Authenticity: How your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe.

Authenticity

Being authentic, owning your own story and taking responsibility for your life requires you to let go of seeking approval from others for your life choices, opinions, style, taste and quirks. This is really bloody hard to do, for most people.

Being true to yourself means you must listen to the voice that comes from within that tells you what you like and don’t like and then follow through with that by communicating it, both to yourself and to others.

Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we'll ever do.Brené Brown

It’s really tricky because we all want to connect with others and be liked, but yet, if you constantly chase for other people’s approval, you are compromising your own needs and doubting yourself, which leads to you feeling fragmented. It also undercuts the conviction of your overall message or assertion and leads to other people also doubting you. When you are constantly trying to win fans by giving them what they want, your sense of identity starts to disintegrate. Your identity is what makes you unique and special and is ironically the very thing that will make people like you. It’s that perfect combination of personality traits, opinions, views, style and quirks that makes you, you.

Just be yourself.Let people see the real, imperfectflawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magicalperson that you are.-Mandy Hale.

Authenticity fosters connection. When you have the courage to be yourself, it gives others permission to do the same. It’s nice, and it’s all well and good if you like yourself enough to do that in the first place. However, most people, at some point in their lives, go through the battle of wanting to be authentic, but also wanting the approval of their peers. High school is the typical time when this happens, but it can also happen during other points in your life. Most people have experienced some kind of rejection or criticism, and if it happens that it’s been repeated or consistent, it may starts to erode your self-esteem and confidence. It may start to impact on and change the story that you have formed about yourself. You may start to see yourself through the eyes of your haters instead of through the eyes of your fans. You may start to question and doubt your opinions and you may even try to change yourself to fit in with what you think is more likeable or acceptable. The voice inside of you that tells you what you like and don’t like may start to fade and become softer and quieter and you may even stop listening to it altogether. Indeed, you may even start to become preoccupied by all the things you have said or done, and become hypercritical of yourself. Basically, you may start to lose yourself and feel depressed and anxious because you’re forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. You may have gained yourself a few friends or fans along the way, but the constant appeasing and accommodating is so exhausting, and the connections you have made feel so fake and inauthentic anyway. A crowd of people may surround you, but you feel so alone and empty and it sucks.

One thing I’ve realised in my own life and experience is that not everyone is going to like me. In fact, quite a significant chunk of people don’t like me, and that’s ok. It used to really bother me when I was younger, probably because I didn’t rate myself that highly back then. I really, really, really wanted to be liked, but I also really, really, really wanted to be liked for being me. I was too strong-willed to want to change myself to be the version that other people wanted me to be. Besides, as much as you can try and fit yourself in to be what you think people want or need, it’s impossible to maintain over time; eventually, your true self shines through the façade. What I realised over the years is that the more and more I started to like myself and was comfortable to show my authentic self, the more and more I was able to attract people into my life who were more like me. My vibe was attracting my tribe, so to speak. It was awesome. I realised that I didn’t need to be anyone but myself to be liked. Instead of focusing on my imperfections and trying to change them, I realised that my flaws were perfect for the hearts that were meant to love me. The more I gave myself unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the more I started to attract other people into my life who did. The more I validated my own feelings, the more other people did.

TAKES

The point of this story is to share that sometimes we forget that we are all unique and special, and that instead of constantly trying to fit in or be liked, sometimes you just need to be yourself and have faith that the right people will come into your life and accept you for being that perfect combination of unique that makes you, you. When you do things from your soul, other people really dig that shit. So, let yourself be flawed, fuck perfection, fall in love with your life – all of it, and learn to celebrate yourself and love the crap out of yourself! If you want to find out more about how to do that, stay tuned.

Inside Out: How to Validate Your Feelings.

In my last post, I spoke about stories, and how we all have sets of stories that form our sense of identity. The social researcher and best-selling author, Brené Brown, also likes to talk about stories. She reckons it takes courage to own your story.

when we deny the story

It takes more courage to be vulnerable and own your story, than it does to hide away in shame. It involves standing in your truth, examining your story, making necessary changes, and sometimes it involves sitting with discomfort and pain.

Last night, I watched the Disney Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’ for the first time. It was an awesome film! It highlighted the importance of validating your own (and others’) feelings, no matter how uncomfortable, sad, painful or awkward they may be. All of our feelings serve a purpose. We can’t always be “joyful”, and that’s ok! Forcing yourself to be positive and happy in response to events or situations that incite feelings of sadness is likely to result in more sadness, anger, frustration and ultimately, denial of your emotions.

