Sincerity: If you can fake that, you've got it made
July 12, 2011 5:06 PM   Subscribe

I often seem insincere to others, even when I am in earnest. I also sometimes feel disconnected from my feelings. Are these 2 things connected and how can I fix them?

I've noticed (first because others told me so, then through self-observation) that I will often seem insincere even when I am telling the truth. This can happen in big things and small. To use an actual example, I watched movie with a bunch of friends and after the movie, we were talking about it, and I said 'That is the worst movie I have ever seen'. Someone I hadn't known very long looked at my weird and said 'Are you joking?' I said I wasn't joking. Another friend said, 'I've known you long enough that I know you're serious, but it's true, you do sound like you're joking'. (Note: it was a very bad movie. The General's Daughter. Very, very, bad.)

I do not think this is an isolated incident. I think that people perceive me as joking/insincere/sarcastic a lot. I tend to laugh when I get nervous which probably contributes to the problem.

Possibly related - I am not always very connected to my feelings. Often my partner will point out to me that I am feeling a particular emotion before I realize it myself - anger, jealousy, upset, etc. We'll get out of a situation where I thought I was in control of myself (and my expression) and he'll say 'You looked really upset'. Hmmm.... now that I think of it, maybe I WAS really upset about that very upsetting thing.

Or conversely, I will realize that I am 'acting' in a certain way because it is the appropriate social reaction - happy, excited, (even angry or whatever) - but I'm not really feeling that way. I am pretending. When I realize this is happening and I try to figure out how I actually feel, the answer is usually 'nothing' or 'nervous' or 'tired'.

This has been true for me for a long time. I can remember manufacturing emotions for myself (can't think of a better way to phrase it) as a teenager, and sometimes I have thought that I saw one of my siblings do this as well.

I don't want to go through life with people perceiving me as a kind of real-life Stephen Colbert, only saying things I disagree with on a fundamental level - I DO ACTUALLY BELIEVE THESE THINGS. In fact, professionally, this may be a problem for me. I do important work that I care about deeply, and I need to communicate that importance in a passionate way.

And I don't want to go through life being fake.

Typing this out makes it clear to me that there is a connection. Maybe some of the time I seem insincere because I actually AM insincere.

But I don't know how to experience and express my emotions more genuinely.

I have tried talk therapy and hated it. I am on antidepressants for anxiety which work GREAT and I have no intention of messing with that. I've done yoga and attending religious services, both of which seemed to tap into something good, but currently I'm not doing either due to a variety of logistical reasons (and laziness).

I would like to know if anyone else has a similar experience or has any advice on how to reconnect internally.

TD, LR: sometimes I both seem and feel fake. How do I stop?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you need acting training.

You're not the only person to experience this, I find that when I'm at my most sincere, I can seem my most stilted. Go figure. Weird having to fake sincerity sometimes, isn't it?
posted by tel3path at 5:21 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

sounds complex. you seem to have a practiced voice or approach that you adopt when you're being socially mechanistic that just bleeds over to your regular voice or approach. I think sometimes just 'going for' the appropriate social reaction to something can just be part of life but doing it too much can feel fake like you say. That said I would try to dissociate the two things and focus on the part that you can control in the short term--figure out why you sound unconvincing ("why did you think I'm not serious?") and what you can do about that. Getting too caught up in the latter part of "am I really feeling this or just doing this?" can be a bit of a mindf--- and the only thing to do is to do what makes sense, whether it's 'authentic' or chosen.

One thing I do when I'm trying to be extra sincere is to minimize any defense of my sincerity. The more you talk or explain the worse it probably feels. Just let it play out and let the other party react a bit more before you get into "of course I'm being honest"
posted by the mad poster! at 5:23 PM on July 12, 2011

I believe that it is a mistake for you to try to simulate or manufacture emotions that you do not really feel, in order to meet other people's social expectations. Be sincere; that is the sovereign remedy for fakeness. If your sincere feelings are likely to offend people, silence is always an option. It is usually a good idea to exercise tact. But tact does not require you to express feelings that you do not actually feel.
Bear in mind that you are not going to be understood by everybody; that is a problem that even relatively normal people have. People with unusual personalities are a little more challenging to understand. But then, you don't need to be understood by everybody.
posted by grizzled at 5:23 PM on July 12, 2011

Perhaps it has to do with the tone of your voice and your body language. Both these forms non-verbal communication are very important.

Some ideas to think about:

-Take an acting class at your local community college or something. It will hopefully teach you about objectives, and how your body movement shapes your tone and emotion. Try and realize how your body and underlying objective/intention shape your emotion.

