Authenticity is My Anchor

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. --Brene Brown

I had an eye opening discussion with my son John recently about authenticity. The conversation started with his concerns about balancing time for self-care with time to nurture a friendship. John has a dear family friend staying with us for a month. They have been close friends for years. Both are grateful to spend the last month of his friend’s senior year together, since she is moving out of state in two weeks, and she will be starting college in the fall. But here is the rub. John is accustomed to having a lot of down time to practice the piano, to check out social media, and to complete his homework. But lately, there’s been another factor for John to juggle, spending time with his friend every day.

It turns out that John was struggling to let his friend know what he really needed, because he didn’t want to let her down. Sometimes he needed time alone to recharge his batteries, but he didn’t take care of himself. The result was irritation, frustration, and resentment. I told him that he was responsible for figuring out what he needed and for finding the courage to share his truth. He replied, “But what if she is disappointed mom, then that’s my fault.” Holy cow, the situation suddenly got way more complicated. The truth is that we are not responsible for other people’s feelings, but that is a hard lesson to grasp at sixteen.

During our conversation, we never actually talked about “authenticity,” but that is exactly what was at stake. I like to think that authenticity is like an anchor. If I pull away from accepting who I am and what I need, I experience tension, just like a boat pulling against the weight of its anchor in a storm. And the further I float away from my center, the more tension I experience. Like when I am not willing to be myself, when I fail to set necessary boundaries that ensure my well being, or when I people please to avoid conflict. The key for me is to pay attention to the tension, which alerts me to make a course correction back to my authenticity. 

Today, authenticity is one of my highest values, because it gives me peace and a sense of freedom. But that wasn’t always the case. Before I got sober, I spent decades trading my authenticity for the approval of others. And the price I paid for abandoning myself included depression, anxiety, addiction, an eating disorder and I was consumed by resentment and shame. Once I got sober, I realized that the stakes were too high, and I could no longer afford to neglect my needs. What I discovered about being authentic was that I had to know and accept myself before I could be myself.

How do you make self-care a priority? How do you honor your needs?

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