By Molly La Croix, LMFT Trauma Expert at Potentia Family Therapy
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“Keeping it Real at Facebook” 2/12/12) the author lamented the use of such phrases as authentic self.
She states, “Unless you start out fake you don’t need to learn to be genuine, right?”
While she was talking about overinflated egos and verbiage resulting from stratospheric levels of success, I found myself worrying that soon the word authentic might go the way of the word awesome.
We all know awesome has become one of the most overused adjectives, losing meaning and weight in the process. It used to be used to convey a sense of wonder and majesty, and now it just conjures up the image of a preteen boy on a skateboard with his hat on sideways.
Why do I care that authentic might go the way of awesome?
Because our fundamental challenge as human beings is to figure out who we truly are and then live out that unique self in relationships where we do not have to pose or hide or morph into someone else.
Being an authentic self is not something to be mocked, or trivialized, or derided as a fad. It is a worthy ambition. It is a destination on a journey that is fraught with obstacles and challenges, requiring courage and perseverance. It is a goal demanding stamina and a supportive community.
If being authentic means being real, genuine, and true – among other things – what makes it so difficult? As the author said, “Unless you start out fake you don’t need to learn to be genuine, right?”
The difficulty lies in universal experience of shame when we venture forth as our true self and we perceive rejection of that self. That can start as early as infancy when the baby cries and does not receive comfort. Perhaps the self really was rejected by a harsh parent who called us stupid. Or, perhaps the child just interpreted a benign remark as a criticism of that self.
The issue is not whether the person meant to shame us.
The issue is that we all internalize a degree of shame about our core, authentic self. That shame prompts all of us to be fake sometimes.
For some, the degree of shame is so great they live each day flooded by it. For others, the negative beliefs associated with the feeling of shame, such as, “I’m not good enough, not loveable, not worthy…” pop up occasionally.
I don’t believe any of us entirely escape the influence of unhealthy shame, the kind that causes us to want to hide our authentic selves.
Just think about the last time you took a risk to take a stance with someone who is important to you – spouse, parent, partner, child, co-worker. Any anxiety crop up? Any fear of rejection?
Depending on the weight of the issue, and the degree to which you internalized negative beliefs, that anxiety might have been great enough to silence your voice.
And that brings us back to the importance of being an authentic self. It is not trite, it is essential.
Shame will silence us. Those brave enough to be intentional about authenticity deserve praise and celebration.