On authenticity

All summer I’ve been chewing on the notion of authenticity. What it is? What does it mean to me? I took a hard long look at myself and really wondered whether I can truly call myself authentic. And, if not, did it matter very much?

My journey over the last year and a half has taken me on a lot of winding and very bumpy roads. In pursuit of some vague notion of finding myself, I uncovered some wild and ravaged terrain that I wasn’t prepared for. There were many long, hard weeks when I was certain that I might actually be lost forever, that it would be impossible to find my way. I cried, I panicked, and I avoided. There is a distinct edge to this period on my life, the amount of spiritual change has been nothing short of staggering.

And while many might think I’ve finally found my way, in fact, the only thing I’ve found is that the living is in the searching. We are never truly done. We pick up bits and pieces along the road, pieces that may seem as random as a hardened hitchhiker, and each forms another companion meant only to keep us company along the way.

This past spring I started to believe I was finally starting to see the forest for the trees. Though misguided, I felt so sure that I made some personal decisions of what and who I needed in my life. The details of those decisions are not important, but rather the reason I made them is. Given what I’ve learned, it should have been a huge flag for me. But I was so sure, it seemed incredibly clear. There was something in my life to which I believed I no longer belonged, it seemed like this part of my life no longer fit. I had spent many months learning about my triggers, sifting through the trouble spots and separating the parts so that I could finally be whole. For a while I believed that meant letting go of parts that were hard, that caused me anxiety and worry.

Along came Brené Brown,  The Gifts of Imperfection Dream Lab and her book I Thought it Was Just Me. I learned about shame, perfectionism, inadequacy and what it means to be authentic. Her work changed me. I saw myself very different than ever before. I finally understood myself.

Finally there was clarity where for so long there had been fog.

And I had a conversation with one of my closest, most dear friends. A candid, frank, open discussion about this decisions I had made. As she and I talked it out, as I explained where I was coming from, these words slipped neatly from my mouth, surprising even me.

“Maybe it’s not that I don’t fit in. Maybe it’s not that I don’t feel comfortable in this situation. Maybe it’s just that I’m not comfortable with myself.”

We grew quiet for a minute, and it wasn’t long before I said. “Oh my God, that’s it!”

With this simple wisdom came a well of self-understanding that had previously remained hidden. It had never before occurred to me that my insecurities were the direction result of self-perception. Rather, I always believed they were because of my effort to achieve of a vision of myself as expected by others.

The ground shook a little for me.

And I’ve settled into this realization for months.  The judgment has never really been about how others see me. It has never been that anyone has ever ostracized me for the person I am. It has only ever been me. 

I am not comfortable being myself. I have spent my life judging myself. I am responsible for my anxiety, my shame.

I say this not to blame myself. I say this with the deepest intention to change myself.

In I Thought it Was Just Me, Brené says “Shame is best defined as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

For me this is so painfully true. The person I am, the life I want to live is so very different than the life I’ve grown up believing I should be living, a life where I have it all and I am everything to everyone who needs me. I’ve believed forever that I needed to be a certain way to fit in, to be good, to be happy. And because I’ve believed it virtually forever, I became rooted— deeply fixed—to an ideal of myself that I couldn’t separate from myself. So much so that I was ready to run away from relationships where it was no longer necessary to paint that picture.

I thought I was running away from an uncomfortable situation that wasn’t right for me, but in reality I was running from a place where I really could be myself.

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17 thoughts on “On authenticity

  1. Isn’t it astonishing how our brains can play tricks on us? This is a really interesting piece, and it reminds me that I chased a few goals that weren’t really mine. I was using other people’s definitions of success. I now believe that success is creating the life you want to live.

  2. Kelly says:

    This is profound, Christine. Every once in a while, I’ll “get it” — that no one is as harsh to judge me as I am, that the world is not watching and critiquing me, and that my life is just a speck in this midst of billions of specks. More often than not, I forget and truly beat myself up. I love the way you’ve described it.

    • Christine says:

      Thanks Kelly. And the best part is finally coming to realize how important it is to JUST BE a speck of dust, that there is beauty and wonder and happiness that comes with good enough. To truly get it, and feel it is amazing.

  3. Cathy says:

    We are hardest on ourselves. I’ve known that for a long time. What I am only recently finding out though is the damage it’s caused. I’ve impose my high standards not only on myself, but also on those around me and that wasn’t fair to them. I am learning to live with “my” feelings and accept that they are my own. It’s hard but it’s acceptance of not only myself but of others.

  4. ShannonL says:

    Wow, this is profound, Christine. What an amazing post! I’m at a loss for words, but know how proud I am of you! xo

  5. Brene says:

    Love your courage and your words. I needed to read this today! Thank you.

  6. Amber says:

    There are certain posts that you write that unveil my own faults and silly existence. This is one of those. Thank you, Christine, for writing these words.

  7. Chantal says:

    I know what you are saying. I feel it. I am there. I don’t know what to do about it. All I know is that I am trapped. For now. And it sucks.

  8. Courtney says:

    Hi Christine – I’ve been following your blog since we both took the January 2011 Dream Lab and so many of your posts really speak to me. This one though, wow. It’s given me a lot to think about, especially this: “I thought I was running away from an uncomfortable situation that wasn’t right for me, but in reality I was running from a place where I really could be myself.” It also caused me to start re-reading ITIWJM since clearly it hasn’t sunk in yet. I know I’ll get there.
    Thank you for sharing with us.

  9. Very profound Christine. I am navigating some unchartered territory and your words help me believe.

  10. I’ve been on a similar journey and have been really released by some of my findings. Do you think it’s our age? Maybe this is what people wake up to right now in their lives, and we are simply recording it, living in it?

    • Christine says:

      You may be right Jana, but I kind of hope you aren’t. I’d like to think it’s all the hard work I’m doing, the inward thinking, the changes I’m making in my life. Otherwise what was the point?

  11. pamela says:

    Christine, what you have written here is divine. I think it’s some of your best writing ever.

    Additionally, this could be my story. And I can’t believe how BRAVE you are in facing all of this. I am coming around the corner of some of these realizations but can’t quite manage … yet. Your courage is astonishing and I am so grateful I read this today. It has been with me all day and I hope that soon I will be as brave as you. Thank you so much for this gift.

  12. You ARE authentic. Thank you for sharing your journey, the difficult parts and the revelations and everything in between. I for one find myself with a heart swelling with the feeling of familiar emotions. We are all in this journey together, one way or another.

  13. Amber says:

    I got to see Brene Brown’s panel at BlogHer, and she was so amazing. It was like every sentence out of her mouth was spoken directly to me. I can see how her work changed your worldview.

  14. Wow, this is beautiful. I think I’ve been on a quest to understand my identity since I was about 16, but by now, have a firmer sense and am just more comfortable with the questions. But I totally know the pain you describe. I’ve read Brene Brown’s work too and it’s simply amazing and profound. But what a trip you’ve been on. What an amazing moment to simply stumble upon on of the deepest truths of your self. It’s not an easy thing to do and I think a lot of people run away from doing that very thing, so I think you are very brave.

    I actually found this post through Facebook, but I remember the name of your blog. Did I used to see it in You Capture link ups? Anyway, I’m glad I “found” you again. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this.

  15. Sarah says:

    One of the most beautiful and “authentic” posts I’ve read in a long time. Hard to figure out who you are, and then to be it.

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