-Read some body language books such as Winning Body Language . Don't let the cheezy cover and title fool you. I have read the first 4 chapters and like it a lot especially after taking a beginning acting course.

-Honestly Mindfulness Practice will be the most beneficial. However, to get any benefit out of it you have to remember a few things such as you have to do it habitually on an on-going basis. It doesn't matter if its 5 minutes a day or 40 minutes once a week... just keep doing it regularly. Also, mindfulness will slowly penetrate your life without you realizing it. Its like going out for a long walk in the fog, you don't realize your soaking wet until you return home. Also, it helps a lot if you can join a group where you meditate and then have some sort of discussion. This discussion really helps with your practice. Mindfulness is a practice, its on-going and you're always learning. Anyway, some books on this are:
Mindfulness In Plain English (also can be found on Amazon).
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
Sitting Groups or Google Insight/Vipassana/Meditation with your city
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 5:24 PM on July 12, 2011

During the acting class I took, I would have to act very angry for a scene or something. And I thought my anger was like an 8/10, but in reality it was more like a 5. The point is, what you perceive is completely different than what normal is. Everybody has a slightly different scale.

What really helped was having someone say what level out of 10 I was, and then I would redo the scene as completely over the top as I could. The person would re-evaluate, and most of the time by going way over the top I was much closer to 'normal.' The converse is also true if you tend to be very out going.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 5:30 PM on July 12, 2011

Nervousness and anxiety can do a lot to remove oneself from one's emotions and genuine behaviour - it acts like a bit of a wall.

Developing empathy for those you're dealing with works wonders although I caution that you will also need to ensure you keep solid boundaries with others.

I think people are often taught (at school, generally) that you must behave a certain way in order to fit in and be liked by others. To a certain extent this is true. Laughing when someone is being somber generally doesn't go down well.

But I have often associated the facade behaviour with swindlers and cheats because, generally, the people's I've encountered who behave in the right way all the time have been swindlers and cheats. When I've really looked at their body language or what they're saying, I can see it's fake or just a psychological strategy to manipulate me or placate me. I'm not saying you're doing that, but people can pick up on the facade after a while and it can make them question your authenticity.

In order to be more authentic, you have to be less nervous and anxious within your self and your interactions with others and to some extent you need to get outside of yourself.
posted by mleigh at 5:38 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

These sound like characteristics associated with Asperger's Syndrome. It's possible that reading literature on the topic might help you understand your situation, even if you don't necessarily have it.
posted by LSK at 5:52 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

It might be your voice or body language that don't match up with what you are saying. One of my best friends has a voice that always makes him sound a little bored and sarcastic, even when he is being genuine. When first meeting him, some people think he is pretentious or making fun of them, but that's just his voice.
People will figure you out and look past it, as your partner has.

One thing to do would be to videotape yourself telling a story or even reading a news article, and then watching your partner or someone who you think emotes clearly do the same, and compare. You might notice yourself doing something or moving in a certain way that other people usually don't.
posted by rmless at 6:47 PM on July 12, 2011

'I've known you long enough that I know you're serious, but it's true, you do sound like you're joking'.

This is evidence to me that you ARE being very sincere and that you're just speaking a different language, dialect or simply have a different sensability. I was going to ask if you have the same problem with family members, but you've made it clear that people who really know you, understand what you mean.

That totally validates the fact that you are indeed sincere.

So, it's easy enough to change language habits. Personally, and I've done this before, I'd study the language habits and traits of people who I admire or think are similar to my personality and try to emulate them or just try to grow my own functional habits.
posted by snsranch at 6:50 PM on July 12, 2011

Does drinking alcohol make you feel any more in touch? If so, it could be you simply are too inhibited.
posted by blargerz at 7:02 PM on July 12, 2011

2nd the Asperger's possibility. I haven't been diagnosed, but on the simple online tests, I score fairly high. I also have trouble expressing emotions, or at least expressing them correctly.

Anxiety can also play a part in it, and it maybe a catch-22; you seem more insincere because you're trying to act as if you're sincerely experiencing an emotion when really you're just 'nervous' or just 'tired'. Are you an introvery, and getting exhausted due to the interaction?

Going the alcohol route probably isn't a good idea...
posted by amoeba syndrome at 8:06 PM on July 12, 2011

Introvert, even...
posted by amoeba syndrome at 8:07 PM on July 12, 2011

To me you sound normal and saner than most.

Most people identify with their feelings to such an extent that there is no distinction between what they feel at any particular moment and their entire existence.

I am more similar to you; while I have feelings, I am almost always aware that they are just transitory and really don't have much to do with anything. So, I tend not to mind them so much, and people have always considered me a little distant/detached.

