Authentic Living: Beliefs and Emotions
This is the second post in a series on authentic living. If you haven't already, I suggest you read the first (An Introduction to Authentic Living) as it introduces the concept of authenticity and why it's so important.When we start evaluating the level of authenticity in our lives, and exploring how we can be more authentic, the first place to start is with ourselves. How authentic we can be with ourselves will determine how authentic we can be with others, and how much authenticity we will have in our lives.As we look at how authentic we can be with ourselves, we focus on two specific questions:
- Which of our beliefs and values are truly ours, and which have we inherited or internalised from others?
- How real can we be with ourselves, and are we accepting of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs?
These are big questions with no easy answers. They can't be solved in a single moment. In fact, the process of addressing them lasts a lifetime.
Why is acceptance important?
In the Introduction, I talked about what happens when we our thoughts and feelings are repeatedly criticised, ridiculed or dismissed by another person. We lose the motivation to be ourselves with that person, we retreat into our shells for self-protection, and we present a filtered version of ourselves in their presence.The same thing happens when we criticise, ridicule or reject our own feelings and thoughts. "Don't be so silly", "It's pathetic to feel that way over something so small", "You're getting too big for your boots", and so on. This kind of internal dialogue is like a virus - once it takes hold, it spreads.Soon, this is just the way we talk to ourselves. When we do something that, upon reflection, we don't feel happy about, we call it "stupid", when we want something that we fear we can't achieve or grasp, we think "I'm too (insert judgemental label here) to get that".Is it any wonder that the more sensitive parts of us start hiding our true feelings from ourselves? This judging, authoritarian voice takes over, leaving little room for acceptance, compassion and empathy. Instead of all our internal parts having a voice, the balace is off kilter and one voice dominates.To be authentic with ourselves, we need to regain that balance. We need to figure out how to empathise and show compassion for all parts of our dialogue, and understand where they're coming from. Talking to a good therapist is helpful for this, but there's a lot of self-work we can do too.
What we can do
Here are the starting points. These are things we can start doing today, and do every day, to free trapped feelings and live more authentically:
1. Noticing and being aware of our thoughts and emotions, without judging them.
The difference between noticing and judging is in the conclusion. Noticing ourselves feeling angry would be to think: "I notice I feel angry right now", while judging would be to think: "...and that (means I am bad/is unfair/is wrong/is just because he said XYZ)". These judgements are often shaming, either of ourselves or other people, but take away the judgement and you're just left with your authentic experience.
2. Showing empathy and self-compassion for our emotions.
Trying to consistently show empathy and self-compassion for our emotions will help us feel more validated. Showing empathy and self-compassion isn't about minimising, or condoning, the way we feel, it's simply about recognising that the feeling is present at that particular moment, and the fact it is there is OK.
3. Understanding where emotions come from: they are valid, even if they're not connected to the present.
Some of our feelings will have been triggered by current events, but they won't necessarily belong to the present. We might have had experiences in the past, as children or adults, that are in some way parallel to the emotion-provoking situation in the present. Figuring out for ourselves whether past events are informing the scale and intensity of our feelings is one of the hardest parts of this process.
4. Understanding that emotions will come out in one way or another, especially when we don't acknowledge them.
When we experience a feeling we don't like, we might try to rationalise ourselves out of it. This just doesn't work, and it's why I don't agree with the 'positive thinking' movement. The way we think does influence the way we feel, and if we get stuck in repetitive negative thought patterns, these will turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. That doesn't mean, however, that we should dismiss every uncomfortable feeling or thought by looking on the bright side. Those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts will still be there, and they'll just get displaced into another situation.Remember: empathy, compassion and curiosity.