Being Authentic – Why Is It Hard?
I will share four fundamental principles of human psychology that will help you understand the deep challenges of being authentic.
Let’s shine some light on the underlying psychological and social principles of our struggle with being authentic.
There is obviously no problem with being accommodating, kind and helpful per se. It only becomes an issue if it comes at cost of our self-respect and boundaries.
First Principle: From a child’s point of view, parental disapproval, rejection, punishment, or the withdrawal of warmth and affection are deeply threatening and engender feelings of alienation, anxiety, resentment, sadness, badness, and helplessness.
When we were very young, we are not equipped to deal with these feelings. We repress the emotional discomfort and pain into the unconscious realm, whilst maintaining the best possible connection with our parents.
In this way, we are conditioned unconsciously to fit in and get along the best we can. We also don’t have the power to say to our parents: ‘Look, the way this family operates, doesn’t really work for me, I am off’. In this sense, our early adaptation to our family culture often comes at the cost of our healthy, vulnerable, and natural emotions.
This process is part of human socialisation. We can think of it as neither good, nor bad. It is just what happens. Unless we have the privilege to grow up with conscious and psychologically mature parents.
Second Principle: James Hollis, my favourite Jungian writer, talks about this in his thought-provoking book ‘Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life ‘.
He provocatively states: ‘Being nice ceases to be nice in adulthood. In fact, it becomes a liability’. In that sense, being ‘nice’ can have ugly consequences in our adult years.
Reflecting on this, when being compliant and nice repeatedly comes at the cost of our self-respect and healthy boundaries, we not only violate our personal integrity, but also give away our authority and responsibility for ourselves.
In other words, being nice and accommodating at the cost of our self-respect, boundaries and inner values is a kind of self-betrayal.
Third principle and Life Lesson: Life has a habit of pushing us to outgrow our over-learnt and outdated compliant and conditioned response. I have experienced this many times. And I am sure many of you have too.
I give you an example. Some years ago, I experienced emotional and physical burnout. I was unable to work for three or four months.
This was very scary, but it pushed me to realise that I needed to make some fundamental changes in my life. I had overspent my energy resources.
I am sharing this with you, because I know that many of us struggle with getting to know our limits.
Through this experience, I understood more deeply that being authentic is also about taking full responsibility for my struggles, my exhaustion and my decisions.
It is easier to blame others for our troubles. We can blame our managers, the organisations we work in, maybe our partners, our past, or circumstances.
But have you noticed that blaming keeps us stuck. Again, from a child’s perspective this makes total sense, because as children we are dependent on external authority figures.
As adults, we need to grow out of our powerless childhood programming if we really want to grow up. This is easier said than done. Because, when we dare to step out of our powerless childhood conditioning, we often experience overwhelming anxiety and even panic.
I have experienced this many times. For example, as a result of the burn-out I mentioned earlier, I left a job and an organisation that I had worked with for 20 years. I professionally grew up in this organisation and felt passionate about working and being part of it.
The organisation had offered me a lot of valuable professional experience as a clinician, a manager and supervisor. It gave me status, a reasonable monthly salary, a good pension, a team environment, just to name a few.
But I knew deep inside that it was time for me to leave. And I did leave. As part of the process I initially felt overwhelming anxiety. This leads us to the…
Fourth principle: When we dare to think freely and act autonomously, it often comes with feelings of overwhelming powerlessness, helplessness, a sense of fear and anxiety.
The interesting thing is, it feels so overwhelming precisely because these feelings date back to the time of our great childhood vulnerability. These feelings reside in a reservoir which we call our unconscious. And when they are triggered, they can arise with paralysing force.
It is helpful to understand that these moments of overwhelming vulnerability and anxiety are not connected to the present but to the disempowered state of our childhood.
The good news is that as competent, coping adults we can learn to manage our feelings, speak our mind and negotiate our relationships. As adults, we can leave, if this is what we need to do.
This is scary and liberating at the same time. Learning to become authentic is a choice and an act of courage in the face of our childhood conditioning.
In conclusion, I would like to say that understanding these four fundamental principles is half the battle of overcoming our inhibition in being more daring, willing, and able to express and act on what is true and meaningful to us.
Becoming more authentic is a choice and an act of courage, and so…
If you are ready to learn to manage your feelings, to set healthy boundaries, to speak your mind and to thoughtfully negotiate your relationships, please get in touch and book your FREE, 20-minute consultation. This will give us a chance to talk about your struggles, what you want to change and how we can best work together. I am looking forward to connecting with you.