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June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

Authenticity: What the Heck Does That Mean

Whenever I read a book – whether fiction or nonfiction – I keep a pen nearby. I mark sentences that I think are well-crafted or statements of theme that hit my heart. When I’m through, I like to type all of these into a document for further reflection. During this Year of Discovery, I’ve used these notes to guide my blogs and journaling. But The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown has presented a problem. There are too many sentences, paragraphs and pages underlined. I could spend a year – or two, or three – unpacking her work.

What I keep thinking about though is Authenticity.

Years ago, when I first started this blog, my goal was to be authentic – to share my true struggles and triumphs living with bipolar. I promised to tell the truth – no matter how embarrassing or vulnerable that made me feel. Is that authenticity?

Authentic in a Blog?

Am I really being authentic if I’m hiding behind a blog – speaking to strangers, never actually having to engage, never being seen or having to see reactions? Or do I pretend authenticity and fluff my feathers with pride that “I am authentic” when I’m really hiding behind a computer screen of anonymity?

Dr. Brown describes authenticity as “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” (emphasis mine)

I think instead of being authentic in my “real” life, I’ve chosen to claim this blog as me being “authentic enough”. If my readers showed up in my living room, would I be willing to share a blog in a face-to-face situation? This blog has become my excuse to not “show up and be real” with people I can see and touch.

If this blog is not true authenticity, what is? And, more importantly, do I want it?

What Is It and Do I Want It?

I enjoy Brené Brown’s writing and research. Sometimes I underline something because it sounds pretty even though I have no clue what it actually means:

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.” (E.E. Cummings quoted by Brené Brown)

Both pretty quotes speak of embracing who you are. How do we know who we are? Do I present the “real” me to the world? I thought I did until ….

“If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

Do You Like Me?

As someone who lives with bipolar, I live in a world of ups and downs. I fight every day for the Middle Ground. Here is what I’ve noticed about authenticity and my experience:

When I’m UP –

The world is sunny, and my world is moving at a productive high speed. I don’t think about people liking me or not. In an up cycle, I think, “Of course everyone likes me. Why would they not?”

In an UP Cycle I AM ENOUGH – more than enough!

Because of that attitude, however, I lose my boundaries – both in what I agree to do and what I agree to share.

When I’m DOWN –

In a down I AM NEVER ENOUGH, and everyone hates me and should hate me. I can’t share anything because I live in fear – of rejection, of shame, of reinforcing my negative self-image.

Because of that attitude, I erect boundaries that cannot be moved – by anyone, even those who love me.

The Middle Ground

Thankfully, I’ve been able to structure my life now, so I live more on the Middle Ground than in years past. On the Middle Ground, I can see the Up and the Down more clearly. In this healthy zone, I have boundaries and handle giving and receiving criticism appropriately. In this Middle Ground, I don’t need everyone to like me, and I don’t need to like everyone.

My boundaries are wonky, so I still need to work in this area. When I allow my boundaries to bend, I recognize I’m worried about being liked rather than authentic. The good news: I am recognizing the pattern. With recognition comes the ability to rectify.

Recently, I had to tell someone I respect that I was giving too much of my time to her project at the detriment to my own work. I was scared out of my mind. It took me two days to muster up the courage and then when I finally did speak, I rushed the words. Her response to me was, “I’m so glad you told me. I never want this to be a burden and I don’t want to do anything to make you want to stop working with us”.

Lesson Learned

This person could have shamed and guilted me. I fully expected that and even expected to give in until resentment grew and I left in anger. She didn’t, and I learned that the people I want in my life want me to hold my boundaries with honesty, authenticity and vulnerability. The rest of the people, who cares!

Truthfully, though, I still care. I’m getting better but I’ve got a long way to go.

Am I Authentic?

I have no idea. I don’t fully understand what it means in any clear sense.

“Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.”

That’s a pretty quote I understand. I need to work in all of those areas. Some days I believe I’m enough. Some days I don’t. C’est la vie.

“Authenticity is a daily practice ….”

Journal Time

How do you define authenticity? In what areas of your life are you authentic? What areas need strengthening? How can you make authenticity a daily practice?

All quotes are from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown.

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June Converse with purple hair
Choosing to rebuild a life after a breakdown has been a challenge. I became an author and a blogger who openly shares...
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