In dialectical behaviour therapy, when we talk about regulating emotions, we firstly educate clients on getting to know their primary emotions. People who have difficulty regulating their emotions have usually experienced some form of invalidation in their life. That is, someone important in the person’s life has potentially criticised them, disapproved of them, invalidated their feelings, invalidated their story, or invalidated how they see the world. In the film, there are five primary emotions – joy, sadness, fear, disgust and anger. Sometimes people add in a sixth: surprise. Primary emotions are the first emotion a person feels consequent to an event. These primary emotions are often then masked by secondary emotions. The interesting thing about secondary emotions is that they are emotions we have in response to a primary emotion not being recognised or expressed. So, when we, or others, invalidate our primary feelings by denying them, judging them, criticising them or shaming them, we then move on to secondary emotions. Secondary emotions are longer lasting and profoundly more intense. For example, say you were a child and you felt sad and your primary caregiver consistently got angry with you for being sad, you may have then started to judge yourself for being sad. A story was created. The story isn’t necessarily true or valid, but the story continues on into adulthood. The story tells you that it’s not okay to be sad. So you mask the sadness, and you also try anything to escape the intensity and discomfort of the secondary feeling. Perhaps you start drinking, gambling, self-harming… it’s a bullshit story, but it sticks.

Oftentimes, people deny that sadness serves a purpose. You see people’s social media feeds these days, and it’s like a highlights reel of their life. “Be positive!” “Smile!” “Be happy!” people say in response to someone who is slouching their shoulders or looking glum. The result is a culture where we are taught that it’s not ok to be angry, sad or disgusted. “Stop being so negative!” people say, or “Cheer up!” When we respond to sadness with joy, we create a culture of invalidation, and it’s so unhealthy!

Of course, that’s not to say that being clinically depressed is ok or normal, and that we should just validate this profound feeling of sadness and move on. No, that’s not what it’s about. But why can’t we sit with them alongside their sadness for a little while? Why can’t we feel their feelings, and in turn allow them to feel their feelings too? Yes, it’s uncomfortable and sometimes even painful… but it’s also an appropriate and healthy human response.

What’s to say we can’t accept them for where they are right now, and still strive to work toward change and improvement? What’s to say that we can’t validate a person’s sadness, but also help them to move on to a place of joy? It’s not a contradiction; it’s the middle ground. And doesn’t have to be black and white. Why should it be? Life isn’t black or white; it’s all shades of grey.

So, how about instead of conforming to a culture of invalidation and shame we embrace all of our feelings? ‘Cos they all serve a purpose.

Midnight Musings on Change, Identity and Authenticity.

I was recently having a discussion with my fiancé about identity and authenticity. He was suggesting that he is exactly the same person regardless of who he is around. My fiancé is definitely a straight-down-the-line sort of guy. He says it as it is, and he definitely doesn’t sugar coat it. You never have to read between the lines with him. We were discussing this in the context of social skills, business and professionalism, and how it is a beneficial skill to be able to read a social context and adapt your personality accordingly. I was using the example of how I am able to build rapport with a variety of different client populations, and how it is so beneficial to have this sort of versatility – particularly as a psychologist. I was suggesting how it might also be a valuable skill to have in business. My fiancé, on the other hand, was arguing that people who are able to present a modified version of themselves to different social contexts are probably “fake”. He educated me on “changelings” – these shape shifting life forms from star-trek, and I proceeded to educate him on the divergent trilogy. It was quite a riveting discussion. In the end, I settled on the idea that I probably have a chameleon-type of personality. I continued to mull over this idea during the course of the week and how it fits in with my worldview.

Is it fake to present a different side of yourself depending on whom you are with? Am I being inauthentic if I present a different side of myself to my friends, family, clients or colleagues? Aren’t all of these “versions” just “me”? I always just thought of it as being like wearing a different hat. You always hear of people talking about having their “work hat” on when they’re at work. I never really questioned it. I always assumed that there was a constant in there somewhere. No matter whom I was with, I always “myself” – but just an adapted version of myself.

Then I started thinking, what if the concept of “myself” doesn’t even exist? You cannot, after all, step into the same river twice, as the famous Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said. What if “myself” is a flexible, adaptive, changing being? Plato also famously said, “everything changes, nothing stands still”. We are constantly changing, evolving beings, so why should this come as a surprise to me? The very nature of my work involves unlocking change in people. Indeed, I have witnessed that even the most entrenched and ingrained patterns of thinking and behaving in people can change, albeit very slowly.

