Monday, October 21, 2013

What Language Does Your True Self Speak?

The following is a quote from a NY Times blog post published on-line:

"How is one to know which aspect of a person counts as that person’s true self?" 
(here's a link to the article

This is an interesting question.  How do you know?  How do you know when you declare something out loud or to yourself that you have expressed a part of your true, authentic self?  How do you know when you dive into a pursuit of any kind that you are on an authentic path?  

If you've been socialized in the way that most of us have been, it may be very difficult to know for certain what is truly you and what is what other's expect of you.  If that's the case then your True Self is likely buried under layers of expectations, "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts", and "what will others think?" 

What I mean by all that is from a very early age many of us were taught to keep our feelings to ourselves, especially if they might hurt someone else's feelings.  Think about it.  How many times have you seen/heard a kid do or say something that was an honest-to-goodness authentic expression of who they were, what they were feeling, or what they were thinking only to be told by an adult something like "You don't mean that" or "That's not okay.  Take that back" or "You should be ashamed of yourself."  I'm sure many of you can make a rational argument for when these comments may be appropriate; however, what I'm referring to are the times when what was said by a child simply made an adult uncomfortable.  There was nothing really wrong with what the child said or did but it caused discomfort in someone else - and that is what was deemed to be not okay.  Instead of teaching the child how to say what they were thinking or feeling in a way that is more kind (or tactful), or letting them know that perhaps that is something that is better kept to themselves (i.e., not EVERYTHING has to be said out loud for goodness sake!) the child is told that their experience is not okay.  

At this point kids do some pretty complex psychological arithmetic.

If that was what I was really feeling.  And I was told that what I was feeling is not okay.  Then, it's not okay that I was feeling that.  Which means I'm not okay.  

Yup.  Kids really do that.  Not quite that deliberately or consciously.  But kids have a knack for seriously personalizing most things.

Throw on top of that your very typical (and seemingly innocuous) admonitions like: 

          "Put a coat on, it's cold outside."
          "But I'm not cold."
          "Yes you are, put a coat on." or "I don't care, put one on anyway."

and, thus, begins the questioning and second-guessing of our authentic experiences and the beginnings of the disconnect from our True Selves.  

Lest I get annihilated by parent readers, let me say that I am a parent of two boys.  I'd love to say that I am the first in the history of parents to be a perfect one...but, alas, I am not.  

*Moment of silence.*  

I imagine I'm messing up my kids in ways I can't see right now, but one of the things I have been seriously sensitive to is what their experiences are.  We have had really interesting discussions around the dinner table about things as simple as food preferences and that we all have different ones.  That doesn't make us weird or strange...just different from one another.  I think my kids are tired of hearing it from me, but they are now pretty fluent in the idea that different does not mean anything other than different.  Not better or worse...just different.  So when my kid says "I'm not cold" as he's running around the house in shorts and no shirt during the winter and I'm wrapped up in a sweater and an afghan, I assume he is in tune with his body and knows exactly how it feels - because I've tried my best to not interfere with his interpretation of what his body is telling him.  And btw...when my boys were younger and insisted they didn't need a coat to go outside in 40 degree weather, out they went coatless only to come back inside 5 minutes later asking for their coat.  I never said anything other than - "Here it is honey." 

So...back to the original question.  How do you know when you've landed on something about yourself that is truly a reflection of your True Self rather than a creation of someone else's idea of who you should be?  In my opinion comfort and contentment meters are excellent barometers of true self expression.

My kids and their coatless adventures quickly resulted in discomfort from the cold.  Their bodies told them what they needed and so they fixed it.  They didn't need me to tell them.  This is precisely what I try to do for myself.  I'm pretty much all set with the coat thing, but when it comes to other matters like: What do I want to do with my day?  What path do I want my career to take?  Do I really want to start a blog?  I try my best to anticipate what my realistic options are and contemplate what each one might feel like.

Granted I can't base all my decisions on how I feel - there's a lot of necessary stuff that wouldn't get done if I did.  But, my feelings and preferences are absolutely an important part of the equation.  I'm still trying to figure out all of the nuances of how to spend my time each day such as: Do I sleep in or get up and exercise?  Do I grade these papers now or watch my favorite show?  What I have come to realize about myself is that I like how I feel when I'm fit so I try to maintain a regular exercise routine.  I also like to not have grading hanging over my head day after day so I try to get it done as soon as I can.  I'm not always successful at these things.  And when I'm really unsuccessful at them I'm reminded why what I'm doing isn't so great and is therefore not a good fit for me.  I feel less energized and sluggish when my body is out of shape, or I feel the constant stress that comes from having a stack of papers that have gone ungraded for days or weeks.  

Both my body and my mind know when they're uncomfortable and when they're content.  It is my job to listen.  They're both really pretty smart.  They've both got a lot to say if I just listen.  At times, though, I'm pretty sure one or both are speaking French.  I know a little bit of French but I am far from fluent.  I get bits and pieces but can miss huge chunks of the message.  So I have tried my very best to learn the language that my body and my mind are speaking.  That can take an enormous amount of time and energy.  Sometimes I really feel like I don't have it.  But when I do, I dive in and try to decipher what they are trying to tell me.  And when I really listen, and understand the language they are speaking I hear loud and clear that they are telling me precisely what I need to know in order to live a happy and contented life; a life that is authentic and that reflects my True Self.

I really do, after all, know exactly what is best for me.  I've just got to listen.

What language is your True Self speaking?  Are you already fluent, or do you need lessons?    

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  1. It took me 20+ years to learn to really listen to my true, authentic self and honor what I was hearing. Now I'm doing what I've always wanted to do, and I'm learning to be more honest and open with those closest to me. I can honestly tell you doing so has enriched my life and my relationships. I work on it every day. Living authentically is still a challenge for me.Thanks for the link to the article.

    1. It is truly an amazing, liberating feeling to shed others' expectations and to dive into what is best for you. I'm so glad you've had that experience. It is a challenge each day for sure, especially when/if you receive push back from those important to you. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Love this post and how you manage your kids' voices. I came from a family where if my mother was cold, that meant I MUST be cold too. Not the best interdependence lessons in my enmeshed family.

    1. :) Thanks Jen. Yeah - I got the "I'm cold, put your coat on" message growing up to which is probably why I used it as an example! Thanks for taking the time to comment!


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