Authenticity reveals our humanity and allows us to connect with others. For most of us, shame and self-doubt has caused us to hide who we are for so long that by adulthood, we’ve lost touch with who we truly are. When we marry, for most of us, our personality contracts further into the role of husband or wife, father or mother, and what is acceptable to maintain the marriage.
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.
Even if things look okay on the outside, if we’re fortunate enough not to be in an abusive relationship or one burdened by addiction or dishonesty, we may feel a malaise, an uneasy dissatisfaction and not know why. If we once shared vibrant love with our spouse or used to have a joie de vivre and hope for the future, we might feel trapped and wonder where our enthusiasm for life went. What happened was, we started shrinking and stopped risking being real. Even if words of love are spoken, passion and intimacy have vanished. Couples yearn for connection, but feel empty and lonely without intimacy, due to their fear of rejection and loss. We endure, or if the relationship ends, we hurt. Breakups can activate shame, chip away our self-esteem, and raise our defenses, making being so vulnerable again all the more risky.
Authenticity Requires Courage
Authenticity and intimacy require courage. Each move we make toward authenticity risks exposure, criticism, and rejection, but facing those risks also affirms our real self. There’s no question that rejection and loss hurt, but paradoxically, our defenses weaken us. When we’re authentic, it invites our partner to do the same. It keeps love alive, and we’re more likely to get our emotional needs met. We not only feel stronger when we’re honest, it begins to heal our shame. (See Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.) Here are six steps that lead to a authentic living.
1: Identify Your Feelings and Needs.
Some of us have become numb to our feelings and are clueless about our needs if they were shamed childhood. The first step is being able to name what we feel and need in order to communicate effectively. Emotions can be confusing. Journaling is a great way to decipher our true feelings. There are over 70 needs and 200 emotions listed in Codependency for Dummies. Developing an emotional vocabulary helps us be understood, be better communicators, and get what we want and need. (See How to Be Assertive.)
2: Honor Your Feelings and Needs
We must be able not only to acknowledge, but also honor our feelings and needs if we’re going to risk exposing them to others. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, many codependents have internalized shame and judge their feelings and needs. Working with a skilled therapist will help you be able to feel again and accept your needs without self-judgment. (See 10 Steps to Self-Esteem – The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism.)
3: Improve Your self-Esteem and Boundaries
It takes courage to take the ultimate risk of sharing what we feel and need. Without self-esteem and boundaries, we take things personally and collapse into shame. Our prickly defenses immediately get triggered and destroy the emotional safety we’re trying to create. On the other hand, we derive courage from risk-taking. Taking the leap to be vulnerable builds self-esteem and empowers us. With greater self-esteem and connection to ourselves, our boundaries improve. Flexible boundaries also enable us to discern when, where, how, and with whom we’re vulnerable. (See How to Raise Your Self-Esteem)
4: Learn to Be Assertive
Developing assertiveness skills not only builds self-esteem, but enables us to communicate in effective ways that promote connection. This is especially important when we want to share “negative” feelings about things we dislike or don’t want. Additionally, when we’re able to set limits and say “No,” we’re more generous when they say it to us. (See How to Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits.)
5: Nurture Yourself
We can’t control other people’s reaction, so we also must know that we can nurture and sustain ourselves. Having supportive relationships and the ability to comfort ourselves make us more autonomous and less codependent on others. (See “10 Tips for Self-Love and Compassion.”) It’s also part of healing shame and building self-esteem.
6: Get Support
Working with an experienced psychotherapist is generally necessary to undo our old negative programming. Attending Twelve-Step meetings helps. Once we start living authentically we regain our zest and joy of living.
©Darlene Lancer 2017