Don't look at this as something that needs to be fixed. It means you are a little more sane in a world of insane people.
posted by zachawry at 10:35 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

My guess is that you don't like people to see the real you, so sometimes you express a real emotion by faking it. That way, people around you know facts about you ("You didn't like the movie"), but the not the emotional place that you're coming from.

The problem of showing an emotion that you were not aware of is salient to you for similar reasons. You're worried about accidentally revealing yourself. And it's possible that even your concern that people think you are fake is fundamentally a worry that they know too much about you. So it sounds like it could be social anxiety.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:11 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Aspie Quiz is another good online resource (click through to "aspie quiz" - the website leaves something to be desired, but it gives a really cool graphical result!). Also, you didn't really indicate your gender, but women can manifest Aspie traits in different ways than men; a previous question on AskMe linked this chart of more feminine Aspie traits that might be interesting to you.
posted by dialetheia at 11:28 PM on July 12, 2011

This is a really complicated problem without a simple answer. I sympathize with you because I’ve had similar concerns about myself in the past.

Seeming insincere and being disconnected from your feelings, as you’ve astutely noticed, are two sides of the same coin. Most people, for whatever reason, trust displays of emotion. They like to live in black and white, impulsive, soap opera land where people laugh and cry and go with their gut. They like it in their politicians, they like it in all public figures. For whatever reason, emotion can make someone seem real and trustworthy. Captain Kirk is the leader, Spock is the sidekick. Note the continued popularity of emoticons.

“That’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” is a strong statement. It’s emotionally loaded, it even reads like someone should be raising their voice, full of disgust, emphasis on the worst. When I imagine someone who’s a cool cat sitting back, shrugging and saying dispassionately, “That’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” it creates this discomfort in the listener because there are no emotional cues for how they’re supposed to respond. Do they laugh? Agree in total seriousness? Feel like they’re being made fun of? They don’t know without a cue from you, like a wink, or a continued rant. When you realize that people in conversation are just waiting for their turn to talk, you see that emotional cues are useful to them so they can respond appropriately to you. They don't really usually care much beyond that. They just want to resolve ambiguity quickly and move on.

I think it’s also a leadership thing. If people trust you and care about your opinion, they’ll be increasingly nervous if they can’t figure out if you’re serious or not. They will feel like they’re missing something, and they can displace that confusion and become aggressive with you.

There are two solutions I can think of: The obvious one, which is that you modify your tone and body language to be more emotional, or another possibly easier option, which is that you modify your language to be unemotional so there’s no dissonance with your body language. If you don’t feel strongly about something, just say something mild, like “Meh, I didn’t like that one scene very much.” Or don’t make judgment calls-just make observations or even better, ask questions, “I couldn’t figure out what went on in that one crazy scene. What did that one guy say?” or “What’s that actor’s name?” Just avoid emotionally loaded phrases and flat statements. The asking questions or pointing out tangentially related topics or small details works really, really well for me when I feel expected to perform an emotion that I don’t really have at that moment. It’s like a distraction- imagine the spotlight being put on you, “And how do you FEEL about that?” Instead of asking yourself how you feel and working out why, which is probably a long and confusing and bumbling process, just throw the spotlight back out there with a quick-change question. It’s possible to be bright, interesting, and develop the art of asking great questions so that people respond well to you in conversation without you having to get too emotional. Or you could also just cock your head to one side, sort of shrug and say, "You know, I don't really know what I thought of that/how I feel about that." You can cultivate your presentation of yourself as the calm, slowly thoughtful person rather than the excitable one.

It’s a quick fix for social situations and group conversations. Getting in touch with your emotions is another problem, and one that takes a long time to process. I suspect that it honestly has a TON to do with the crowd you’re with and how judgmental they are. I know personally, I have really big, really complex emotions and respond in different ways to different things than a lot of people. It sometimes feels like it would take an essay to explain why I feel sad or angry, and so I don’t even try to explain, just to save time. I mean, can you really explain why you start crying during a beautiful song or something like that? Sometimes it’s too difficult and takes too much time to unpack in daily life. It's like my emotions are the iceberg and bringing them up is like steering the Titanic straight into it. Whereas with some rare people, they look at me and know exactly why I react one way to something without any words having been spoken at all.
posted by Nixy at 1:05 AM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't know, but I definitely feel the same way much of the time. Especially when someone just looks at my and goes "You look upset," and I don't know how to respond because I'm not upset, and suddenly everyone is starting at me and expecting something from me and I get really nervous and annoyed and that does nothing to prove to people that I'm not upset, because now I kinda am, even though I wasn't to begin with.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:32 AM on July 13, 2011

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