When we fear that we can’t think and act as we truly are, we put parts of ourselves on hold. Here’s how we can begin to let go of expectations and pressures and tend to our wants and needs with kindness.
Did you know that authenticity is inextricably linked to happiness? To be authentic is to feel at home in your body, accepted into a particular group, and to feel true to our sense of values. It is a kind of confidence that doesn’t come from attaining something outside of ourselves, but knowing deeply we are enough whatever our particular feelings, needs, or skills are and that we add to the greater whole of life and matter. We can be true to our own personality, spirit, or character despite external pressures.
Authenticity is one of the most important ingredients in creating a healthy and sustainable relationship. Yet it can also be one of the most challenging to practice on a day-to-day basis. Why? the answer is simple: fear. We fear that if we showed up as we truly are—saying, doing, and feeling the real things that are going on within us without augmenting or censoring ourselves in any way—that others might disconnect from us, feel upset with us, or even leave us.
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.”
author and researcher
Authenticity: The Ultimate Practice of Letting Go
Brené Brown, who has spent the past ten years studying authenticity, writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.” Choosing authenticity means:
- cultivating the ability to be imperfect
- allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and
- setting boundaries.
If we aren’t being authentic with our deeper feelings and needs, then we can’t establish healthy boundaries. (In my last post, I share tools for how to cultivate compassionate boundaries at home and work.)
One of the things I personally practice and share with my students that enhances authenticity is to choose “discomfort over discontentment.” For example, when fear arises, it can feel uncomfortable and to avoid discomfort we can distract or push away how we really feel and what we really need—but this is ultimately never satisfying.
There is a risk involved when we put ourselves out there personally and professionally. However, if we don’t honor our true feelings and needs, they will eventually leak out when we sometimes least expect it and cause harm to oneself and others. The more we practice authenticity, the easier it becomes to live and lead from this place.
Authenticity in Action
I was sitting with Amy, a student in one of my Mindful & Well-Being programs at work. We were speaking to the practice of authenticity when she shared her feelings: “I feel afraid to share something with my husband—I am afraid it will ‘ruin’ our night and he will disconnect from me. I am afraid of his reaction. So I tuck it under the rug. Then it arises again a few days later and I put it off again. Resentment builds within me and I start to feel disconnected from him. After a week, a wall begins to form between us. I start to feel less connected to myself. He asks what is wrong and notices that I feel distant. My feelings have built up so much that I explode in a fit of anger and frustration. We get into a fight. All of this could have been prevented if I had just had the courage to share what I was really feeling and needing.”
Authenticity Practice: 4 Questions for Authenticity
Think of a recent experience with a partner, friend, family member, or co-worker where you wanted to be authentic but weren’t. Imagine pausing at the height of this interaction and asking yourself the following questions:
- What am I afraid would happen if I shared my experience right now with this person?
- How will feel if I don’t share what I’m thinking and feeling?
- If I weren’t afraid, what would I most want to say to this person right now?
- How can I share this with even more vulnerability?
I asked these questions to Amy (the student above) and these were her responses:
- What are you afraid would happen if you really shared your truth with your husband? That he won’t love or accept what I want to share, and this will create conflict and he will become defensive and/or distant with me.
- How will you feel if you don’t share this? I will become angry at myself and him for not sharing my feelings and needs. I will then likely then be aggressive or distant with him.
- If you weren’t afraid, what would you most want to say? I would say, “Sweetheart, I know your mother is coming out for a visit next month, but I would really prefer she only stay with us for three days instead of a whole week. I understand you have a close relationship with her, but due to our work schedules during her visits, I often feel overwhelmed by her demands on top of our full schedules. I feel the duration of her visit puts a strain on our relationship and makes it difficult to enjoy the time she is here. I feel it would be easier and more enjoyable for everyone if she spent half the time with us and half the time with your sister, or maybe there is a way that you can take some time off to spend more time with her? I don’t know what the solution is and I would like your support and welcome your input. I want to have a good visit with her and I know that is important to you too. Could we come up with a plan that works for both of us for her visit?”
How Do We Listen to the Internal and External Pressures and Make the Right Decision?
When we meditate, we sense the interconnectedness of all beings and can tap into what matters to us. Authenticity is an important value of mine. I grow my authenticity daily by loving myself enough to take the risk to show myself warts and all to my friends, family, clients, and the world. It can be really scary sometimes and fear often shows up right before I show my truth. Fear will say, “What if others don’t love or accept this part of me?” They may not, but no one is ever going to love or like everything about me. The consequence of not being real and genuine is that I start to live only from a few rooms in the “Carley Castle” and I put the rest of me that is bright, loud, and a little silly at times in the closet. Who wants to live life like that? I have lived this way before and it wasn’t fulfilling. So I am opening doors, closets, and sharing these parts of me in skillful ways personally and professionally.
“Loving-kindness” is defined as a well wishing for oneself and others. It also has the meaning of trusting oneself and trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, and most importantly, without turning against ourselves for what we see.
The practice of loving-kindness has been a large support of mine that aids in authenticity. “Loving-kindness” is defined as a well wishing for oneself and others. It also has the meaning of trusting oneself and trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, and most importantly, without turning against ourselves for what we see.
8 Ways to Be True to Yourself
- Maintain alignment between what you feel and need and what you say and do.
- Make value-based choices while taking into account intuition, research, and the bigger picture.
- Do something each day that reflects your deepest needs, wishes, and values.
- Speak up for yourself and ask for what you want.
- Don’t put up with abuse of any kind.
- Give up designing your behavior by the desire to be liked (be imperfectly perfect and yourself!)
- State and maintain your boundaries, especially about the level of energy you can handle being around or taking in.
- Offer your fear loving-kindness and compassion.
Keep Learning and Growing
A regular meditation practice facilitates and enhances authenticity. When we are mindful, we are leaning in and listening to what is true and matters in the midst of the external forces, pressures, and influences that can often times be in opposition to our internal truth and knowing.
Another way to cultivate authenticity is setting goals for learning, which helps us experiment with our identities without feeling like impostors. We shouldn’t expect to get everything right from the start. We stop trying to protect our comfortable old selves from the threats that change can bring, and start to explore how we can lead our lives from greater authenticity, power, and well-being.
This article was originally featured on Mindful.org.