The most common form of despair is not being who you are… ~ Søren Kierkegaard
One of the most common conversations I have in my office is the one that focuses on personal authenticity. It seems like a ‘no-brainer’ – “just be yourself” and some of us believe that we are – yet depression and anxiety live in the space between how we behave out in the world and how our hearts wish we would.
There are a couple of obvious examples that are stereotypical, commonly known – the Doctor’s child who is guided toward medical school but internally, yearns to be an artist or an accountant. Or the person who yearns for same-sex intimacy yet believes he or she is only ‘acceptable’ as a heterosexual.
I see problems with authenticity with people who believe that no matter what they do – it’s not ‘good enough’… perhaps what they are doing IS the best and authentic to them yet they are unable to recognize it as so.
We are so driven to meet standards from outside of ourselves. First – our family or teachers and then from our society or culture and then again, our partner/spouse and social circles. The struggle I faced as a kid to ‘fit in’ in terms of body shape and physical fitness was real. I grew up in the era of ‘Twiggy’ where pencil thin was in and my Victorian physic had been out for hundreds of years. Standards of education, socioeconomic class, sexuality, language skills… they exist in every realm of our lives and so we strive to meet them with little regard for the ‘truth’ or the sincerity with which we present those standards to the world.
Earlier this week a client was expressing frustration that interacting with a relative often produced a gross reaction, sending the client into throws of ugly and spiteful thoughts while she spewed derogatory remarks that came from an unknown place inside of her. “That’s not who I am”, she says. She emphasized that she didn’t like that kind of reaction and she really hated herself when it happened. “How do I make it stop?” she was pleading for relief of the ‘despair’ she experienced when she found herself tackling sarcasm and malicious sentiment, tit for tat.
While some may argue that her behavior in that moment was indeed ‘part of her’, it was notably not part of who she ‘wanted’ to be. She saw herself as a kind person, warm and considerate most all of the time. She never wanted to represent herself as someone who could be enticed into a verbal warfare of inflammatory and debasing commentary. And so, when she gravitated there – for whatever reason – she experienced a sense of ‘inauthenticity’… that particular behavior was NOT part of the person she genuinely wanted to present to the world.
I remember taking family photographs the fall before Hubby and I were first separated. We met with a photographer, wore similar outfits, and snapped photos all over a local Civil War battlefield on a cool Fall day. By the time we got the proofs back, our relationship was feeling more strain and the pretending I was actively engaged in was becoming tiring. I looked at those photos and thought about how disingenuous I was in almost every one of them. There was a smile on my face and we posed well together, but Hubby and I were definitely NOT authentic. I didn’t feel the happiness that was represented in the picture – I knew it was a lie.
Sometimes we don’t notice or understand – there is no conscious awareness that we are living inauthentically. Several years ago, my family deserted me for a weekend, doing their own things – scouts, golf, etc… I found myself in the house alone for a whole weekend. It was just before Thanksgiving and so I began my Christmas crafting – making a disastrous mess out of the kitchen and dining area but loving the fact that I could leave my stuff out – and all over – without impacting anyone else. I never even noticed that time was passing. I was content, satisfied, at peace.
By the end of that weekend, I realized that I was ‘fed’ by utilizing my creative energy. I knew that about myself and yet, over time, I had allowed the opportunities for artistic expression to become unimportant, or at least very low on my list of priorities. I noticed how charged and full of enthusiasm I felt by Sunday evening; I was glad to see everyone when they came home. I had utilized my energy in one of the most AUTHENTIC ways possible and my psyche understood. I’ve never allowed myself to forget that experience and I always have something in the works. In reality, I had to open an Etsy shop in order to have an outlet from where to part with all of the ‘creations’ that I had generated. They are simple, imperfect things but they are made from a Zen place… at least that’s where my mind is when I am in creative mode.
Today, I am using that energy to write (and maybe fitting in a craft or two).
I believe that the most important part of being authentic is accepting ALL of you – the parts you don’t like, the parts you want to change, the parts that will never change, and the parts that you think the world will reject along with all the wonderful, amazing, and talented aspects of yourself. My life completely turned around when I understood that the whole of my person wasn’t all great – and accepted it. When I can see my imperfections and LOVE MYSELF ANYWAY, my ability to be in the world authentically is greatly enhanced.
I can’t tell you how many times in a session when I ask a client to say “I love you” to themselves – there is an emotional block or a strong emotional reaction. When we accept ourselves AS WE ARE and strive to present ourselves to the world bearing the values and qualities that WE aspire, we are living authentically and then… despair cannot exist. Learn to love everything about yourself – even the things you want to change. You don’t have to like them – only accept that they are there. Then – change begins and you can be WHO you are.