The recent public disclosures hopefully mean we have entered a new and liberating era where authenticity, vulnerability and seeking help are claimed as strengths. The truth is that the more we keep our fears, insecurities, and emotional pain in the dark, the greater control they have over us. Prince Harry himself confessed that he finally realized how keeping quiet about his sadness and emotional distress was “only ever going to make it worse.” Wishing he had talked to someone about his mother’s death decades earlier, he went on to urge people to seek counseling for whatever suffering they might be facing.
Living authentically is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and vulnerable to address our emotions and frailties, to look at ourselves honestly and to be more real with the people in our lives. That being said, not addressing our emotional side, along with not being true to ourselves, comes with a heavy burden — on our mental health as well as on the fulfillment and satisfaction within our souls.
When working with the many clients who seek counseling for anxiety and depression, after a little digging, the root often comes down to an acquired set of shoulds, oughts and have-to’s (and other defense mechanisms) that take tremendous energy to maintain and yet leave a perpetual emptiness in their wake. We often don’t realize how or when it happens, but we grow up internalizing the expectations of others and think this mask is who we should be. Not being who we really are leaves us with a sting of self betrayal and inner distress that can cause or exacerbate mental imbalance.
Whether you’re struggling with your mental health, or feel that vague sense of dissatisfaction that comes from not living true to yourself, here are some thought starters that will hopefully encourage you to invest in yourself and make living authentically a stronger priority.
Start Talking. Counseling can provide an important stepping stone to get in touch with and wrap your arms around what you’re dealing with. Many find it surprisingly healing to simply talk honestly to someone in a safe space. A good counselor can not only provide a safe space to peel down the layers of your truth, but also help you connect dots in your life and offer tools that empower you to create the life you desire.
If it's hard for you to open up about your emotions, and connect intimately with the people in your life, make a list of 1, 2 or 3 people who you might be willing to open up to — even if just a little more than you normally do. Think about who, if something painful were going on in your life, you could be more real with. Take the risk, you might gain more support than you think. Even if you don't, you can feel satisfied by your own courage to be real.
Read and Study. Books, blogs, podcasts about living your authentic self, about spiritual growth and self compassion, can really open a gate for new ways to live and think. I like Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion and Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. Monica Berg's blog RethinkLife offers a wellspring of articles on authentic living and healthy ways to connect with your emotions. Also recommended include books that deal with grief and trauma, anxiety and depression or whatever topics that relate to what you are experiencing. Reading books and listening to wisdom can help you better understand yourself, help you not feel so alone and guide you to new ways for healing and self discovery.
Journal. To build a more honest and real relationship with your inner self, I almost always recommend journaling for my clients and couples (and myself). Sometimes we don’t even know what radio station is playing inside our heads until we show up and start an actual conversation. Writing is far powerful than thinking (and overthinking) because it takes what is in our heads, pulls it out and lands it on the page. No longer in the state of potentiality, our thoughts and feelings show up in real time where we can release and let go, take a look and decide what changes we want to make — and feel more fulfilled by the very act of connecting within.
Make Authenticity Your Priority. Before you go into a vulnerable encounter, ask yourself, “Would I rather impress and gain acceptance or would I rather have that fulfilling feeling from being authentic to who I really am?” People pleasing, shrinking ourself to make other people comfortable, trying to be everything to everyone, seeking validation from others — these are common human drives that can leave a residue of emptiness and shame. Our deliberate resistance to these tendencies, and proactive choices to be authentic, builds a deep inner satisfaction that we never regret and that we ourselves have the power to create. It's not an easy task but the courage to make authenticity and worthiness our priority is the best gift we can give ourselves — and those we love.
"To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight — and never stop fighting." E.E. Cummings