Monday, June 01, 2009

The path to authenticity

is paved with lies, betrayals and broken hearts. Harsh words, but I'm not even talking about the people who do that stuff to us. I'm talking about the lying, betraying and breaking of hearts we do to ourselves. It seems like an inordinate number of my friends are in relationship crisis right now (like attracts like), so I'm thinking about what it means to be healthy, authentic, rightside up in all of our lives.

Awhile back I realized that I spent a good deal of my time lying. Oh, I'm not the kind of person who would lie about something like, "Did you leave the milk out to spoil?" I'd say, "Why yes I did. Sorry." I'm talking about this other kind of lying where a person you're afraid of says, "I expect this of you" and you go along with it, not because you want to or believe in it, but to appease that person, to stay on someone's good side. I'm talking about lies like, "I"m happy for you" when really, your heart is being ripped into tiny pieces and you're pretending to be brave when you really want to put dead rabbits in their mail boxes. I mean the lies where you protect or hide part of yourself chronically, secretly.

When you get into the habit of lying, you even start to believe you're telling the truth. You convince yourself that you do want to be inconvenienced, that you're a generous person offering care and support (not that you're a weak person who has no boundaries). It gets even more complicated when you mix in some positive results. You compromise on one issue (because all relationships require compromise, so we're told) and believe you did it out of sincerity and a desire to be loving, when in fact you were hoping to buy some kind of "free from abuse" pass instead.

Compromise birthed from a desire to avoid being punished is not love. It's not even compromise - it's capitulation. Love, in healthy relationships, is genuinely recognizing someone else's needs/likes/habits/desires are different from yours, and that you can celebrate and support those choices, even while possibly not embracing them for yourself. Love is not giving up what you need or violating your conscience or hiding your true self as a way to keep the peace, to paper over differences, to keep the sex good, to preserve the intact family, to avoid ruining your public reputation, to outrun criticism.

Authenticity has such a ring to it, though, doesn't it? Like, who doesn't want to be known as "authentic" or "genuine"? Still, it takes a lot of work once you're in a relationship to preserve your "self." I remember Mira Kirschenbaum wrote that you live a lifestyle, not a relationship. The relationship is a support to a life, not the other way around. When you find that your lifestyle, your life's investments and interests, your values and aspirations, your habits and intentions don't match up to your mate's, the strain to the relationship can be profound.

In a healthy space, those differences are not up for negotiation. They need to be looked at squarely, then taken seriously. If you have a significant overlap in basic outlook and lifestyle, the finer points can be negotiated from the point of view of how to help your mate get what he or she wants out of life even if it isn't what you want. That can't happen if one is a controller, or if what you love/like fundamentally clashes with the value/belief system of the other person.

What I notice in me is that relational peace has been such a driving concern of my life, I've not known where I begin and end. My yearning to extend grace (believing it would be reciprocally extended to me) has led me into lying to myself, betraying some of my deepest felt convictions, and even to heartbreak (not attending to myself well enough for the sake of what I thought was love). I'm noticing even in my friends going through this same kind of sifting... authenticity at first looks like showing up in your own life. Then you can begin the hard work of saying what it is you need and want because you start to know what that is. Expressing that to a partner after years of "going along" takes so much time. It can't be worked out in a few weeks or conversations or therapy sessions. Sometimes it can't be worked out. But it has to happen in order for love to be real.

It's hard to know what you really want when coming out of the fog of appeasement. It seems to me that the first tentative steps to authenticity sound more like: "Not that, not that, not that..."

12 comments:

Dalissa McEwen Reeder said...

Amen!
"...authenticity at first looks like showing up in your own life. Then you can begin the hard work of saying what it is you need and want because you start to know what that is."

and

"It seems to me that the first tentative steps to authenticity sound more like: "Not that, not that, not that..."

Those two statements are where I am at. As a middle child from a divorced family, with an alcoholic biological father,etc. learning to appease others is what I did from an early age. I don't blame it on my marriage because the pattern was already established. I took it a step further in my teenage and early adult years... take care of yourself and never mind those around you. Somehow trying to appease to one extent while also trying to be independent hasn't worked very well in marriage. I didn't have a great example of what it was to have a life entwined with someone else's where you support, encourage and sympathize with the other person. Instead, I fluctuated between traveling under the radar to taking care of myself.

Only now in my late 30's/early 40's am I even beginning to figure out what I want and who I am. Thus, the process of "not that, not that, not that."

WordyKaren said...

Thanks for being authentic with your comments. They speak to me and affirm what I'm doing in my life.l

Kansas Bob said...

Sometimes when I am the most authentic someone will say "we want Kansas Bob back".. basically saying that they don't like New York Bob.. who by the way is the real Bob! I say screw them.. I like New York Bob.

anjoo said...

