If you've ever spent much time with babies and very young children, you'll be familiar with their flawless authenticity and self-expression. When they are happy, or they love something, it's really obvious - in their face, voice, and body language. Similarly, when they are unhappy you know it. There is rarely any doubt about how a one-year-old is feeling, regardless of where they are or who else is around! Yet the opposite is the case with most adults.
Something makes us shift from being self-expressed kids, to holding back as we mature. I'm not just talking about the little things (like saying it's nice to meet someone when you don't really think so). Many people are living their lives in a way that is so inauthentic they are making themselves ill, in fact I've been there and done that myself. After several years of holding back so many feelings of anger and bitterness, and feeling unable to express myself, I suffered frequent throat infections and eventually ended up in an ambulance, being taken to an emergency gall-bladder removal.
I'm not the only one. I frequently see this in others - in my life and through my Reiki practice. In today's short post, I'm talking about authenticity and why we often feel compelled to hold back our authentic selves. You are invited to consider how this may be affecting your own life and wellbeing.
Professor Brené Brown says that authenticity is the "daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are." If we started out as authentic children, why does our later authenticity require a 'letting go' of something and 'embracing' something else? Surely it should be a natural thing. It is, but only up to a point. So where does it all go 'wrong'?
As we develop our identity - when we develop the idea of being seperate and become identified with this sense of 'self' - the ego takes over. The ego is the "I" - the part of you that distinguishes yourself from others and objects, and it perceives its job is to keep you safe. However its version of 'safety' is skewed - being both vulnerable and insecure, the ego feels constantly under threat (from something that doesn't actually exist) and being defensive, it finds safety through attack, judgment, and identification with external things. According to Eckhart Tolle in the book The Power of Now, these are most commonly things like "possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems" and "racial, religious or other collective identifications." In other words, we all start to believe that these 'things' are part of our identity and then we dedicate our lives to defending them and building them up. We strive to look good, to fit in, and ultimately to outdo others in whatever way(s) we can. Despite the fact that most people spend their lives in this way none of these things is You.
Everything driven by the ego is simply a strategy for making you feel safe against the perception of threat. And because it doesn't really exist, all attempts to foil it are ultimately unfulfilling, but that's a topic for another time. For now, let's just consider that You are not your job, your bank balance, your family, your charity work, or any of your achievements. It's very common for people to reach a point in their lives where they realise this for themselves - but it's all too often when the thing they identify with is taken away (e.g. they lose their job, their money or spouse, or they are dying themselves) and they have no idea what to do about it.
So where do we go from here? In order to be authentic and self-expressed then, we have first to recognise all those things that we are not - what we need to let go of. Only then can we get to the truth of what we are. I read a lovely analogy recently which said that the truth of us is like a lightbulb beneath a shade. However big and dark the shade, and however many additional shades are placed on top, the bulb itself doesn't ever change - it is still burning just as bright. Your authentic self is the same, only the ego keeps putting more and more barriers up over it. So that the light is hidden. In this analogy, by choosing to remove the shades we can allow our light to shine.
Can you imagine what your life would look like if you felt you could be truly authentic? Take a moment to think about it. What if you spoke from the heart instead of the head? What if you felt free to cry, or to dance, or sing? What if you could reveal any hidden parts of yourself, to anyone you choose, without worrying about what 'others' might think about about you? If you didn't have to bite your tongue in certain company? What if you could express your deepest wishes, read your poetry, sing your song? What would that feel like? Although it might not always seem like it, you do have a choice in the matter and you can start living more authentically right now. Brené Brown says:
"Authenticity is not something we have or don't have. It's a practice - a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen."
You can choose to live an undercover life, hidden beneath the ego's shady layers, or you can commit to facing your (egoic) fears and dare to be authentic. Which will you choose?