“To be authentic means expressing who I am on the inside to the utmost, without calculating the risks involved.” ~Efrat Shani
Despite the fact that authenticity is becoming an increasingly important value to me, I still find myself approaching it cautiously. I reveal my true self selectively to people whom I know will be supportive. I am still feeling entirely too fragile to take the risk of exposing my faltering steps toward authenticity to the harsh and critical voices of others. My limited courage has its hands full with my own internal voices of criticism and negativity; to take on those voices from outside is more than I can bear.
I know that I need to reach a point where I can let go of all the secrecy and just be myself. I need to let go of what other people think of me—even those whom I love most—and be the person I am no matter how they react. I need to stop measuring the risk in every conversation to decide how much of myself to show or not show.
I also know that I’m not there yet. I have a nearly pathological fear of disappointing or worrying those that I love. Unfortunately, this makes me quite vulnerable to people who wish to control me. While I think many of the people who attempt this are doing so out of genuine concern for me, the result is still that others perpetually try to control my choices, my decisions, and my life. It’s often subtle. It’s expressed as a desire to take care of me or watch out for me, but it’s still control.
I’ve been increasingly realizing for some time now how often people around me are sure that they can run my life better than I can. I suspect that my desire to make others happy has caused me to appear weak in their eyes and so they think I need their help. I watch how people interact with me compared to how they interact with others, and it’s clear that I get more of this subtle bullying to change my mind, fall in with someone else’s plans, or do what is expected of me than others around me do. I find myself more often in the position of having others decide what is best for me and try to force me to accept their decision than anyone else I know.
The combination of my desire to please with the constant subtle bullying is hard for me to stand up against. Especially when I know that it stems from someone else’s concern about me. And yet, I will never be able to be authentically me until I can learn to stand up to the bullying.
It’s not going to be easy. This is a long-standing pattern in almost every relationship I have, and long-standing patterns are hard to change. Especially when the other people participating in the pattern have nothing to gain from the change.
For now, I’m approaching this change in pattern with baby steps. I push back against the bullying in little ways about little things for now. I let myself fully see and acknowledge the pattern when it happens—and allow myself to fully feel the anger that accompanies it even when I don’t show it externally. And I hide sides of myself from those whom I don’t think are quite ready to accept new parts of me yet to protect these vulnerable areas from bullying.
The hiding is getting harder and harder, though. I am tired and worn with the weight of trying to remember to whom I can tell what. But I need to find my way into being authentically myself with me before I’m ready to deal with everyone else.
I find myself thinking of this tonight after a phone conversation with a good friend. I so desperately want to tell him about my upcoming job changes, but he is not one to be supportive of the route I am taking. His biggest area of bullying me has always been that in his opinion I don’t work hard enough, I don’t accomplish enough, I’m not strong enough, and I’ve never become quite enough in his eyes. Money and external accomplishments are much more important to him than to me. Working a part-time job while I try to figure out how to become self-employed would be the ultimate in laziness to him. And because I value his opinion, his criticism would break my heart. So when he asks me about my job, I stay quiet about the changes that are coming. I know I will have to confess sooner or later, but I’m still hoping for later when I can be a bit stronger.
I ache for the day when I can say to hell with the risks and just be authentically me—whoever and whatever that means at any given time. I’ve always thought that if I could just build even the slightest bit of a support system, that would be so much easier to do. I’m finally realizing, though, that my approach to this has always been wrong. As long as I’m waiting for a support system first, I will continue to attract well-meaning bullies to prey on my weakness. The only way forward is to be my own support system.
The authenticity needs to come first, despite the risks. An external support system may or may not come later, but real external support will never come as long as I continue to allow myself to cower from the bullies out of fear. As I grow increasingly comfortable with the authentic self that I am excavating and learn to silence my own internal bullies, perhaps the resulting inner support will be enough to give me strength to fight the external battles that need to be fought.
I hope that day is soon. I am weary of the hiding.