Ohhhhhh, thank you so much for writing this, Julie. My heart hurts to read your words, because I can relate so well. Many days I just don't know if it's even worth the effort, after so many years of self-denial and slow emotional destruction, to unearth that authentic self. So painful a process, especially when it means that at least in the short term I will feel utterly bereft, hurt and abandoned by someone I had hoped would love and accept me unconditionally. And yet, I know (and have always known? At least "always" since that first fading attraction) that my own love for them is far from free.

So much easier to go on denying, displacing, silently accusing, self-loathing, until that in itself becomes unbearable and the lost self cries out desperately for survival. Is this always what it is to be a mid-life woman? Or at least a wife and mother? Is there only the choice between slowly killing your own soul, or else losing someone who has become your "one flesh" yet who feels more and more like the enemy? In my youth I was naive enough to think we were "past" all that first wave of consciousness-raising, and that our own marriages would somehow be miraculously more humane, life-affirming, and honest.

Hah.

It makes it harder knowing that when I do speak honestly, no matter how hard I strive to be gentle, respectful, kind, the words will be heard through my partner's own filter of pain, anger, resentment and accusations. Time and again we speak, flinch, give up, cry alone. And I know in my heart he's a good and kind and decent man, just one who is as broken and confused and messed up as me. I don't have the strength for that battle most days. Certainly not when the kids were tiny, and not yet.

Where do we get the strength (from our Faith? sometimes that makes it even more confusing and guilt-inducing . . .) to keep daring to show up in this process, and not retreat into either fear or bitterness or rage? Thank God we're not alone, that we have other women who've been there.

Okay, I"m through ~ I'll crawl back to my own blog now.

Anjali

AmpersandPrime said...

lol @ new york bob. wonderful.

Julie this is a really special post. As one who has slowly, and finally deliberately, shed a false identity, I really appreciate your words and your integrity.

I echo dali's appreciation for "Not that, not that, not that..."

I used to think I would be comfortable in my own skin when I lost weight or achieved other lofty goals -- as if that is what was holding me back. It was not until I took a really hard look at who I had become that I could begin the excavation of who I really was.

Love you.

Sheila Lamb said...

"It's hard to know what you really want when coming out of the fog of appeasement."

Absolutely. It is a fog. I would venture to say that many of us don't realize how we hide our true selves in order to appease and try to make someone else happy...often it is a habit from childhood.

Once one sets their own space, their own boundaries, their own authenticity begins to shine through.

Ricky said...

Wowday. Some kind of conversation going on here. Me too me too me too...

Only now in my late 30's/early 40's am I even beginning to figure out what I want and who I am. Thus, the process of "not that, not that, not that."Me too. Mid-50's. Please please please tell me I'm not too old to be doing this... again!

Lots of good words in here. Thank you. Here's another one: co-opt. It's come in handy on a few occasions. Particularly those times when I finally come to my senses and find myself stuck in the midst some gnarly and knotty complex born of layer upon layer of those oft-encountered exigencies of life in relationship; times when I realize that I'd lost touch with myself and wonder 'How did I get here?'

It's so good to know I'm not the only one! Thanks for being here!

julieunplugged said...

Rick! I love hearing from you every day and always. I've thought about you so much over the last year. I really identify with a lot of your journey... more than I ever thought I would. Love to you and Cheryl both - trailblazers in authenticity.

SUSAN said...

This is an awesome post. LOVE IT! These words are where I am at, as you know:
"I'm noticing even in my friends going through this same kind of sifting... authenticity at first looks like showing up in your own life. Then you can begin the hard work of saying what it is you need and want because you start to know what that is. Expressing that to a partner after years of "going along" takes so much time. It can't be worked out in a few weeks or conversations or therapy sessions. Sometimes it can't be worked out. But it has to happen in order for love to be real."

I am printing this post for encouragement to keep on keeping on to REAL love!

Susan

carrie said...

"showing up in your own life."

It's amazing the roles we play. I don't think it is completely avoidable, but even playing the roles ought to be the conscious choice you make, not something are squeezed into by circumstances.

If I hide part of myself I want it to be a choice, maybe because some parts of me are just mine, or are just mine and my husband's. It's no good if I hide parts due to fear, but okay, I think, if I hide parts because I choose to compartmentalize my life. As in "this person doesn't need to know everything about me."

Thank you. Every time I read your blog I come away with new insights into me. Maybe into you, too, but I'm basically a selfish person, so I think about me, first.

I'm blessed with more than one person in my life I can trust with "authentic me." How great is that? When life serves up another "you're a failure" moment, I try to remember this. What a gift. (You're one of those gifts, btw.)

Tracey said...

Wonderful. It makes me think of a Mary Oliver poem, 'The Journey'.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—

http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/Mary_Oliver/3124

julieunplugged said...

I love that poem. Perfectly fitting. Thanks.