What does it mean to be authentic?
I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought lately. At its core, being authentic is being true to yourself. Easy, right?
Not so much, it turns out.
Children are the most authentic humans I know. They freely express their emotions – from sheer joy and delight to downright defiance, speak their mind (the wisdom that comes from these wee, little beings is mind-boggling) and have an innate belief in themselves, their abilities and the possibilities of life. “Reality” is not going to interfere with their dreams.
“Of course I can be a superhero-dragon-training-fairy princess!”
And if these children grow up with parents that mirror their joy and genius, chances are they’ll continue to listen to their inner voice into adulthood. We should all be so lucky.
But if they have parents that deflect their fragile truth, who don’t affirm their gifts and talents, then slowly it becomes buried as they conform to whatever norms their social circle embraces.
I fall into the latter category. This isn’t about blame. You can’t teach or model what you don’t know and chances are these norms and behaviors have been passed on from generation to generation. I can look at my family dynamics in a detached manner and understand why people acted the way they did. And I can also be incredibly grateful because I broke the mold. It took me 50 years to realize it – I’m the maverick in my family!
Listening to our inner voice is complicated for women because our brains are wired to connect. It’s a survival tactic. In a study that examined the effect stress has on men and women, men went into the typical “fight or flight” mode. Women, on the other hand went into a “tend and befriend” state – protect the children and make friends. There is safety in numbers.
The combo of being disconnected from your authentic voice and the biological drive to connect with others can create a perfect storm – we feel like we are losing ourselves. I know the feeling, I’ve uttered those words. When we aren’t living from our truth we tend to rely on these connections to define us. It’s why we find it hard to end a relationship even when we know it’s wrong for us. We give the connection priority. How can it be any other way? We don’t have the wisdom of our inner voice to balance us.
In me, this imbalance created a need for approval. I feared rejection because without the guidance and support of my inner voice, I didn’t know who I was so I relied on others to validate me. I accommodated their wants and needs even if it went against my own truth (even if deeply buried, your inner truth will make itself known, usually physically – headaches, butterflies, muscle spasms, etc). I felt like I was slowly sinking under.
They key to authenticity isn’t to give up our connections. It doesn’t mean never compromising or accommodating someone else’s needs over our own. We have room to grow and our truth will change. The key is to reconnect with our inner voice.
How do you do that?
If you’re truth is buried deeply, chances are that voice in your head is your inner critic so you’ll have to listen to your body. How do you feel? Do your actions or decisions resonate? Do you feel heady with excitement? Are you engaged and losing all track of time? Do you feel expansive? Or, does it feel like you’ve got a mud brick sitting in your gut? Are you dragging your feet? Does it feel like drudgery? Are you unable to focus on anything because you’re too upset? Do you silently stew?
Pay attention to what lights your fire and what dampens your spirit. In order to connect on a meaningful level, you first need to connect with yourself.
Question your thoughts.
Instead of assuming you know what the other person wants and trying to bend yourself in a pretzel to accommodate them, ask. If you find yourself disagreeing, that’s OK. You don’t have to nor should you, agree on everything. If you want a real connection, you’re going to have to dive deep and not just skate on the surface. If you can’t negotiate your differences or you don’t feel safe speaking your truth, you don’t have a real connection and the sooner you learn this, the better. Give up being the designated compromisor. Real, lasting, meaningful relationships are a give and take for both parties.
You’re not for everyone.
Get over the fact that everyone has to or is going to like you. It’s unrealistic. Focus on the people who you like and like you instead of wasting your time on trying to convince someone otherwise. Life is too short to be giving away your energy to someone or something that will not enhance your life.
You have nothing to prove. There are no tests to pass. Your mere existence is proof that you are enough. You don’t need anyone’s approval. We are works in progress, accept and acknowledge your gifts and flaws. No one is perfect so quit pretending you are. Our willingness to admit vulnerability is our strength. It’s what makes us human. Personally, I give mine a blankie and some hot chocolate so they’ll be quiet, curl up in the back seat and quietly watch the scenery and while my strengths take the wheel.
When we reconnect with our truth, an amazing thing happens. We mirror and acknowledge other people’s truth, no matter how different it is from ours. We may even be influenced and grow from the experience.
The irony is when we connect from a place of authenticity, it’s deeper and more satisfying than anything we could ever imagine