When I work with someone and they tell me "I wish I could just be myself" my next question usually is, "what version of yourself are you envisioning?" Sometimes people get attached to an idea that one version of who they are is 'true' while the others are false.
From my perspective, it is fundamentally human to switch roles based on the context. We are a different version of ourselves with our family than we are with friends. We're different at our place of work than at church. And none of those groups get to see the version of us that we are with our partner. And it isn't only because our partner gets to see us naked. We speak differently. We know what's acceptable and what's not. We curse differently or not at all. We express our political ideas differently or not at all. The list goes on.
I once watched a standup comedian complain about how they hated first dates because they kept meeting the 'representative' version of the other person. His date always seemed so perfect on the first date but when they became their 'true self' a few more dates down the line everything changed.
As social beings that survived in groups for thousands of years, the function of knowing how to belong to a group is a natural evolutionary gift that we all have. When I lead Family Constellation workshops the participants are often asked to represent the family members of other people in the group. What's remarkable is how accurate these representations can be. But I think it's also important to remember that in a sense, there's something organic about it. We're already experts at switching our representation based on the context. We do it all the time.
To close this, I want to mention that a desire to be yourself but not being able to is often connected to a fear of being seen. And that's not just a perceived fear for many people. Sometimes being seen for who you are can result in being ostracized from your family, fired from your job or worse.
I'll be doing more writing on the fear of being seen. But for now the intention of this post is to expand around what 'being yourself' really means as a human being.