So, I reflected some more on this, and I concluded that there are in fact some constants – but perhaps rather than these being fixed in nature, I hypothesise that they’re probably more likely attached to my values and core beliefs, or schemas. The psychologist Jeffrey Young developed schema theory to describe this organising framework of the mind. Schemas represent patterns of internal experience. So, basically, they are stories that our mind tells us about ourselves (self-image) and about the world. It’s important that we critically evaluate our own stories, as they are not always true. Cognitive dissonance occurs when new evidence is presented that does not necessarily fit in with your existing story. Basically, your mind is usually quite comfortable with the story it is already telling you and can’t be bothered writing a new one. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. This is why people often experience anxiety in response to change. We become attached to these stories that our mind tells us, and we refuse to re-write them. Being flexible to adapt to change is a valuable asset, for the mere fact that change is the only constant in life. To be able to challenge existing stories and create new ones is surely an advantage?

The interesting thing about my line of work is that I deliver it through the vehicle of the self; so I cannot ever take myself out of it. I am a vital part of the process, and I embrace a psychodynamic approach. I therefore do draw on my own feelings, as well as the dynamic, in informing my practice. Up until today, I told myself that square plugs couldn’t fit into round holes. It’s a “poor fit”, I would say. And, if you don’t even know what shape you are, how can you find the right hole? However, perhaps some people do have the ability to change their shape? Perhaps the fundamental properties of the plug remain the same, but the shape changes? What a gift. It kind of makes sense when you think of it like that. The properties are what form its function, not the shape. Change is the constant.

I held onto this story for a while, until I was inevitably presented with a new version of the story by my fiancé, which totally changed my own take on the story. He said, “Be the man you want to be, not the man people want you to be”.

This made me return to the earlier reflection on authenticity and whether it is indeed a poor reflection of character to be a shape shifter. I guess in the context of my plug story – what happens when I don’t like the shape I have to mould myself to be? Do I change anyway? No, I don’t, because it’s ultimately still a choice. It’s always a choice, and morally speaking, I wouldn’t want to just shape shift into whatever people want me to be. Your shape still has to fit in with your overall story of who you want to be. If you hold strong beliefs about human rights, for example, and you’re attempting to adapt this to fit into Tony Abbott’s views on asylum seekers, no matter how hard you try you’re likely to run your boat aground (pardon the inappropriate pun).

In my work, I need to be very aware of my own beliefs and judgments, and to also be aware of how they may impact on the therapeutic relationship. I must respect clients’ beliefs, and not impose my own views and opinions on them. I therefore bring a sense of openness and unconditional positive regard to whatever the client brings to the room, and I suspend all judgement. This has often led to me letting go of previously held assumptions and beliefs. When you hear and hold so many different stories, your own stories often change as a natural consequence. This is actually one of the rewards of the work. You start to open yourself up to new ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. You start to form new stories, which are rich, meaningful and well rounded. You learn new things from your clients; you grow; you open yourself up to new experiences; you gain vicarious resilience. You learn to be the plug that holds and contains so many stories, but does so with grace and integrity. It’s an honour and privilege to be able to hold someone else’s story, but also to recognise that their story doesn’t necessarily have to fit in with yours. That is the person I want to be, and fortunately for me, it is also the person my clients need me to be.

In 2001, psychologists Michael Lambert and Dean Barley conducted research on factors that influence client outcomes. The results of their research indicated that factors such as empathy, warmth, and the therapeutic relationship was shown to correlate more highly with client outcomes than specialised treatment interventions. In fact, decades of research also indicate that the delivery of therapy is an interpersonal process in which a main curative component is the nature of the therapeutic relationship. Learning to improve one’s ability to relate to clients and tailoring that relationship to individual clients is therefore crucial to this line of work. Does it always work? No, of course not. Sometimes it is a “poor fit”. Sometimes my ship does run aground, but that is okay.

Mahatma Ghandi famously said, “be the change you wish to see in the world”. For the most part, this is the person I want to be: a changeling, shape shifting, chameleon plug – someone who is able to hold, accept and validate a story, but also facilitate its change. Meanwhile, my fiancé is still hell-bent on being the man he wants to be, thankfully that man also happens to be the man I love.