Everyday Awe

Learning the Language of Authenticity

authenticity“Vulnerability will probably always be difficult for you.”

When my therapist said this to me, my first reaction was defensive. Surely that’s not true. If it’s something we seek to do and strive to be, isn’t genuine openness something we can accomplish?

My fear of my own weakness perhaps proved her point.

I’ve since been thinking about the way authenticity and vulnerability are languages. Some speak these languages fluently, as stories and words about weakness and struggle roll off their tongues easily, sounding smooth yet perfectly rough around the edges.

Others are like me. We sputter and hesitate as we search for the vocabulary of a language that for whatever reason is not natural to us. As hard as we try, we seem to communicate with a thick accent, never quite certain why we have it and others do not.

I want so desperately to be fluent in the language of authenticity. But it is a slow and difficult learning. It is a process in which I am faced with the reality that I will probably always have to work at it.

I have been labeled as inauthentic. It is a label that stings, because I value vulnerability so highly.

If you sat across the table from me and asked me a question about my life, I can’t think of any I wouldn’t answer with full disclosure. I am not afraid to be honest. Sometimes I have to swallow hard, but I have learned to be brave.

I promise you my hiding is not conscious. I doubt it is for most who have been thought of as inauthentic in one way or another.

For some, the walls we built in response to past hurts are buried so deeply within us that we don’t even realize how they have joined into the structure that holds us together.

I just recently discovered walls in me I thought I had torn down years ago.

For some, our gifts become so entwined with our weaknesses, that we don’t realize how and when they cross over and hurt instead of help.

I have been gifted with the ability to be verbally quick on my feet. I process meetings and interpersonal interactions at a rapid pace and can often put my thoughts to words without many “ums” or tangents distracting from the oral target.

But this same skill on the flipside can make me sound like someone who is always measuring my words. Who is trying too hard to sound like I have it all together. And maybe I am doing that and don’t realize it. But I’m not trying to. It’s an accent that I can’t seem to shake.

It’s hard to learn how to share and speak differently while still maintaining my own voice. If I try to imitate others who I admire for their sharing, I end up copying too much. And suddenly, instead of becoming more proficient in a language, I become a plagiarist of someone else’s voice, and it all comes off like some sort of bad SNL impression.

I don’t know how to speak more fluently and still be me. I’m trying, but it feels awkward. And I know I get it wrong just as often as I get it right.

And I often feel beat up for my efforts.

Our culture seems to value those who are already fluent in the language of authenticity. It does little to reward and encourage those of us who are sputtering along, searching for the vocabulary.

There’s an assumption what we are trying to conceal our true selves. That we are working hard to craft how you see us. Perceived inauthenticity is often judged as conscious hiding. But I don’t think that is often the case.

The truth is, we don’t know. We’re not afraid of vulnerability; we simply and truly don’t know when we are covering ourselves. Would you be patient with us as we learn to be ourselves?

Authenticity is a difficult language to learn. Let’s encourage each other not just for our fluency, but for our sputtered, sloppy, and thick-accented attempts at speaking it.

What do you think? Is vulnerability difficult for you? Is authenticity a language you struggle to speak? Have you felt beat up in your efforts?

  • Aggie

    Pasty Clairemont (Women of Faith) is a great example of being real! God loves us totally. We need to remember that. We can’t please everyone and not everyone is going to like us. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and courage to know what to say and when to say and to whom to say it. That’s why 12 Step programs work –
    being real and honest in a safe environment.

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      I think you land on a key point, Aggie: there should be a safe environment. We do not have to share everything with everyone all the time. And, the reality is, different types of environments feel safe to different people.

      And, yes, I really do need to remember that everyone will not like us. And that is okay.

  • Judith Hougen

    Thanks for your brave sharing. I have never thought about vulnerability and authenticity as kinds of languages–it’s intriguing and true, I think. Vulnerability is definitely an art. In my creative writing classes, I talk about vulnerability a lot, and many of the young people want to enter into that but are unsure how. They are afraid of over-sharing, of just having a “pity party” on paper, etc.–it’s a hard but good struggle. Meanwhile, I, too, am discovering fortressed places in me where vulnerability needs to be expressed. I guess we’re always peeling the onion.

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      Thanks for stopping by, Judith! It is an art, you are so right. The balance of not over-sharing but also not under-sharing.

      On twitter, someone defined the difference between authenticity & vulnerability in a way that helped me realize how someone could speak one language well, but not the other. Tony Alicea said, “Authenticity is just honesty and transparency. It’s telling the truth. But you don’t have to be vulnerable to tell the truth. Being vulnerable is sharing your feelings and exposing your heart & emotions. It’s putting your defenses down to let someone in.”

      I wonder how the dynamics behind both change with writing compared to speaking. In writing, when you give up control of who your audience will be, it seems by its very nature to be a vulnerable act.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

    I assume you have read Dr. Brené Brown or listened to some of her TED talks. One of her earlier ones is here: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

    There are connections between admitting that we might be wrong (venturing out from behind our barricade of certainty), and vulnerability, and empathy, all leading to shame resilience. Fascinating stuff. Kathryn Shulz’s book, “Being Wrong” is also a good starting point. Her TED talk is one of my favorites.