A number of years ago, I worked at a place where my boss accused me of doing something I didn’t do. Because they were my boss, I was afraid to say anything. In bed that night I went over and over all the things I could have said – should have said – in my own defense. It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. I knew it probably wouldn’t be the last. By not saying anything to defend myself, my self-worth suffered. Yet I knew that if I spoke up, my job might be at risk. I wondered whether it was worth it. I decided, it was.
The next morning I shored up my courage and told them I couldn’t continue to work like this. They acknowledged that if I felt I needed to leave, they would understand. I made it clear I would prefer to work something out. And so we did. I acknowledged things from their perspective while standing up for mine. Together, we forged a stronger relationship, and I felt better about myself.
In a world that wants you to be something that you’re not, being authentic, or true to yourself, can be difficult. It can be unpopular, especially when your speaking up for yourself puts you at odds with others. As a woman it is easy to learn to please rather than to speak the truth. We may use words like, “just”, as in, I’m just a housewife; “kind of”, I kind of think; and “maybe”, maybe we can do this, because we don’t want to sound too assertive. We want to belong. We want to be loved. So we dumb down our response. I have learned that in trying to please others, I end up pleasing no-one, least of all, myself. I now know that, even if people don’t like what I have to say, I was at least true to my own voice.
Being authentic takes work. It takes practice. It may even seem to others that being authentic is selfish. This is when we need to practice resilience. According to Brené Brown, author of, The Gifts of Imperfection, resilience stems from our interconnectedness with others, as well as a belief in something greater than ourselves. That is, we need to have some kind of support system in place. Whether it’s religion, spirituality, someone to talk to, or perhaps an inner certainty that we can work this out on our own. In this way, when we feel vulnerable because we spoke the truth about something, and were torn apart, we have someone/something, who will guide us through the storm. In the incident with my job, my husband was the one who encouraged me to speak up for myself. But I also have a group of like-minded women friends who love me just as I am. They give me strength and courage to stand my ground when I want to play it safe.
In being authentic, you may also risk being shamed. Sometimes people will put you down when you try to speak your thoughts. As a human being with feelings, this can hurt deeply. When we don’t care what people think and are immune to hurt, we are also ineffective at connecting. Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism. Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection. (p. 53) Shame is a powerful tool tokeep people motivated and in their place. But recognize it for what it is – a way to prevent you from speaking from an honest place inside you.
Unexpressed ideas don’t go away. Brown says: If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief. (p. 53) I asked myself. Now I ask you. Is it worth it?
So what would it be like in a world where everyone was authentic? No more pretending to be something we’re not. We could all admit that we’re imperfect, don’t have all the answers, don’t feel good enough, of feel afraid sometimes. No-one should ever feel vulnerable or be threatened for speaking the truth. No-one should ever have to feel they are alone and isolated. We could all feel connected, in our joint, and authentic, imperfection. Does that sound like something worth working towards?
SOURCE: The Gift of Imperfection – Brené Brown.
RELATED POST; Kindred Spirits – March 2015.