“Authenticity, I think, is simply trying to find the kindest way to speak the whole truth.” Erin Loechner – Chasing Slow
I read this line a couple of nights ago and it leapt right off the page. I am always on the hunt for just the right language to articulate the wildly wonderful search for authenticity I find myself on. For the past few months I’ve been working with a treasured friend on ‘Operation Bloom’ and we’ve spent much of our time trying to distill into words our exhilarating, white knuckle ride experiences of tuning in to our authentic selves.
We Skype every couple of weeks to discuss our adventures in living authentically (he travels a lot so, real-life, in the flesh, face to face meet ups are rare and precious delights). We have been known to talk for three hour stints and, were it not for late night tiredness slurring our minds, we could go on and on.
We are hooked and we are fascinated.
Sometimes as we’re panning for clarity we find nuggets of gold, and other times our ideas trickle through our fingers and back into the flow. It can be a slippery old fish, authenticity.
What we do know is each of us has a unique, inner voice and this voice is connected to our truest selves. And as we hold up our own real-life encounters for scrutiny, we endeavour to root out the ‘truth’ in the stories we tell, connect with what we REALLY feel, in our guts. We compare these insights with what we actually said / did. We ‘drill down’. What we’ve been wrestling with is ‘why does our outward ‘public’ response so often not match how we truly feel?’
I present to you FEAR. As comedian George Carling once said: “No-one wants to be seen as a no good shit”.
The reason why my friend and I work so well together is because we trust each other implicitly, we have each other’s backs and we are committed to speaking to one another honestly. We’re not afraid to be vulnerable. These elements create the perfect platform for free-flowing exploration. We’ve removed the fear of looking like a tit (which we still often do, we just no longer care), or causing the other offence. We just speak from the gut, in the spirit of exploration and ‘scientific furtherment’. It’s liberating.
So this leads us to ask, can we bring this quality of connection to every conversation and every relationship? Gulp. This is something we are gleefully gnawing away at currently. We believe ourselves to be essentially kind people and sometimes what is true for either of us might be hurtful for someone else to hear. We definitely don’t want to be the awful cat’s-bum-faced person on Jeremy Kyle wagging their finger saying ‘I speak as I find, and if people don’t like it then they can f-off’. This isn’t authenticity speaking, this is fear and aggression.
The conclusion we began to draw a few Skypes ago, is speaking one’s truth has to come from a place of purest intention. When we drill far enough down through our own layers of
crap insecurity, fear, irritation, judgement, vulnerability we find ourselves at a level of peaceful insight (I appreciate this sounds horribly ‘woo’, this is part of the struggle to express these ideas in a down to earth way, please bear with me, I’m working on it!) What we may well find deep in our gut is a difference of opinion to the other person, but we’ll know we’ve hit the whole truth when there’s no anger, defensiveness, no need for point scoring, or power-play, just raw honest-to-goodness truth for the individual. Revelations on this core level feel strangely peaceful, even though the path ahead may look a little daunting. Following our gut feeling doesn’t always appear to lead us on the smoothest path but ultimately being true to ourselves simplifies things in the long run.
These personal insights are not universal truths, it’s not a case of one size fits all, it’s simply the next instruction on our internal sat nav, destination: ‘Wellbeing Central’!!! Realistically we can’t live our lives trying to please everyone, we have to start with knowing ourselves by tuning in to our gut feeling, intuition, authentic self (call it what you like) and then use our brilliant thinking minds to fine-tune the route, ideally without mowing-down others as we go.
So, can we, with kindness, find the courage to tell our friend that their lateness is becoming a deal-breaker and thereby give them the opportunity to choose to change (or not), offer up their own truth (or not) – bringing new information to the party can be hugely healing? Or do we hold back our truth for fear of causing offence, and quietly drift away in a tide of false excuses, leaving them wondering what hell they did wrong and, well, deeply offended?
I’m increasingly of the mind that kindness isn’t necessarily to be found in the avoidance of truth. By withholding our authenticity we are robbing them (and ourselves) of the rich experience of working through the issue, walking through the fire and out the other side. It could be argued that by not being lovingly truthful we are infantilising them, doing them a disservice.
