Let's Talk About the "A" Word: Authenticity
For as long as I can remember I’ve worried about what other people think of me. Part of that has to do with being empathetic and sensitive to others’ needs (which I now think of as one of my superpowers). AND part of that had to do with growing up in an itty-bitty, conservative town where everyone knew everyone and I felt like I was under a microscope.
It seemed like so many people around me growing up were comfortable in the familiarity and had no issue putting their lives up for display…for me it made my external shell that much more durable. And of course there were other factors, too, that helped me solidify that shell: the pressure to have a specific body shape contributed significantly, and I despised how quickly I could be labeled an “overly sensitive” or “irrational” woman, vowing not to give people the satisfaction of seeing my emotional self. Overall, I got really good at hiding any potential imperfection. And along with that…I got really good at walling myself in.
Fast forward a few years later when I’m halfway through my second year of college, a state away from family (which is really far if you come from a small town like mine) and I found myself feeling incredibly lonely and like I didn’t have people that actually knew me. Shocking, right?
As it turns out, the very thing I was doing to try to keep people from finding fault with me was actually keeping them at arms-length. Oh, the irony. I ended up transferring schools and things eventually worked out, but not until after some painful lessons, including a lot of one-sided friendships and an abusive relationship, did I finally sit back and think about what the heck I needed to do differently.
I can tell you that it’s a work in progress AND since finding the courage to be myself, I’ve made some of the best connections with other people. Here are some of the things that helped me re-discover my authentic self:
Identify your values. To live authentically you, you first need to figure out what that is by doing whatever you need to get in touch with yourself: Journaling. Spending time alone. Getting into Nature. Practicing Religion.
Bounce your thoughts & feelings about authenticity off someone else. Maybe this means going to a therapist. Maybe it’s your sister or your best friend from 3rd grade. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re trying to accomplish (being yourself) and they might be able to help you identify what that means for you.
Spend time with people that allow you to be yourself, and less time with those that…well, don’t. Speaking of people you trust, you’ve gotta stop with one-sided relationships. Don’t spend time with people that make you feel like shit and make being vulnerable that much harder (or at the very least, limit this time). For as many people as you might lose touch with in this process, you’re allowing that much more time and energy for people that will appreciate the real you. Trust me, they’re out there.
Allow people into your imperfect world. Tell people when you’re heartbroken. Tell them when you’re ecstatic. Let them come into your space, even when the laundry isn’t all folded. This is the “exposure therapy” part.
Give yourself a break. I wasn’t sure if this needed to come first or last on this little list, but it’s oh-so-important to find some self-compassion that, no, you’re not perfect (and you never will be!). That’s okay. That’s human and relatable. No one asked for a barbie doll.
All of these suggestions really come down to one thing I have to keep driving home to myself: You have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to let people see you for who you are if you want them to love you for the real you.
This also means being willing to be judged and disliked for the real me, yes. But it’s honestly been so, so worth it. I’m not saying I’ve perfected this thing (in fact, if you’re worried about getting it just right, that’s probably a red flag that you’re not allowing yourself to be human). It’s still my go-to response to wall myself in and put on a composed front when I’m stressed. The difference is that I now know I tend to do that and I can recognize when it’s happening. In those moments, I have to intentionally do what feels uncomfortable and choose to be vulnerable. For example, writing all of this out for you to see 😉
If you want to read more about vulnerability and risking it for a biscuit, I would 10/10 recommend any and all of these books by Brené Brown:
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]