You only need to get these two things right to be a happy, healthy and well-adjusted human; Authenticity and Attachment. Unfortunately, you only have to reflect on your past few relational failures to realise that these two basic human needs are diametrically opposed.
Observe yourself in a social situation to see how quickly authenticity is sacrificed to gain attachment. How often do we find ourselves enhancing our careers, pretending to be happier than we really are or adapting our true likes and dislikes to be closer to the groups consensus? Can you see yourself producing the fake smiles and the pretending to be interested in a boring conversation? That is your false self.
We so quickly abandon authenticity in a heady rush to be accepted and loved by our group.
We so quickly abandon authenticity in a heady rush to be accepted and loved by our group. That isn’t surprising when you consider how necessary belonging is to our survival. Thousands of generations of natural selection have honed this ability to fit-in. In each interpersonal interaction we have gigabytes of information about the level of acceptance we are receiving in each moment- facial cues, posture, smells, vocal tone, cultural norms- all being rapidly processed in microseconds and reported back to the brain.
I have often observed the negative effects in myself after a social occasion is over. My face feels stiff and uncomfortable from maintaining a false smile and I experience emotional exhaustion from not being myself. Inauthenticity is damaging to mental and emotional health and as a flow on effect it will also damage your body. On the flip side so is a lack of meaningful attachments. Young children can be severely damaged if isolated from attachment and as adults it is very difficult to maintain a healthy psychology if we are isolation for long periods of time.
In short, we need to be authentic and we need to belong to a group. You can be damned if you do and damned if you don’t! In my experience most of us waver between these two needs, we run to the group for validation and then run away to be alone to relax and be ourselves.
So, what is the answer to this dilemma? In short, I think the solution is to develop authentic attachments. If you have started on the authenticity journey you may have observed that certain relationships naturally fall away and new relationships form. In my own journey I found that embracing who I really was and what I really wanted had a devastating effect on almost all my relationships. I put this down to several factors, firstly I had been playing a role so long that it was a shock to see me without the persona, secondly, I had been so involved in the popularity game that it took massive failures on my behalf to make me wake up to my own duplicity.
In a way I had to be shocked out of my performance to see how deeply I was playing it. I think we all need to come to the realisation that we are playing a role. When the role is unconscious it is most dangerous. I really believed that I was being myself but over time the chasm between what I was doing and what I really wanted grew larger and larger. I wanted to be a real Christian and do good, make a difference and be loved, but as I realised that wasn’t who I was becoming, I started to feel the cracks forming.
This is great material for a midlife crisis… the realisation that we no longer want to play the roles we took up as teens or in our early twenties. We realise that we don’t even really know ourselves that well. I craved the security of the role but grew more and more despondent at the loss of my true self. I’m not happy with the way I dealt with all that internal pressure and it is my hope that you can be gentler on yourself and those around you in your journey towards authenticity.
Wearing a persona seems to be OK in the first half of life, we even appear to enjoy it. Maybe we need the structure it brings to allow our energies to flow but after 20 years or so we start to mourn the loss of our true selves. The “cut and paste” mask starts to feel tight and restrictive and pressure from the shadow aspects of our being clamber for fresh air.
Being authentic is very expensive but if you won’t pay the price then I think you’re headed for disaster. I was shocked into it, but I think it is possible to be gentler with the process. Start to discover what you really want and believe and then practice letting those you love know. They may find it shocking at first and many my leave, but soon you will see that others come who are attracted to your realness.
If I pretend to be someone I’m not, then who are they in love with, me or my persona?
If I pretend to be someone I’m not, then who are they in love with, me or my persona? When we sense that others love for us is based on our performing a role, we lose true attachment. If we will be authentic, we are at least allowing others to fall in love with who we really are. These authentic relationships are the deep attachments we are all looking for.
Our present culture has a real identity crisis, there is so much pressure to be something we are not that many are lost to themselves. The loss of the true self is the greatest tragedy any of us can suffer. To live a life always playing a role is to not live at all. I believe the true self needs to be developed and expressed for life to have any meaning and a relationship that is based on anything other that two people being as real as they can be is never going to satisfy our deepest longing.
So how about you just be you and I’ll be me?
If this article has got you thinking about your own personal development journey, I am also offering a free 45 minute, online, mentor session. In these sessions I listen to your personal journey and help you sit with and learn from the lessons buried in the pain. These sessions are no obligation and are often powerful transformative processes. Click the link above to book a session or message me.