Free to be me? What does that really mean?

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

The idea that we should all be ‘free to be me’ is well ingrained in the psyche of most people who live in the Western world. This belief that we have the right as individuals to make personal choices about our lives, and as individuals we don’t need to conform to the standards of others.  The notion that I am ‘free to be me’ is a fairly recent phenomenon.  While the collapse of traditional forms of moral authority has given us freedom to be ourselves, it is important to recognize that this may be true in theory, however, our ability to do this is impacted by the social and moral environment we are in, and our own social frameworks and values. 

How does this concept, particularly within the context of Health and Social Care, which is largely governed by so many rules and regulations, actually work?  I see being ‘free to be me’ applying in two ways:  1) Enabling and supporting the people with care for to be free to themselves and 2) Being our authentic, true self both at home and at work

How do we help those we care for to feel at home and free to be themselves?  A key part of our models of care are about creating a place that looks, sounds, feels and smells like home.  A home like environment is a key component of this, but in isolation, is merely window dressing. We can also help people to feel at home inside themselves by giving them:

  1. Purpose: people need to feel like they matter (because they do!), that they have a purpose and value.  Ensure you are giving people opportunities to participate in meaningful activities, so they feel they are contributing.
  2. Acknowledge Life Story / History: understanding people’s unique life history and story.  Talking and learning from them about their experiences also helps people to feel valuable.
  3. Freedom: accepting people for who they are, without conditions or them feeling they need to compromise on who they are.
  4. Engagement: take the time to listen and talk to people and their loved ones, supporting them to develop and maintain their relationships with others and their community.
  5. Love: giving and receiving love and affection. 

For many years health and care professionals have been taught to maintain a professional detachment, and it can be very easy to slip on our ‘mask’ at work.  Having a ‘work’ and ‘personal’ self can be exhausting.  Learning to be yourself both at work and at home, allows you to connect person to person with those that you care for.  How can we be authentic both at work and at home?

  1. Give up on the need to appear perfect / something you are not.  Be the best at being yourself.
  2. Know your values and live by them. If you know your values and live by them consistently, then you are already doing well at being authentic. 
  3. Notice when you’re not being authentic.  You might notice there are certain situations when find yourself transforming, try and take notice of the times when this starts to happen.
  4. Know your goals / purpose.  Do they align with your values?
  5. What are your defining characteristics?  What makes you uniquely you (the good and not so good)?  Do others perceive you the same way as you see yourself?

When we are all free to be ourselves, we develop meaningful relationships and connections that make us feel secure, and at home in ourselves. Nurturing these person-centred relationships is therefore key to sustaining individual well-being and developing an emotionally resilient culture of care.

OT (Australia)
Managing Director MCM


Five ways to set yourself free by being yourself

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