I have heard so many people talking about “living authentically” or “speaking your truth” but what does it ACTUALLY mean? It starts to sound like a silly mantra or a new trendy catch phrase you’d find on a coffee mug at Target. But it means so much more than that.
Swipe through your Facebook and try to find a truly authentic post. I dare you. Try to find someone sharing their real struggles and their real pain. Not complaining about politics or airing their dirty laundry on Facebook, mind you, but authentic struggles. Now, if you’re like me, you’ve chosen friends that do just that and it won’t be too hard. But, a lot of people wrap their lives up in a pretty bow and present it to the world. Then, we like it, and maybe we even leave a comment. But then we feel a little worse about ourselves. We click our phone back to darkness and walk away. But, a few minutes later, there we are again, in the same trap, looking at everyone’s greatest successes and comparing them to all of our worst failures. We see someone buying a new house and think about how we only have $200 in the bank, and we think we’ll never have our shit together enough to own a home. We sum our lives up to our worst fears, our worst moments. We forget that we have a story and a journey that is different from theirs. After all, maybe you just started a company. So yeah, you have $200 in the bank, but you’ve dumped thousands into your business, into your future. Or maybe you just got out of a bad relationship and have to save while you get back on your feet. Maybe you are just dealing with mental health issues and you’ve had the good sense to give that the priority it needs. Money will come and go, but our mental health is the only thing that 100% determines your present and your future happiness.
So, how can we live authentically in a world of Pinterest boards, Instagram models, and social media influencers that seem to rock this thing called life, all with their perfect skin and flawless bodies? While I am curled up in a ball, having a panic attack, they are on a boat in Tahiti. Shit, I can’t even afford to rent a boat on a lake for the day by myself. I have cellulite and stretch marks all over my body, I’ll never look like that in a swimsuit. Then, the anxiety only magnifies and now, not only am I having a panic attack, I’ve just decided I’ll never be worthy of the “perfect” life.
We have to stop comparing ourselves. We have to realize that this Instragram model has dark days too. She’s had failures and struggles. While she might look perfect in a bikini, she might have a Dad that’s never been there for her. She might have been in an abusive relationship she struggled to get out of. Honestly, she probably photo-shopped out some of her cellulite or other imperfections. There’s a reason you see so many Youtube videos being shared with stressed out Moms joking about the struggles of Motherhood, or videos of business owners talking about how many times they failed, and continue to fail, before they experienced success.
It is because the world craves authenticity. We crave connection. There can’t be connection without vulnerability.
THERE CAN’T BE CONNECTION WITHOUT VULNERABILITY. There can’t be love without vulnerability. What is more terrifying than telling someone you love them and them not saying it back? Or maybe even waiting months for them to say it back?
The key is, when you live authentically, you know your self worth isn’t defined by one success, a job, your weight, the money in your bank, or whether or not your boyfriend says I love you. When we live authentically and are true to our self, we know how we deserve to be treated, and therefor, we accept no less.
How do we get to that place? A lot of soul searching and deep diving into ourselves. We have to find the cause of our self doubt, the stem or root of it. Was it that your father always said you weren’t good enough? Maybe you were smart but the school system failed you and you always felt less than your peers. Maybe your Mom was loving and warm but she wasn’t nurturing and left you to fend for yourself. It is honestly probably a combination of several relationships, our personality quirks, life experiences, and the relationships that were modeled for us as children. But how do you get those answers for yourself?
It fascinates me that we throw children in school at the age of 5 and we teach them how to count apples, how to write their name, but we don’t teach them the most important lesson they’ll ever need: how to effectively communicate; how to love themselves and value their self worth. We unknowingly learn so much of this before we even hit the grounds of Kindergarten.
We learn it by watching our Mom point out her imperfections in the mirror, or by hearing our Dad pick apart our Mom’s imperfections at the breakfast table. We learn that even if a man belittles you, but he says he loves you, he must in fact love you. We learn that it’s okay for a man to hit a woman as long as he says he’s really sorry and gets you an ice pack afterward. We learn that showing emotions is a weakness and are taught to “suck it up!” We learn that crying in public is something we should hide and be ashamed of. Or, if we’re really crazy over-the-moon lucky, we learn that it’s not okay to be spoken to with disrespect. We learn that our self worth is already there, it isn’t defined by an outside source, it comes from inside us. We hold the key. If we are insanely lucky, we learn to have compassion for ourselves and others. We learn to hear the root fear and root pain in someone’s words or actions. We learn how to not only hear someone else’s pain, but to acknowledge their feelings and to agree to change our approach so as to better meet their needs.
I clearly don’t have all the answers. I still look in the mirror and instead of noticing my attributes I should be thankful for, I only see all of my cellulite and my stretch marks. I still struggle with valuing myself at any weight, and that will be a lifelong struggle for me, I am sure. But I do know now that my self worth isn’t defined by a man or a job or where I live. I had that all stripped away, and it actually freed me.
When I lost the pretty house on an acre of land, lost my fiance, and decided to go back to school, I lost all the things I could attribute my self worth to.
That left me feeling pretty shitty. I felt worthless and pitiful. I instantly searched for a partner to regain my self worth. Instantly starting trying to figure out how to get back the house and the success in business. My mental health was screaming for me to pay attention to my pain, but I wanted to move forward, only do things that made me feel good about myself.
