The problem stems from people using authenticity as a badge of honour. If I reveal my darkest thoughts I can claim to be authentic. I am bad and admit it so I must be authentic. This, for me does not get to the heart of the matter. Authenticity is about more than baring my soul, it is about being totally honest with myself and with others.
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
If I really admit it, by Brené’s definition I am rarely authentic. I make choices every day and frequently those choices involve me in some measure of holding back, of not saying what I really think. This is not about telling the truth, I think I have fairly well debunked the idea that there is a truth. This is about being seen for everything I am, for the whole of me. I rarely have the confidence to reveal every part of me. I have a lingering fear of being judged. I wonder what people will think or say if I reveal everything. I want to keep something about me to myself.
Even more important is the question of revealing everything I think about the other person. The classic question is what do you say if your wife/girlfriend asks, “Does my bum look big in this?” I am not even going to look at how I would answer that… Why would I want to reveal everything I think about another person? Perhaps I just think that to be authentic I should be honest about the whole of my thoughts. Maybe I think that they should know it all because it would help them? Maybe I am just arrogant enough to think that what I think matters that much?
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!
This might be relevant and necessary in court but I do not live there. I live in the real world full of decisions to make about my interactions with other people. I make assessments all the time about me and others in order to create an optimal situation.
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.
For me the answer is to leave behind all the stuff about thoughts and truth and follow Jung in becoming who I truly am. This is not about what I reveal or what I say, it is about who I portray myself as. Do I create a persona that I set out as the real me or do I just behave as me, unadorned, open and honest? I believe I say more by being silent than by speaking. I find that my energy speaks volumes. My body language, my facial expressions, my energy are all about me inside. Being authentic is about being congruent with what these say. Being authentic is just being.
The authentic self is the soul made visible.
—Sarah Ban Breathnach
What does my soul say about me? having been through a process of awareness and acceptance I should be clear about my soul, can I let it speak for me?
In finding clarity, however, I need to be sure of my boundaries, how I see them and what they mean to others. I have often felt the urge to exert control, the need to get people to listen to me. What I did not realise was that it was all about boundaries, my boundaries. What took many years for me to discover was that I could only control myself, not others. To lead others I needed to be seen to be in control of myself. Learning to control myself, I realised, is about setting boundaries, something that is not as simple as it seems.
There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.
—Ursula Le Guin
I can imagine the wall being built, crudely, before the builder had any skills. It was rough but it was confident. When it came to the road, the way that was open and used by many people, it lost its strength. The idea was there, the imaginary line, but it had not been marked, either with wall or gate. The line did not really exist.
This is what boundaries were like for me. They were built early because of childhood events. They were built before I understood their significance. They fell apart as I interacted with other people. I lost confidence and I became upset. What I forgot was what the wall meant to those on the outside. I knew the inside, I saw it all the time, but I forgot that it looked different on the outside.
What I found difficult was how to see my boundaries from the other side. I resorted to blaming others for what happened. I knew my side, I knew I was justified in what I was doing, I knew the world was against me. The world I saw, the world out there, I discovered, was the world I created. I saw the world as against me because I only I saw things from my point of view. I only saw the inside of the wall.
I attached meaning to the world I experienced. I reacted to the world I saw and created an inside world of anger in relation to it. What I did not realise was that I created that meaning from inside myself, from where I was hurting. I needed to take control of myself, of my thinking and of the meaning I gave to things. To take control of myself I needed to take responsibility for what I did and how I reacted, I needed to see the other side of the wall.
I create my world myself, it is not created by the actions of others. This is a crucial issue, one that is at the heart of boundary setting. I decide what I will do, not others. If I am doing what others want it is because I have decided to do so. I cannot blame others for what happens to me, and I can not punish them for it.
When I find myself getting angry, which is rare today, I know the wall has started to crumble. I know the way is no longer clear. It is time to get out the mortar and re-build my wall, on both sides. I need to take responsibility for what is happening and clearly communicate that. I talk, I listen, I explain, I hear and I re-create my boundaries and, as a result, I am now a happy man and others respect me and enjoy my company. I no longer need to control others because I no longer attach meaning to what they do and I no longer react to them.
In letting go of control I strive to be open. I seek to be myself. Achieving this can be difficult. It almost seems impossible. I have delved into my core, I have come out from behind my mask, I have re-built my boundaries, but there is something still there. Perhaps I am trying too hard? Perhaps I am seeking and missing the solution? Maybe it is there all the time?
Openness is the solution, the simple solution. It is about letting the light in to the man inside, letting the light reveal the simplicity of what is there. Authenticity is about letting go of trying to be anything. When I try, I end up creating something that is not there. It is that creation that causes the problem. That creation builds something artificial on top of the internal reality. Holding the honesty of my internal reality is the simple solution to all the problems of connection. The difficulty I create for myself is thinking that I know better. I set my mind to work and it takes what it sees and judges it. That judgement finds fault and sees what could be better. But that is only what could be better not what is.
Whatever I am is what I am, authenticity comes from the openness of letting that light shine through. Of course I can always work to change things, to create new shifts, but that is to come. Today is what is happening now. Today accepts the warts and all.
When I attended Tantra weekends in the Netherlands there were many times when I stood naked in front of the other participants. There was no hiding there, there was no chance to pretend I looked other than I did. I would want to be slimmer, more muscular, have matching legs, but I was not and did not. It worked because we were all standing naked and wishing we looked better, fitter, more attractive. But we did not. Our ability to be open with each other made it work. The trick is to take that idea and integrate it with the rest of my life.
I have been through the work of awareness. I have looked at every aspect of myself and found what I was hiding away from, discovered what I did not want revealed. I have been through the work of acceptance. I have considered all that I have found out and accepted it, become one with it, drawn it into my life. Now the work of authenticity is before me. But this is easy after all, it just needs me to do nothing. I need to find the courage to just be me, I need to take on board the compassion to just be me.
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness, It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think—No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking—Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
I am enough, I am worthy of love.
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—Photo Credit: Flickr/Markus Spiske