By Sophie Scott
One of the things I realised from writing about vulnerability is just how universal an experience it really is.
So many of us are dealing with stressful challenges every day, with a gap between how we want to live our lives and how we are actually living our lives.
When I first started writing about vulnerability and being your authentic self, I was heartened by so many readers and viewers getting in touch.
I want to share with you some thoughts from one of my readers, a 70 year old man from Belgium.
Ian wrote to me about his struggles, how he feels that as a society, we place an irrational value on the approval of others, on how others perceive our role, careers, physical appearance, material achievement and even the number of likes we score on social media.
"I've spent almost 70 years living my life subconsciously seeking the approval of others. But now I feel I have found, to some extent, my true or inner or authentic self," he said.
"For me, despite our flaws and shortcomings, I feel we all have a compassionate loving caring authentic self. That discerns right from wrong, cares for the sick, the homeless, the disadvantaged and persecuted minorities.
He told me he feels most of us would sooner do someone a good turn than a bad one.
"We have an authentic self that realises that human beings are made of good stuff, of moral stuff, despite minor or sometimes major aberrations that seem to deny that," he said.
The challenge is to listen to that authentic self that Ian has found and that lies within all of us.
But how exactly do we find that authentic self?
Most psychologist describe 'authentic self' as an experience, not something that is fixed.
Psychologist Alison Lenton calls it 'the subjective sense of being one's true self."
Living your authentic self comes to you in those moments when you feel you are being real and living how you want to live your life.
And to me, the strongest, deepest relationships flourish when you can be your authentic self whether it's with a friend, lover or colleague.
Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy in her book 'Presence' writes about accessing your personal power through your mind and the body to bring your boldest self to life's challenges.
And high on her list is identifying the values, strengths and traits that we really value, that expose our 'authentic self.'
Here are four questions she suggests to get you thinking:
Grab a pen and jot down your thoughts.
* What three words describe you best as an individual?
* What is unique about you that leads to your happiest times and your best performance?
* Think about a time, either at home or at work, when you were acting in a way that felt natural and right. How can you emulate that behaviour today?
* What are your signature strengths and how can you use them?
Identifying your authentic self is the first step to believing and owning your own story.
And why is that so important?
It's because there will be challenges and changes in life that throw you off course.
Things will happen that will make you question yourself, question your ability and your sense of equilibrium, whether it's a relationship breaking up, losing someone you love or making mistakes at work.
When that happens, you need to dig deep and hold on tight to your authentic self, the values you embrace and that feeling that no matter what happens, it will be ok.
When this happened to me recently, I went back and read the words Ian had sent me about vulnerability.
"As hard as it is to accept, we do not need the validation of others," he said.
"We can, if we listen to that self, triumph over any adversity."
His words filled me with an immense sense of comfort.
When you are smack bang in the middle of crisis or one of life's challenges (and inevitably these will come) these are the feelings and sentiments we need to hold on to.
"Everything passes. At the end of day, only the authentic self remains to provide us with our reason for being and our basis for action," he said.
As it should.
I would love to hear your thoughts :)
Until next time,
Hi from Sophie,
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that to be your authentic self and embrace vulnerability, you need to let go of your quest for perfection.
Yes, as hard as that sounds :)
Most of us are striving to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.
But what I've realised through analysing the research on vulnerability, is that you need to give up that desire that everything will fall smoothly into place, that you can easily have the perfect body, career, home, family, friendship group etc.
Because being vulnerable means admitting you are imperfect and being okay with that.
When you strive for perfection, often it can mean you're not comfortable with negative emotions.
In other words, when we don't allow ourselves to experience painful emotions, we also lose our capacity for happiness.
When I lived in the United States, I remember a friend going through a difficult pregnancy and I wanted to help out in someway.
I wanted to make her a three course gourmet meal using all the ingredients she really liked.
I researched recipes, looked for the correct ingredients, and became so hung up on the idea it had to be the perfect meal, in the end I didn't even end up taking her any food anything at all.
Now, when I think about that example my life, I realise how much better it would have been for me and for my friend if I had whipped up something quick and easy and taken it over.
Because it was the gesture of friendship and support that really mattered in the end, not the perfection of the food.
THE PURSUIT OF PERFECT
Tal Ben-Shahar is an Israeli born American author and happiness researcher.
He says the pursuit of 'perfect' may actually be the number one obstacle to finding happiness.
He describes three important aspects of perfectionism: The rejection of failure (win at all costs or give up), the rejection of success, (the failure to stop and appreciate how far you have come and what you have achieved) and the rejection of painful emotions such as fear.
Perfectionists also tend to use words like 'should' 'