filled in our blanks so that we can fit in or be a part of the cool crowd.
We start to mold ourselves into someone we look up to or someone we want to be like. But rather than developing into that person, we play a part. We learn the script of another person. We study their habits, the way they style their clothes, their use of language. But slowly, through this process, we lose contact with our inner light. It is because of these parts we play that, I believe, we become dissatisfied with life. If we would stop pretending to be and get in touch with our inner light, we would know how to be truly happy. Life is about discovering what it is you want, not about what others tell you you want.
I think that these concepts of acting as if and pretending to be, both portray an individual who is wearing a mask. He or she is covering up their true self in order to perform, transform, or display a certain exterior. However, for me, the root difference between the two concepts is the context from which they are created. One is used for transformation, while the other is used for hiding. I think that it is better to start working towards removing all the masks that we wear and start becoming more comfortable with just being ourselves, and being satisfied with that. Acting as if frees us from the shackles of pretending to be something we are not. It allows us to discover and transform into the person we truly are, and to eventually remove all of our masks.
So, when you go out today try to not put any masks on and allow yourself to show the world your most vulnerable true self.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Sydni Camillo