“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” ~Brené Brown
Have you ever just wanted to relax, let go, and let yourself be?
Why is this so challenging for so many? Why don’t we just live naturally and allow our authenticity to be felt, expressed, and seen?
Well, when many of us were little, being authentic was not okay, so we focused on trying to do things the “right way” according to what others had to say, because our survival was at stake. The more we did this, the more we disconnected from our true essence.
We’re not bad or wrong, we needed to do this in order to be loved and accepted instead of rejected, because to a child, being rejected is like death.
The more we were shamed for how we were feeling, what we were doing, or how we were being, the more we learned that being true to ourselves was not okay. This was the beginning of self-abandoning—disconnecting from our authenticity and believing that there was something wrong with us.
When I was growing up, if I did or said anything that my parents didn’t like, they would punish me, scream at me, or give me the silent treatment; that was the worst one to me.
I used food to comfort myself because no one validated my feelings or comforted me. This was the consistent trauma I experienced as a child—not being seen, heard, or acknowledged for how I was feeling. This was especially hard when I was afraid or crying.
I would often hide in my closet and under my bed with food. Eating was how I self-soothed and how I created my own safety.
Eventually I would have to come out and interact with my family and society, which made me anxious and afraid because I was always trying to figure out the “right things” to do and say.
And even when I thought I was doing and saying the right things, my father often screamed at me and said, “Damn it, Deb, you never do anything right.”
Soon enough I became so afraid of speaking, sharing how I was feeling, and asking for what I wanted or needed that I suppressed that energy and turned into a people-pleaser. Then, when I was thirteen my doctor told me to go on a diet, and at age fifteen I became a full-blown anorexic, living in severe deprivation.
I created a shield around me to protect myself. And no matter how much I tried to let go of the anorexic behaviors of depriving and denying myself of everything that was nourishing—even after twenty-three years of going to therapy and being in hospitals and treatment centers—I still held on tightly, or maybe “it” held onto me for survival and safety.
This is what happens with our coping mechanisms, they serve at a time but then keep us in a bind; we want to let go but something inside says no.
How did it keep me in a bind? I judged myself and got mad at myself for doing the eating/starving/exercising routine, and then I judged myself and got mad at myself for not being able to stop, which created even more self-hatred and feelings of hopelessness.
I also had severe anxiety and depression because I was suppressing my true feelings. I wasn’t allowed to be me; instead, I had to be how everyone else wanted me to be. I resisted this internally and then needed relief from all that conflict, which the eating/starving/exercising routine gave me.
Eventually I got so tired of fighting against my own biology and not being allowed to be me that I became suicidal. I thought that if I took my life, I would finally be free, but all those attempts just made my family even more mad at me, and they put me in another hospital for “not behaving.”
I felt so lost, lonely, and confused; trying to fit into a mold of other people’s opinions, putting all my attention on trying to be the right person, which created fear in my system and a sense of separation from my true essence; my authentic expression.
Being authentic in a world where social consequences are at stake if we don’t behave according to what others say isn’t easy; it takes a lot of courage, strength, and feeling comfortable with who we are.
Being authentic is being vulnerable and real, sharing how we truly feel. Some of us don’t even know what that may be, because we’ve spent our lives numbing, protecting, or projecting, and/or telling ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling how we’re feeling—just as our parents may have done.
When people ask me, “Debra, what did you want to be when you were growing up?” I always reply with “I just wanted to be me,” but I didn’t even know who “me” was, I was so disconnected from my true essence.
It’s been a process to get to where I am today, living in a more authentic way; however, it wasn’t easy. I experienced rejection, pain, and people getting mad and leaving me for not meeting their expectations.
At the beginning it was challenging to honor and take loving care of myself because it went against my family’s rules and the ways I was used to being. It was challenging to share so openly and honestly, realizing not everyone will agree or like me; however, being authentic is one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever experienced on my life journey.
It’s helped free me from the eating disorders, self-harming, and depression, and it’s helped me find ease with my anxiety because I no longer hide how I‘m truly feeling—my fears, pain, shame, and insecurities. By embracing them, I started feeling more at peace with myself.
I’ve “come out of the closet” in many ways. I’ve embraced that I’m gay. I’ve uncovered and am still discovering some of my natural talents, gifts, and abilities. I share openly and honestly about how I’m feeling and about my life journey—the things I’ve learned along the way, the things I’m still learning today. And I flow in my natural, authentic way. In “essence” I’ve come back home to myself.