But then something strange happened… having people call me a monster, an abusive partner, a drug addict, a fucking MURDERER, I realized who I actually was. I realized I was actually the opposite of everything they said I was. I am kind, honest, compassionate, hard working, empathetic, and even in the face of adversity and cruelty, I remained kind and did the right thing. I dreamt of doing the wrong thing, believe me. I dreamt of what I’d say to them. Dreamt of telling them the hurt and pain they’d unnecessarily caused. Dreamt of telling them how disappointed Andy would be in them. I realized, with the help of my therapist, that they would never hear my words, that they would only hear me through the filter of their hate and anger. It would fall on deaf ears. At the end of the day, I could rest my head on my pillow, knowing that I chose to lead with kindness when I could’ve chosen hateful words or actions. I used my capacity for empathy to treat them with the respect they maybe didn’t earn, but deserved, simply because they are his family. They are people with hearts and I didn’t want to cause them any more pain, despite them going out of their way to cause me pain. Knowing that I was capable of forgiveness, understanding and empathy for people that didn’t deserve it, told me who I was. (I do truly believe that I was allowed this forgiveness because my family and friends shared their inner desire to cause pain as well, but none of them chose to act on it. It freed me in a way to find forgiveness and let go of resentment.)
I realized that my self worth was always there, in my spirit, in my heart.
It saddens me to admit this, but early on in my relationship with my fiance, there was a recurring message from him. When he was reluctant to be intimate with me, I asked him why. He said, “Look, I told you I want a partner that’s really fit, right? Well, I am not used to being with a bigger girl.” I was CRUSHED. I had just gone from 160ish lbs down to 140 lbs. I was wearing a size 2/4 pants and felt so good about myself.
Now, here he was, reminding me I wasn’t worth as much since I still had some weight to lose.
Several times throughout our relationship, I bounced back and forth between 130-140 lbs. I’d starve myself to look thin, and then I’d basically say, “Okay, I did it! We can be intimate now!!” Did he jump into the sack with me?! Nope. (In fact, in every relationship he had been in, even with very thin girls, he said intimacy was an issue.) In these times, he would say, “Oh I am not feeling good about myself, actually. I need to lose some weight, then I’ll want to be intimate.” Or he’d say, “I’m so stressed about money, the last thing I want is sex.” When I got down to 132, he even said, “you’d look great at 125.” When I later told him how much that hurt me, he said it was just a joke. It wasn’t. Later, I realized several things about this. First of all, it wasn’t about me or my weight, ever. He didn’t do this to be cruel or hurt me. It was about his issues, his unresolved trauma, his shame and pain. I realized that while I told him it wasn’t okay to talk to me this way, I alone was allowing him to equate my worth, my worthiness of affection, to the number on my scale. Why? Why had I given him the power to define my worthiness? Because my Father had always said women were less valuable at a higher weight. Because magazines and Instragram confirmed this. Because I wrapped up all my value as a human in whether I weighed 125 or 145.
It was only after therapy and meditation, that I realized how wrong this was. As soon as I realized it, I no longer accepted men that didn’t value me based on my heart, but on my body. In fact, I saw the red flags miles away and ran. I saw the gym addict that said he valued people that “take great care of themselves” for who he was, an insecure perfection seeker.
I truly believe the only way to live authentically or to start to speak your truth is to find your vulnerability deep within you. To go to therapy and or meditate to find the broken pieces and begin to repair them. To shine a light on the darkness within. It will be hard and painful. Your inner voice will derail your progress at times, but you have to remain diligent. Face hard truths and be kind to yourself. Change your inner voice to one you would use with a friend.
Again, I am not saying I have this mastered. I know I still have so much work to do in this regard. In fact, while taking a break from writing, I unconsciously went and looked in the mirror, as I do countless times a day, and evaluated my body while trying to determine if I’d put on weight. But, living authentically isn’t about having this mastered. It’s about just being honest with yourself and others about that imperfection.
Imagine you see two posts…
One is of an Instragram model in a bikini on the sandy beach of Bora Bora. Her skin is tan. Her hair is blonde. The sky above her is a perfect shade of blue and the drink in her hand is a delicious shade of peach. The caption reads: “Life is an adventure, live it up.”
The next post is of a Mom. She’s got a messy bun piled on top of her head. She has dark circles under her eyes and she’s holding a crying toddler in her arms. There is a messy plate of food on a highchair behind her, dishes in the sink, and clothes that need to be put away. The caption reads: “Today is one of those days. I’m just trying to get through it knowing I have better days ahead. Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, sometimes it’s messy, dirty, and difficult.”
Which one gave you anxiety? I’ll bet it was the first. She’s representing the perfect life, why does that cause me anxiety instead of the disheveled messy house? Because it’s unattainable. It’s unrealistic. It is inauthentic. We relate to the vulnerability in the second post and it comforts us to know we aren’t alone.
So, share your authentic self with those that deserve to hear your story. Some will judge that you are looking for attention. Some will unfollow you, but good! You are better off without their input, without their judgment. In fact, unfollow the perfect model or social media influencer that only makes you feel not good enough. Shut your phone off for awhile and just be present. Be open and honest with yourself and others. That is what it means to live your truth, and that is the greatest gift you can ever give yourself and others that need to hear it.
Be kind to yourself and one another. And yeah, live and speak your truth.