Cultivating Authenticity (Part One)

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

If you’ve read or seen even a shred of motivational work in your lifetime, you’ve certainly heard the phrase “be yourself.” When I hear this, my mind goes back to the quote by E.E. Cummings I mentioned in my last post (“To be yourself in a world….is the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”). Simply “being yourself” can seem to lead to societal pushback, the whispers and murmurs behind our backs. It isn’t so much the act of authenticity that rubs some people the wrong way, it’s more so the guile of it. On one hand, we’re expected to be ourselves. On the other, we’re expected to be people-pleasers, expected to find the balance between honesty and keeping others comfortable. Tell the truth, but don’t say anything to make others too uncomfortable. Have the courage to disagree with the majority, but don’t say anything controversial. Do your best to sound informed, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

Some may argue that it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and people-pleasing, but I disagree. When we have to courage to be ourselves and nothing but, there will be some resistance, both from others and our own minds. We may fear that others may not like us as much when they see what we truly are and believe. So much of society is expected to put on the chameleon facade, adapting to the situations as they come, even if that means altering our personality and mask we put on for others. But, if life is about connections, then the only way we can cultivate and nurture those connections is to, and I quote, “be ourselves.”

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Many individuals already have problems with maintaining a healthy self-esteem, so to be asked to shed their safety blankets and show their true, imperfect selves can be incredibly daunting. But putting on a mask for everyone has its own risks. When we refuse to put our true ideas, talents, and opinions out into the world, they eat away at us. They fester in our minds and eat away at our worthiness. You can trade in your authenticity, but in return you may experience anxiety, depression, rage, resentment…the list goes on.

Think of authenticity not as a personality quirk, but as an active lifestyle choice. To quote Brené Brown, “Authenticity is 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.” To quote her again, “Stand on your sacred ground.” Your sacred ground is your true self. Your morals, ideas, opinions, talents, all uniquely yours. Don’t let any disapproving glances or sneers from society throw you off your foundation, your “sacred ground.”

Mrs. Brown also has another invaluable piece of advice on the subject –

“I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ 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.”

You were made specifically to be uniquely you. Don’t let fear of disapproval from others get in the way of what you’re meant to share with the world.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Some words of encouragement

I want you to know that you’re worth something.

I want you to realize that, whatever problems you may be dealing with, you are never alone.

I want you to understand that people, even those you may not realize or talk to every day, are here for you.

I want you to know that whatever may have happened yesterday, last month, last year, last decade, doesn’t affect how wonderful you can make the future.

I want you to realize that you can overcome anything that comes your way, no matter who or what tells you otherwise, including your own mind.

need you to understand that there are good people in this world, around every corner, who won’t judge you, or abuse you, or put you in a place you have no desire to be in.

need you to understand that you are stronger than any self-deprecating thought that crosses your mind.

I want you to know that I know being strong isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

I want you to know that no outside opinion of you matters, only the light you view yourself in.

need you to know that people care. I need you to know that I care. He cares. She cares. They care.

I want you to know that there are people out there who, when they look at you, see the sun.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

“Why are you so sad?”

Spoiler alert: I’m depressed, and probably for no reason.

One seemingly surefire way of determining whether or not someone suffers from depression is to figure out the root of the depressive thoughts. While depression can most certainly be amplified in times of distress, very rarely does it come about solely from outside factors, like events or people. So, if you’re a psychiatrist who has someone walk up to you and say, “My wife of 17 years left me,” or “I didn’t get the position I interviewed for that I really wanted,” they’re probably down in the dumps (understandably). However, if they follow that up with, “I think I have depression,” that’s where the scrutiny comes in.

Again, when bad things happen, we oftentimes feel bad. It’s simply human nature to react accordingly to things that happen to or around us. But clinical depression doesn’t rely on outside events to rear its ugly head – it’s going to make itself known at even good points in your life.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was having a decent week, and that wasn’t a lie. It still isn’t – nothing traumatic or ridiculously bad has happened to me lately. But this past week, my depression has been overwhelming me to no end. I’m mopey, I’m pushy, I’m antisocial and bitter and honestly, straight up pissed sometimes. What am I pissed at? Nothing. Nothing at all. There’s just some seething rage permeating a hundred of my thoughts, but for no reason.

