In grade six I took a strip of masking tape and added a third white line to my black running shoes. A desperate move from a child of handme downs and thrift store bag sales wishing she had a pair of ADIDAS ‘like everyone else’. This wasn’t my first step towards trying to be something I’m not.
For many of us we begin to lose our authenticity in childhood. If we have experienced abuse, fear, shaming, disapproval, or devaluation we begin adjusting our personality. It might be our actions, our words, our attire, our preferences, even the tone of our voice that gets altered. But as children we learn to alter ourselves out of motivation to avoid those feelings of fear and shame.
Then we move into our teen years and hear lots of ‘be yourself’ and it sounds good but we don’t really know what it means. All we know is we better pretend we listen to Greenday when we really love Reba and we better laugh at the popular boy’s jokes even though we think he’s a boring jerk with impeccable hair. We spend our high school years trying to be appear like everyone else only to spend our adulthood trying to ‘find ourselves‘. All those parts of who we are that have long laid dormant: our gifts, our love, our passions, our interests, our opinions make up our authentic selves and now we have to backtrack to them.
Authenticity is defined by psychologists as matching of one’s inner thoughts, beliefs, and feelings with one’s outer presentation and behaviours. It sounds like this overarching idea that hovers over our life like a big cloud. But authenticity is the series of our every day choices.
I remember learning about myself through the Enneagram (I know it’s a horrible name, but it is worth looking into). I learned I was a ‘Type Nine: a Peacemaker’ and I nodded along to many of the characteristics it listed. As I read more I learned each type has an ‘idealized self’, an image they constantly are working behind the scenes to maintain. Realizing I was the type to repress anger, and feelings, and opinions in order to always appear calm felt like someone told my secret. Sure this comes in handy for self-control in stressful situations, but it had also been limiting a lot of my communication, my choices and my ability to admit I was stressed and anxious and kinda going into self-preservation mode. It was limiting my authenticity.
It is a sad fact that we are all capable, skilled, experienced adults walking this world and struggling with being authentic. Our authenticity meets hurdles every day because it means having to be vulnerable, open, truthful, having our ‘uglier’ side in plain sight – even when it won’t be popular or comfortable. It means showing that we are all a little beat up inside and still a work far from finished. Sometimes self-awareness limits authenticity as it keeps us from even realizing that we are motivated by fear; fear of shame, sadness, rejection, discomfort. Sometimes it is the culture of humility we women tend to embrace – you know, don’t have apparent confidence in yourself, your parenting, your fashion, your gifts, etc., or you will be perceived as conceited.
Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving – even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.- Brene Brown
Authenticity is hard work, daily work. But we have to be wary with it as well, sometimes it can be used as an excuse for bad behaviour. It takes social awareness to know what to say and when to say it, and we can’t use ‘authenticity’ to get us off the hook of poor social manners.
Authenticity doesn’t feel safe or cozy when we are doing it, but it leads to that. It is the opposite reaction we need to have if we are seeking to make connections with others and make them feel safe. If we are vulnerable, they can be. If we are honest, they can be. If we show that we are not enough, or too much, or still finding the middle ground – then we give someone else permission to be that. The things that really connect us are found in this space, and that’s what we are all seeking ‘to be seen and accepted for what we are at our core’.
This month our theme is Authenticity. We hope you will join us as we unpack it more as it applies to our identity in Christ, our online life, and our relationships.