The protagonist in my novel has a problem of knowing—and owning—who she is. That’s a problem for all of us, in varying degrees. Dale Carnegie said that when you and I meet, there are actually six persons represented: first, the person I think I am; second, the one you think I am; and third, there’s the real me (which we’re both trying to discover). The same applies to you, so between our mutual ignorance and duplicity, we’re trying to get acquainted with six personalities floating around—four of which are false.
My defective ability to perceive (and acknowledge) the truth about me hinders my journey of self-discovery—of becoming what I should be. (Yes, should. More about that at another time.) As a writer, my characters take form, breathe, act and interact out of my perceptions of myself and others. You could say that I leave traces of my emotional DNA (using the term loosely) in the portrayal of the characters that populate my story. You as the reader find them compelling or off-putting relative to the skill with which I expose the lies they tell themselves and others; or show what or who they will sacrifice to get what they want … and even define what it is that they want.
This brings us back to my protagonist, a people-pleaser afraid to stand up for herself. She wants acceptance and compromises her integrity to get it. By denying who she really is, she loses both acceptance and identity. We know people like this; fearing rejection, they bend to the will of others. Sadly, each of us at various times has caved when we should have stood our ground.
I have to ask: Why do I do this? Why not be the brave principled person I set out to be? Simply, at the time, I don’t trust who I am … or I’m afraid you won’t like me when you find out. I’ll never forget the words of a dear friend after he was honored by the Governor of Oregon and before he died in an accident: “If people really knew me—what I am—they wouldn’t like me.”
This says I don’t believe the God who made me, who told us in Psalm 139 that “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
That, of course, is an exhilarating way to look at oneself. It’s absolutely exciting to know that I am a fantastic creation of God’s handiwork. The protagonist of my novel—based upon a real person much like you and me—could not, in the beginning, admit the truth of who she was.
She hid behind façades propped up to depict what she thought other people wanted her to be at any particular moment. As a child growing up, she was made to feel and think things about herself that were not true. Consequently, she lived inconsistently with truth.
Perhaps that’s your story, too. But it doesn’t have to be.