I was raised to never say “I hate [this],” unless I truly meant it. To this day, I still scarcely use the phrase, but I can say with full certainty that I hate this. I hate feeling this way, I hate that other people also feel this way, I hate that depressive thinking is brought on by absolutely nothing at all, with next to no warning signs as to when it’s going to strike.

I understand what it’s like when other people suffer from this, so I try to encourage people in their own battles against depression where and when I can. But even so, there are times when I break, and discouragement clouds my every thought.

I feel like breaking. And I feel like breaking only because my depression says I should, regardless of who’s out there looking out for me.

Try and stay strong.

  • Ryan

P.S. I know this post was a massive downer, and I’m sorry for that, it’s just that….bleeerrrggh. -_-

Self-Affirmations

Beating ourselves up is easy. Find an aspect of our personality that we don’t like, or look at something we did which we regret, and anything taken out of proportion enough can seem catastrophic. Loving ourselves can be harder. Giving ourselves compliments, even internally, can make us feel like we’re bragging, celebrating our successes when maybe the world doesn’t even feel that they need to be celebrated. But it doesn’t have to be the rest of the world that validates us. We can validate ourselves. We can determine whether we deserve love or hate, and which we choose to receive (or deny). I’ll tell you right now, I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves love. I’m willing to bet that most people feel that way. But accepting it, even from ourselves, can be a hell of a lot tougher than some people might imagine.

So I’m going to just post a few sentences here. Self-affirmations. Things we can say to ourselves to remind us of our inherit worth. Say them out loud, that’s important. If you just think them, they’ll be like every other self-praising thought that passes through your mind. Saying these out loud gives them substance – even just hearing the words can help. You may say them out loud and feel no different. That’s okay. Like I said before, only we can choose whether we’re open to receiving love, and saying these things to ourselves gives our mind the opportunity to accept that love, in this particular case, self-love. You’re worth so much, if you won’t take my word for it, maybe you’ll take your own.

 

I have the capability to love myself and others, unconditionally.

I have worth, not determined by outward circumstances or others’ opinions of me, but inherit worth.

I don’t need validation from the world to accept myself, I only need validation from myself.

I am so much more than anything illnesses that may plague my brain or body; I am a soul, a human consciousness, and no disease or affliction can change that.

I live in a world where people can be cruel, but can also have hearts bigger than the sun.

I have people, whether I realize it or not, that genuinely care about me and wish for my success, my happiness, and my inner peace.

I am a unique soul with unique circumstances; I have lived a life unlike any other that has come before or will come after, and what I have to offer the world is something that nobody else ever can.

I am flawed, I am guilt-ridden, I am not perfect in any sense of the word, but no one is. I am better than good enough. I am good.

 

  • Ryan

Comparison, the Enemy of Joy

Comparison is a pretty vile thing. In order to compare ourselves to someone else, we have to accept (to an extent) that there is some “quota” that we must reach. Some undefined line that begs us to suprass it, otherwise we failed in that regard. The problem with comparison, however, is that that “quota” is constantly in flux, depending on who we compare ourselves to. 

From as far back as our early childhood, many of us are taught (albeit unknowingly) to judge our own worth based on how we stack up against others. “Tom’s only a freshman and he made the varsity team, yet you’re a junior and you didn’t? Why not?” “Potter is only eleven and he already defeated the most powerful dark wizard of all time and he’s the Seeker of the Gryffindor quidditch team, and you can’t even keep your wand intact?? Shame!”

In the end, aren’t we all a Ron Weasley?

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme. But humans truly have a nature to treat life accomplishments as a competition, as so much of society tends to urge us to. There are seriously so many problems with this mindset. Unless you consider yourself the best of the best in everything you do (and I have never met anyone who thinks that), the comparison mindset only promotes thinking of yourself badly. In competition, the goal is to be number one. Olympic atheletes aim for the gold, American football teams fight to reach and win the Super Bowl…the list goes on. Anything less than the best isn’t good enough.

Then there’s that line. “You tried, and that’s all that matters.” Yeah, sure, great. In a perfect world where depression, low self-esteem and a naturally competitive society doesn’t exist, that’s all that matters. Truth of the matter is, though, that isn’t the world we live in, and if you’re reading this then you probably already know that. As nice as it would be to just move on from something we consider ourselves “failing” at, for those of us with depression, it frankly isn’t that easy. Hell, even for those without depression is it rarely that easy.

