Welcome to the South, folks!
Sorry for the long post that is about to ensue, but as an actor, and as a southerner, this is a HUGELY fascinating subject that I tend to discuss often, especially with friends who don't come from this very complicated social construct.
The need for multiple personalities is an intrinsic part of the Southern WASP culture in which I grew up. My mother and her family are highly educated corporate moguls; my father and his family are a large Southern clan of blue collar MacGuyvers (seriously, these people can build a lawnmower out of tin foil and a pencil sharpener). My mother's military men were officers, my father's military men were enlisted. I grew up with an accent and values that would flip on a dime, based on the people I was with.
There are certainly some advantages to this type of upbringing, but most of that deals with strangers. It is my nature to make the people around me comfortable, and I tend to do that through mimicry, or in particularly mixed company, through a dramatic increase in my southern belle "character," which deals heavily in manners and propriety.
However, as a kid, one is constantly trying on different masks, because I don't feel that we really come into realizing our true selves until a nice solid chunk of life's ups and downs has hit you. So that tendency was natural.
As an adult, I feel like I have two and a half versions of myself. For the world at large, there is the charming, educated and polite southern belle who is approachable, easy to laugh, and genuinely interested in the insights and experiences of her companions. Around my dearest friends, my step dad, and my husband's parents, there is the real me: a quirky, fiercely loyal Southern woman who is dedicated to academia, art, and food, as well as an inappropriate sense of humor. And I feel very comfortable with those two versions of me. I feel like there is a through line between them, and while one might be more of a performance, I feel honest because it is in the interest of other people's comfort and happiness, which is of genuine importance to me.
My own family is the conflicting one. They are pretty committed to the high school version of me, which was moody, hyperactive, and overly opinionated. It was through college and my husband that I really came to understand and appreciate my true nature, and because it is so different from this version they all cling to, they believe that I am oppressed. ::eye roll:: It is around my family that I wear the only mask that makes me uncomfortable. And yes, it's very painful, because these are the people that I once felt closest to. But, that's how these types of families work. While it's painful, it is not unexpected. I've been witness to this type of dynamic all my life. If the outsider (ie, my husband) is just a little bit too far outside of their comfort zone, that person, who may truly be a part of who I really am, must be removed from the mask I wear around them. Out of the five families that I belong to, this is true of every single one, because there are a few families where myself or my husband are not the outsiders, so of course, I'm privy to the discussions about whomever the outsider may be. Confusing, I know, but I already said this southern WASP dynamic is complicated.
There is the mask that my family wears in front of my face, and there is a completely different and highly secretive version behind my back. And even knowing this, I still consider my immediate family dynamic to be very strong and loving. However, I know that there will always be an opinion that is discussed outside of my presence. So, this mask, which only features a percentage of my true self, is the only way I have to protect my trust in them. I can measure it, I can keep back the things that I can't handle being betrayed. And the kicker of all of it is, its done out of propriety. As parents and adult offspring, our true opinions are not to be shared with one another. We don't deal in conflict. Just masks and passive aggression, or general avoidance of tricky issues.
But do I feel like it's truly me? No. And do I hate it? YES.
Sorry for the long post. This was interesting to talk about, and I've loved reading yall's own insights into this issue. Keep em coming!