I used to avoid certain social situations such as networking events because I can’t stand small talk.
I used to wear a mask at work because I did not think anyone would accept my true self.
I was a shell of myself in many situations because I wanted to fit in, and was afraid family and friends would call me weird.
I know I’m not the only one who wants drop the mask and the fear. In discussing the struggle to “fit in” versus “be authentic,” I have heard people in my community say that not being themselves makes them feel trapped. I heard one man confess at a gathering that he doesn’t want to have to wear a suit to make others feel comfortable. I heard a friend say that she doesn’t want to shrink herself for the benefit of her friends and family.
We don’t have to do these things to fit in like puzzle pieces; these are merely habits or patterns that we accumulate and perpetuate from society’s expectations of us, and from the expectations that we perceive our loved ones and acquaintances place on us.
What if we put down the baggage of others’ expectations and show up unapologetically, without needing a permission slip or acceptance letter from anyone? It’s hard to just do this overnight; it’s more likely to happen gradually and naturally once we accept ourselves enough to overcome the need for external approval. If we are conscious and aware with a desire to become a person who lives and communicates authentically, we can work with practices to get there.
In the past I did not understand what people meant when they referred to being authentic; I still think it is a vague word that does not convey its true meaning. I thought, “How can a person not be authentic? We are all real people and we are all just doing our best.”
What does the word authentic really mean? Here are some definitions from the dictionary:
- Not false or copied; genuine; real: an authentic antique.
- Representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.
- Entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy.
True to oneself. Not copied. Trustworthy.
Authentic means that we are speaking what is truly on our hearts in a genuinely curious and loving way. It means that people can trust us because we are being up front about what is going on within.
It means we are not trying to be anyone else but ourselves.
Authentic relating is a practice of showing up instead of shying away, glossing over, hiding or pretending, and it’s a way of communicating honestly. The best way to begin is to say what we notice and then in genuine curiosity, ask how it feels for the other person to hear it. For example:
“I notice I am feeling _________ in this moment because _________. How does that land for you?”
What would it look like for us to show up this way in our relationships? For example, when we are in conflict with a friend or family member—showing up authentically with curiosity and kindness by noticing how a situation makes us feel and voicing it, can sometimes diffuse the situation and foster understanding between people. How about when we are feeling nervous or excited with someone we are dating; or when we are meeting or spending time with a new group of people?
It can be scary, but this way of communicating is a gold mine that opens up a whole new world on a fast track to deep communication and deep relationships.
Authentic relating is a painfully vulnerable experience at times. It makes my heart beat fast and my hands sweat. And that is why it requires a lot of practice. Being authentic is a muscle we can strengthen, and building relationships is the best way to do so.
Recently I have been able to grow exponentially through authentic relating while dating. I consciously decided to communicate what I was feeling at all times instead of hoping to fit into the mold that I perceived men wanted me to fit in. Instead of being on my best behavior and hoping that they would like me, I showed up without a mask and asked myself, “Do I like him?”
It isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of courage. I know when a man can’t handle it because he looks at me with a puzzled expression on his face. One man told me he thought I was intriguing but it was “too much” for him and he didn’t “get it.” It hurts to be misunderstood and told I am “too much,” yet I continue traveling deeper into the world of authentic relating.
Being approached by a man who speaks my authentic relating language is like looking at one another through a clean, transparent window pane—we can both see clearly what is happening on the other side of the glass.
My authenticity crosses into all my relationships with family and friends. I feel closer and more intimate around people with whom I speak my truth. They follow suit and feel closer to me in turn.
When I finally learned what it means to be authentic, I was able to stop pretending to be someone else, a pattern that began in my childhood. I broke the pattern by practicing flexing my authenticity muscles over and over…digging deeper and deeper into the gold mine of intimate relationships with my loved ones and most importantly, with myself.
Author: Carrie Jordan
Image: Wiki Commons
Editor: Renée Picard