Depression causes many of us to think that we’re not enough without even somebody else in the picture – basically we don’t need to see how we stack up against someone else to see how much we fail. When comparison is brought into the picture, however, it’s a whole new level of beating ourselves up. “I already knew that I was bad on my own, but now that I see just how good this person is doing at [insert literally any action], now it confirms that fact that I really suck at it.” Like I mentioned, unless you believe you’re the best in the world at [thing], you’re automatically put in a position to beat yourself up.

Now, I could go into the whole “you’re a unique snowflake with your own qualities and quirks and you can’t compare yourself to anyone else, because every snowflake is different” thing. As poetic as it may be to say that we’re all snowflakes, it rarely helps us stop comparison. Yeah, we’re each unique, but if you take two different snowflakes and look at them each under a microscope, you can still say, “Ooh, that one’s prettier.” I would absolutely love to be able to convincingly buy into that mindset of uniqueness and individuality, but comparing myself to others is something I struggle with every single day. I rarely resent people for being what I consider being “better” than me, I just beat myself up for not being able to reach that level of quality myself. You don’t have to tell me that’s unhealthy, I know, that’s why I’m writing this post. I compare myself with others every day, but only recently have I started to look at it from an outside view to see how emotionally damaging it is. 

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely do believe that each and every person is unique, and there will never be two human beings with the same combination of qualites and flaws as each other. It just isn’t logical to compare ourselves to one another, because we’re all different in countless ways. But let’s be honest here – when has simple logic ever stopped a depression-addled mind from thinking the way it does?

So I won’t try and convince you to stop comparing yourself to others. As much as I would love to spout the snowflake argument, I have trouble applying that to my own life – I won’t force you into applying it to yours. However, I can say one thing about comparisons – I can guarantee that anyone using comparison as a means to judge you and your life isn’t worth being around.

I promise you, the people who truly care about you don’t put you into a ranking system. There’s no top ten list or medals to award. There is just you, as a person. To the ones that care, you are you, and someone else is someone else. There is no you vs. them. There is you. And there is them. Seperate entities, seperate people, each with their own accomplishments and flaws, each completely seperated in that regard from the other. This isn’t to say that you aren’t connected in any way, but when it comes to “winning and losing” the battle of being worth something, it’s safe to say that doesn’t exist.

In short, you may compare yourself with others, but others don’t compare you with others. At least, not the ones who matter in your life. There are times when I myself stray from seeing each person individually, and internally judging them based on how they rank against each other. I’d like to think that, most of the time, I catch myself, because their worth is not based on my judgement (or anyone else’s, for that matter) of them. I say this over and over again in my posts, but it’s because I truly believe it: worth is inherent. Nobody can take it away from you, and no one person is born with more or less worth than another. 

I mean it when I say nobody can take away your value and worth to the world, and that includes you trying to take it away from yourself. If you view yourself as a failure as a result of comparing yourself to others, it doesn’t affect your value as a human being. I know it isn’t easy to just change your mindset to one of constant self-worth: hell, I’m writing this post tonight, truly believing everything I say here, but I’m still probably going to go into work tomorrow and judge myself against others (and when I judge myself, I generally come up with a very low score). But I’m working at changing that. I’m getting better at catching myself in these destructive thoughts; reminding myself that I’m worth as much as anyone else no matter my “failures.”

I know that it’s nearly impossible to change a way of thinking overnight. It comes slowly, but if you keep working at it, your mind will accept it. If we’ve been taught as a society to compare ourselves to others, we can teach ourselves to tell comparison to go screw itself. Don’t view others as an object to compare yourself to. View others as a person, like you, but not you. You aren’t brands of steak – you or they aren’t a finer or lesser cut. You’re people. You have such value to just your existence, imagine how much you can build on that by your actions and words, not by your accomplishments compared to others.

I feel like this post is a bit scattered – I didn’t plan this topic ahead of time, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about and wanted to share my thoughts on. Like I said, this is still something I struggle with every single day, but I do believe in everything I argued for in this post. You have value inherently, that can’t be changed by you seeing yourself as a failure, either to yourself or to the world around you. Please, try and remember that. Stay strong.

– Ryan