What feels right for me, may not feel right for you and this can evoke a fear of conflict from which we usually retreat. But the magic happens when we move past that point of fear to where my authentic self can talk with your authentic self, peaceful intention meets peaceful intention, truth meets truth.
In my work with couples I am a firm believer that the negative stories we tell ourselves about our partner are already causing havoc to the relationship whether we hold them up to the light or not. A wife’s unspoken hurt at her husband’s seeming lack of support in the early weeks of parenthood can continue to play out years later in passive aggressive sniping about how how he loads the dishwasher. They both come to counselling knowing they’re not happy but not really understanding why, or being too afraid to say. And rather than teaching him how to stack the dishwasher more efficiently (as if I could!), we drill down to their individual authentic voices and, with courage, each person’s truth is spoken and shared. Only then can there be hope of lasting repair because we’re now able to tend to the real issue. Over and over again my clients tell me of the relief they feel of speaking the unspeakable, turns out the fire doesn’t burn as fiercely as they’d feared. By having the courage to look at their relationship as it really is, they get to make a wholly informed decision about what next. By finding the kindest way to speak their whole truth they bring a level of authenticity to their relationship they may have never experienced before.
The subject of living authentically is such a rich seam, in fact for me striving for authenticity is at the heart of everything, but it’s hard to corral it into something neat and pithy (and readable!) However, if you’ve made it this far, and gawd bless you if you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you living in a way that feels authentic? What fears do you have around choosing to live this way? What are the benefits? What are your first-hand experiences of speaking your truth? Do you feel you know how / where to access your own authentic voice? Feel free to share your own ideas, questions, experiences in the comments section below.
Lots and lots to think about here!
Nope… too much swirling in my brain to leave a coherent comment, but I wanted to at least let you know I’m reading!
Haha! Thank you, I appreciate that. I know it’s a long one and very swirly. Really I’m trying to work it all through by writing about it. Hoping that in amongst all the words a few usable nuggets will reveal themselves over time. This blog is a bit like a sketch book I guess! Thanks for reading Barb 🙂
I like the idea of being lovingly truthful and had a recent experience of this with my sister. I tried to be lovingly truthful but behind the words agonised over for the email , I was totally furious and she knew and I knew and she knew I knew etc etc. And she was also then furious – although furious before about other stuff which might have been a big part of why I was feeling furious! Without a third party ( counsellor etc and lots of careful preparation ) it is sooo difficult to manage the upset even though in theory it is the way to go. Just thoughts but enhoyed your blog xx
Thanks Amy, this is such a great point and trust me I have been there with the agonising over this kind of thing! Maybe this example is showing you didn’t end up writing the whole truth as you felt you needed to cover up the feeling of being furious. Would it have felt different if you could have said something like ‘I need you to know that I’m feeling furious about X but maybe if you can explain to me as honestly as you can your feelings about X, this might help lessen my anger, because I’ll understand you better’. What I’ve found is that when I’m still feeling powerful negative emotions such anger and judgement I’ve not drilled down deep enough into the truth for me. And you’re right, that is where a third party such as a counsellor can help with the drilling! It’s a real skill to be able to take yourself there. But like anything it’s about practice, building up that ‘muscle memory’. A life long task I suspect…
Michaela, I’m really enjoying reading your blog. Your ‘voice’ is very engaging and accessible (not preachy or slightly smug like some blogs can be…)
I’m currently retraining myself to speak honestly to people, and to be 100% ME, which as a life-long peace-keeper and people-pleaser was difficult at first, but I’m really enjoying it now!
Aww thanks so much Melissa. So great to hear about how you’re challenging your old role as ‘people-pleaser’ and testing out how you can still be lovely you AND take care of yourself. I’ve found it’s a way of life that gathers its own positive momentum and is pretty exciting!
The apostle, Paul, said, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” I think it is a life-long task to learn, first, to do this, and, second, how to do it successfully. “Speak the truth in love” was my one and only resolution in 2016, and while I made progress, there is more to be done in that area of my life. Thank you for your excellent thoughts on the subject.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂 I appreciate it. I feel it’ll forever be work in progress as life will forever throw up unique situations for us to navigate through…but it’s a rewarding, uplifting way of living. Love that phrase ‘Speak the truth in love’. Wonderful!