The authentic is simple and sometimes easy; hiding is complicated and usually hard.
If we know ourselves and our situation (have authenticity) then our life is simple. Sometimes creativity is required to thrive in our situation but usually a fit between ourselves and our situation is simple. I say what I want, I organise myself to move in the direction I want, and so on. Usually this is easy.
When we are hiding life is complicated. The people who need to live a life of hiding need to constantly monitor themselves and their behaviour. This is complicated. And exhausting.
The groups I think of as usually needing to hide are: gays in a homophobic culture; people with addictions (especially illegal ones); people who, usually due to childhood trauma, believe that no one will like them if they know who they are and what happened to them. These people have complicated and hard lives. Through no fault of their own. However, there are usually things they can do to find greater ease (at least feeling good about themselves, even if they can’t change their culture or move to a more desirable one).
So why don’t we go for the simple and easy? I think there are four reasons.
1. NO ONE TOLD US WE CAN
A lot of children’s lives are about fitting into the adult world. They are often not consulted about what suits them. And so we grow up being trained not to do this. Likewise children are usually ‘trained’ rather than ‘educated’. They are told ‘do this’ rather than being shown how to investigate their situation and figure out what is going on.
Which means that as adults it may not occur to us to be in touch with who we are and what we want nor to look at what our environment is like. There are even ‘moralities’ that advocate being unkind to ourselves and ignoring our situation. This usually goes under the heading of ‘discipline’, ‘persevering’, being a ‘responsible adult’ and so on.
To get a detailed sense of this recall you childhood in detail:
- Remember back to your childhood and make a list of what you were told to do.
- Remember the times your questions were dismissed.
- Recall the examples your authority figures set for being in touch with their own needs and preferences.
- How were your food preferences responded too?
- Do you have a sense that your sleep rhythm was responded to – even if it wasn’t discussed – or were you expected to fit in around other’s routines?
- What interests and pursuits were encouraged or frustrated?
2. NO ONE SHOWED US HOW
- It can take time to know who we are and what we like.
- We find out what foods we like by trying different foods. There aren’t many shortcuts.
- We learn about how to organise our time by trying different ways and making adjustments.
- We find the kind of work we like by doing different stuff.
There are three ways I know to do this.
Learning From Your Own Experience.
At it’s simplest the formula is action and reflection. To reflect on whether our experience is satisfying or not and not what we think we can change or improve. I’m someone who understands through words, so I use journalling as my of reflecting. There are lots of others –
- talking things over with someone
- walking and thinking
- some kinds of meditation or contemplation
- making a model – perhaps out of lego or plasticine – something that is easy to manipulate is probably best.
Using Generalisations About Experience.
There are various systems for dividing people and their experience into types and categories. When you find a generalisation about you that works, then you can use it to guide what is likely to work for you in a new situation.
The two I find most generally useful are Myers-Briggs and Transactional Analysis (TA). You will find lots of posts about these elsewhere on this blog.
Learning From Other’s Experience.
Whether from books or other media or through personal conversations or watching others in action.
A few cautions about learning from other’s experience.
- Copy what people do – not what they say they do or did. People don’t always know why they are successful.
- Look for the reason – educate yourself don’t train yourself. Know why you do what you do. Make sure you see the connection between your behaviour and its results.
- If you are attracted to a person or way of doing things it is good to know why. Being attracted to someone’s charisma or a system’s thoroughness may divert us from what we need to know.
- For learning from others to work you need people who are enough like you in a situation enough like yours. The more different you are and your situation is, the less useful is learning from others. It may be more worthwhile to consider developing your own approach. If you put ‘creativity’ into the search box on this blog (top right in the sidebar) you will find some guidance to get you started doing this.
- Ask: Would this work for me? It may not fit you as a person or the situation you are in. No two people and no two situations are entirely identical.
To investigate learning about yourself and your situation ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I found a process for reflecting on my experience (it may be quite a structured meditation or as informal as a chat).
- Have I a sense of my own style of preferred style (intense or relaxed, structured or loose, casual or formal)?
- Have I found ways of understanding that work for me? Could you use them more?
- Who have I learned from? Try stating clearly what you learned from them.
- What could I know that would improve my life? Where could you learn this?
- Are there books or courses that have changed my life? In what way did they change you?
3. FEARS VARIOUS
Usually we are afraid that if we let people know who we really are that something terrible will happen.
