Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “authentic” as being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” On dictionary.com, synonyms for “authenticity” include “genuineness,” “truth,” “candor,” “openness,” “integrity” and “sincerity.” In other words, to be authentic is to be true to ourselves, to stand in integrity of who we really are with honesty, openness and sincerity. Yet, for many of us, being open and honest with ourselves doesn’t come naturally. Rather, it requires a conscious choice—and practice!—to speak up lovingly for ourselves, instead of repeating learned mindless suppression of our true selves so that we can fit in.
Most of my life was spent trying to contort myself to be accepted. Even after realizing that authenticity is a top personal value, truly living in a way that fully honors my authentic self hasn’t been that straightforward. To this day, it still takes conscious effort to speak up for myself. It’s partly because I absolutely hate hurting the feelings of others, especially loved ones. Unfortunately, speaking up for myself—however lovingly—does often come with the territory of having to be ok with others’ hurt feelings.
Speaking Up Authentically
Can you relate? Perhaps, let me give you a couple of concrete examples.
Example #1: A friend of mine had been after me for months to get together. She’s a very sweet and thoughtful person. However, we’re in very different places in our lives and spiritual orientation. I’ve come to a point in my life when I’m extremely protective of my precious personal time. I want to be with those who’re on similar frequencies, such that we can enrich each other’s lives. So, the truth is that I didn’t want to spend time with this friend, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I didn’t know how to tell her the truth without hurting her. So, I chose to hide behind the socially acceptable excuse of being busy.
I finally realized that I owed it to her—and to myself—to be honest. So, I made sure I was grounded in love, and sent this friend a carefully crafted letter to explain the above. I apologized for making her feel rejected, no matter how much I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I also made sure she knew that I’ve always appreciated her sweetness and thoughtfulness, and that she needn’t change a thing about herself just because I have different friendship needs. She confirmed that it was a sad note to read, but she appreciated my honesty.
Example #2: This involved a friend who routinely changes and cancels plans at the last minute. For the most part, this didn’t bother me, until it came to my birthday last week. When I heard about all the other things for which she was making time while needing to bump me, I was hurt and angry. That was even though I was quite sure she wasn’t even aware she was hurting my feelings. I recognized she was simply continuing her pattern of trying to fit people into bits of free time here and there. However, I was no longer ok with remaining silent and enabling the continuation of this dynamic between us. I knew I needed to say something, and promptly bumped up against my discomfort of speaking up for myself.
I slept on it before attempting to communicate with her. When I did, I was clear about how I felt and that I knew she didn’t intend to hurt me. I let her know that I was aware of the different demands on her time, but stated clearly that I needed more mindful consideration if she’d like to have a meaningful friendship with me. She responded with a sincere apology and thanking me for giving her the opportunity to see her behavior, so that she could decide to make changes. I accepted her apology and assured her that I love her and that no permanent damage was done. We agreed to wipe the slate clean.
5 Keys to Being Authentic
In both cases, I’m proud of pushing through my lifelong discomfort of hurting others’ feelings by speaking up to honor myself and my needs. In these acts of authenticity, the following elements were key:
- I needed to be honest with myself first, before I could speak openly and genuinely.
- I needed to be clear about what I’d like as the desired outcome, so that I could communicate it clearly.
- I made sure to be grounded in love, before attempting communication. Especially in the second situation, I made sure I slept on it and was able to speak lovingly from my heart, despite still feeling hurt and angry.
- I focused on how I felt, careful not to make any suggestion of inadequacy or accusation of wrong doing.
- I focused on the issue that bothered me, rather than the person, i.e., misalignment of friendship needs in the first case and desire to be shown more mindful consideration in the second.
In both cases, it was really important for me to be ok with my friends not liking what I said, but that they—and I—could respect me for speaking up, including how I did it. To me, that’s an intrinsic part of being authentic. I felt good about speaking truthfully and lovingly with integrity.
Now, over to you: How do you define authenticity? What do you do to ensure you are authentic? Please share your insights in the comment box below.
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