If you’re struggling with any type of addiction, an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or self-harming, please be kind and gentle with yourself. Those symptoms are often responses to our childhood traumas. Those symptoms are not the problem, and neither are you.
The real trauma isn’t what happened to us; it was a disconnection from our true essence, our authentic expression, and the stories we concluded about ourselves and our life experience that may still be running the show.
In order to heal and feel at ease internally, so we can shine authentically, we need to heal the trauma and shame we’ve been carrying. We need to make peace with ourselves and what we’re experiencing. And we need to embrace all parts of our being with the understanding that everything we do is meeting a need. Finding healthy ways instead of unhealthy ways to get those needs met is key.
If you’re like me, you may be afraid of noticing and feeling your deep shame; however, it was in my shame that I uncovered some of my greatest qualities that make me uniquely me—qualities I once needed to hide so I would feel loved, accepted, and safe.
This was where the healer in me lived. This was where the poet in me lived. This was where the author, writer, artist, speaker, singer, and dancer in me lived. This was where my inspiring, fun, creative, wild and free spirit lived. This was where the honest explorer and curious part of me lived, where the one who knows how to be compassionate and loving with myself and others lived
This was where I met my authentic self—by going into my shadows and embracing those fearful and tender parts that had been hurting and hiding. By making them feel safe by embracing, understanding, hearing, loving, and seeing them, and giving them permission to express themselves naturally.
We need to forgive ourselves for abandoning ourselves to be loved and accepted by others. We did what we needed to do at the time, and now we can give ourselves permission to flow with our authentic rhyme—by discovering/uncovering our unique ways of expressing and learning how to meet our needs, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
To be authentic is to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is to soften our heart, to let down the walls of armor and protection and allow ourselves to feel, process, and express how we’re truly feeling; this allows us to have truer and deeper connections with ourselves and others.
To be authentic is to connect with our inner child. They hold the keys to our talents, gifts, true joy, creativity, and natural ways of being and expressing. This is healing, allowing our true revealing, feeling safe in our bodies and allowing ourselves to fully be ourselves again, blooming from the inside out.
I love this quote from Jim Carrey: “We have a choice to take a chance on being loved or hated for who we really are.” I would add, or we can suppress who we truly are and just add to our wounds and scars, and never get to experience the sincerity and divine greatness of who we can be.
When we start to live authentically, we can enjoy life in the present moment because our mind is no longer trying to figure out how we “need to be” or trying to protect us from our pain, shame, vulnerabilities, and insecurities. By embracing them we feel more at ease, and we don’t have a need to numb or suppress with coping strategies that may not be healthy
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you identify what’s standing in the way of your authenticity:
- What were you rewarded for as a child?
- What did you get punished for as a child?
- How did your parents want you to look, dress, wear your hair, etc.?
- What were you told that success looks like?
- What were you judged and criticized for?
- What were you told not to be like? For example, “Don’t be loud, don’t cry, don’t get angry, don’t do or say or feel…, etc.”
- What were you told was wrong or bad about you? For example, “You’re too sensitive, you’re too needy, you never do anything right, you ask for too much, you’re not good enough, etc.”
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you find your authentic expression:
- What comes easy and natural for me?
- Who am I when no one is looking?
- What do I value?
- What am I inspired to do but my head tells me not to?
- What did I love to do as a child?
- What do I truly enjoy doing now?
- What is real about me, regardless of whether I judge it as good or bad?
- What are my best qualities? “I’m caring, I’m loving, I’m empathetic, etc.”
Here are some questions for self-inquiry:
- Am I enjoying what I’m doing, or am I doing what I think I “should” be doing?
- Do I always try to find the right things to say, or do I say how I truly feel?
- Do I pretend to not be bothered when I really am?
- Do I try to look good to others and create a false self-image, so I’ll be loved and accepted?
- How do I feel about myself? Do I feel like I’m being true to who I know myself to be?
- How do I relate to myself when I’m happy?
- How do I relate to myself when I’m feeling sad or angry?
Here’s the simple truth I know about beautiful and amazing you: You are inherently good, you’re naturally valuable and lovable, your uniqueness is a gift, you are divinity perfect. You’re worth taking up space, you’re an important part of this human race, you matter. This isn’t about striving for perfection, it’s about embracing your authentic expression.