This is possible. It is good to listen to our fear – it may be alerting us to danger. The world is not an entirely safe place. Not all people are entirely trustworthy. It can be useful to listen when our intuition tells us to not do something or go somewhere or say yes to something.
It can be useful to be clear about what it is we fear. It may be that we are catastrophising. It is unlikely that ‘we will die of embarrassment’. It is likely that there are other candidates for the worst person on earth (I can name several politicians and dictators past and present who will easily qualify I think).
It is important I think to know that we are entitled to keep our secrets. The demand for complete openness belongs in the torture chamber not in a friendship or intimate relationship.
In my view people are entitled to not do dangerous things. If you don’t feel an environment is caring or safe then I think this is a good reason for not being vulnerable.
My experience is that when I have talked about myself I have found that people have been more accepting than I anticipated. This has lead to some of my most precious moments.
Usually it will be possible to check out what we fear in small and easy stages. Usually our fears can be faced fairly easily in small steps. If not then there are many programs and professionals who can offer you the support needed to address them.
Responding to fear.
- Do you have to do what you fear?
- If not: consider not doing it.
- If so do your best to find a way to make it pleasurable or at least easy. Most things are ‘a cinch inch by inch’. See if there is a step forward about which you feel, “Oh, I can do that (or that much)!” and then do this little bit. Then do it again and again until you have another step about which you feel, “Oh, I can do that!”
- See if you can catch yourself ignoring or suppressing your fear.
- Can you recall times when it would have been helpful to listen to your fear? Can you recall times when it would have been better not to? Are there lessons to be learned about when it is good to and when not?
4. NOT FACING THE BLANK
There is an idea that we ‘fear the unknown’. This is wrong – what we fear is the fantasies that we fill the unknown with.
However being confronted with a blank is a problem.
We may feel very uncomfortable and anxious. And we may not know (because we have never been told – much less shown) that this experience will pass. If we can simply keep breathing (without tensing to try and suppress the feeling) we will find that this experience comes and goes and eventually diminishes – fifteen minutes will usually be enough for noticeable change to occur.
When we feel uncomfortable and anxious the usual thing is to do what we know how to do. But this is how we got here in the first place. When we are wanting authenticity what we know how to do is usually more or less fake.
When we are doing something new we won’t be sure how to do it. And usually we won’t do it well the first time (it is OK to learn and improve).
When we stay with the blank a few times we learn that something happens. It may be embarrassingly obvious or quite new.
For me the embarrassingly obvious is usually that I am concerned with being shown to be incompetent. (This is one of my themes.)
Sometimes by talking over a recurring problem I have I am struck by a flash of the blindingly obvious. Sometimes a new and simple way to do something, sometimes by an insight like: Well, who says I have to do that anyway?!
To confront this hardcore, do improv. After a while you get the idea that the mistakes and stuff ups are part of it all. And that if you wait ideas come and you go with them – some work, some don’t. And you can laugh about the mistakes and keep going. And that trying to plan out what you will do doesn’t work. And that moments or exhilarating brilliance happen.
For an easier path, just keep breathing. If it is a recurring blank for you then sit with it for five breaths today, six tomorrow, seven the day after, and so on. Notice that you got through it each time and reward yourself for this each time.
To face the blank:
- Recall times when you have run out of options. What did you do at these times? Have you generally done the same thing or tried lots of different things?
- I tend to sit and reflect. Sometimes it is better to just do something/anything. Sometimes I may be better off if I tried doing some little thing.
- Can it be OK with you to learn? What would it take for you to be OK with not getting it right the first time?
- Is it OK for you to wait for inspiration? If not; what would it take for you to be OK with this?
- When faced with something new or unknown, just breathe.
4. WHAT WE GET
Why bother? Because authenticity is the path to satisfaction.
Authenticity is not a should – it is the observation that the way to live a satisfying life is to know ourselves and our needs, and the promises and problems in our environment. When we are clear about ourself and our situation then we have a better chance of getting our needs met where we are. We bother with authenticity because it leads us to a life with more moments of elated calmness in it.
These are my thoughts. I would like to hear yours. What has made it easy for you to be yourself and live in harmony with your situation? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments.
Coming soon, the simplest possible way to begin living an authentic life. An email course of just one very brief reminder each day for forty days. Stay tuned.
To find out how to live authentically you can download my manifesto.
It has exercises that will help you experience what authenticity means for you and so experience a more satisfying life.
If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don’t hesitate to get in touch. There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave this anonymously if you wish.