"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

'Being Authentic': What that means and how to be


View of sunset over mountains. Being Authentic – what that means

Have you ever been told to ‘be authentic’?

Do you ever wonder what it means?

Have you only ever heard it used to refer to antiques?

Currently, one of the favourite terms used in the self-help and personal development community is ‘Be Authentic’. But what does that really mean?

In layman terms it means ‘be yourself’.

Yes, sounds simple, doesn’t it? And some people might even say, “But if you’re not yourself, then who are you?” That’s when it can get tricky.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” - Ralph WaldoEmerson

People who have no problems with self-esteem or confidence don’t find themselves worrying about what others might say or do in response to them. They are relaxed and secure about who they are, and don’t ever think about being anything other than themselves.

But there are plenty of people who live in fear of showing and sharing their true selves. They are often consumed with anxiety about how the outside world will treat them. Often this is a result of a difficult childhood, abuse of some kind, at home or at school, or an event in their lives that has given them reason to step back and be more cautious about what they show the world. They lack trust in people and in themselves, no longer being sure about how they will be received, or how they will respond if someone upsets them.

To be ourselves means to be honest about how we feel, both when we’re alone and when we’re around other people, without fear of disappointing someone, or being rejected - sometimes viciously, whether verbally or physically.

“Remind yourself you can not fail at being yourself.” – Wayne Dyer

For me personally, as a child, teenager and even into adulthood, I learnt that who I was, was not good enough. My mother told I was fat, talked too much, couldn’t keep a secret, and she wouldn’t believe anything I said about anything. My sister would tell me family members didn’t like me, that I was too, too open, and apparently had a temper.  Then classmate would tell me: “If you change the way you are, you might have more friends.” And even into my middle-age I have been told I am too intense and that my openness shocks people.

So overall I understood that people won’t like me if I be myself, that I should pretend to be someone else to please others – that I will not be approved of or accepted otherwise.

This meant that from an early age I learnt to suppress my feelings. I believed they weren’t as important as the feelings of those around me. And I started to believe that they couldn’t be trusted - that ‘I’ couldn’t be trusted, and that to keep the people in my life happy, I should give up who I was and who I wanted to be, and be who they expected me to be.

So over the years I built a ‘mask’, or ‘face’ to hide behind. Whenever opening the front door to leave my house I would ‘wear’ it. I would behave and respond as expected by everyone outside that door, whether strangers on the street, or friends at a social gathering.

And when I returned home I would go over all the interactions I had with people, and pick apart how I’d behaved, chastising myself if I thought I had spoken too much, out of turn, or been generally disliked, validating my need to maintain the mask.

“You can fake your smile but not your feelings.” - Anonymous

It took me a lot of time and effort to remove the layers of the mask, and rid myself of it – and some days I’m not sure I have. To do this I realised I needed to be honest with myself. I had to find out what ‘I’ really thought about me and my life and what I wanted in it.

I had to stop telling myself that what others wanted was more important than what I wanted. I had to be honest, first with myself and then with the people in my life, which meant I had to stop being be afraid of what I felt. I had to trust my feelings - but to do that I needed to let myself feel them first.

Rather than suppress, ignore or dismiss my feelings, I had to stop what I was doing and feel them – literally let them run the course of my body and overwhelm me, even if they were upsetting.

In that moment I would listen to what they were about, I would ‘hear’ them. It’s like listening to a voice inside, another part of yourself that has never been given a voice before and letting it say its piece. Then rather than dismissing what it says I would think about it, consider it and what I could do about it - sort of like comforting and reassuring it. I would believe it, and not second guess it or dismiss it. I would trust that it was how I felt about something. 

“She threw away all her masks and put on her soul.” - Francesca Silvanna

The by product of doing this was that I began to feel more secure. I became sure of what I felt, who I was, and who I wanted to be. I discovered my own inner security system. Looking for security externally no longer became relevant – or needed. I was secure in myself, my own feelings for the first time. I trusted myself and could be honest with myself.

This also meant I started to like myself, which in turn gave me confidence. The feelings of security inside meant that I didn’t need to seek security externally anymore - in people or in situations, events or places. I was able to remove the mask and not be scared to be me, because I was okay with who I was.

To summarise, the steps I took were:

·         Being Honest with myself
·         Feeling my feelings
·         Listening to my feelings
·         Believing and trusting my feelings

And the result brought inner security leading to external security.

Once we know that we are okay – inside – with who we are, we can be okay with people outside. We can relax and stop concerning ourselves with what they think about us, or how they might react to us - it no longer matters. We can finally be ourselves – be our authentic selves.

“Security comes from trusting. Trust is, not knowing that everything WILL be alright, but knowing that everything already IS alright.” – Hillary Pike.

This is not an easy process, and it can be very scary at times as we have to face things that caused us a lot of pain. For me it became easier once I removed all the toxic people who kept alive toxic events and feelings from my past.

And when I started reducing my expectations, both of myself and of other the people around me, I was able to think more clearly. Once there were no obligations or expectations associated with my interactions with others, I could clarify whether they were things I enjoyed doing, which in turn made it easier for me to be honest. 

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are.” - Brene Brown

(Dr.Phil has a series of articles on his site under Self Matters, about Defining Your Authentic Self, which I found helpful.)