A psychologist named Carl Rogers posited that when we do not live the life we were meant to live, that when we are not being ourselves, or when we settle on a life that other people wanted us to live, this leads to unhappiness. This theory is known as incongruence.
The “ideal self” is typically a concept that is imposed onto us. Typically we receive psychological pressures from family, friends, and society to act and behave a certain way, and to live a certain lifestyle. The more we seek to be our “ideal self,” the more we stray from being our “real self.” But it’s also worse than that.
Being your “real self” simply means you are being authentic. Hence the term, “authentic self.” It means you are not trying to impress anyone, or seek someone’s approval. The more you try to meet the approval of others, the less authentic you are being.
When you buy into the pressures of being an ideal self, you are simultaneously saying that you are inadequate, or invalid. You are basically rejecting and invalidating yourself. You are saying you are not good enough. You are saying you are not ideal. You are saying you are unhappy with your authentic self. As a result, when you are incongruent with who you are inside, or what you are most passionate about, the more unhappy you will be.
There is one simple test to know if you are being authentic versus ideal. Ask yourself, “Do I do things because I should, or do I do them because that’s who I am?” If you find yourself saying “I should” a lot rather than “I am,” more than likely, you are not being your authentic self. I’m guessing you’re probably not the happiest person in the world either. Just a guess.
Assuming you have not experienced any major life disturbing incident, or any trauma, if you’re unhappy, it is probably not because you aren’t living up to people’s expectations. Quite the opposite. It is more likely because you are incongruent with who you already are.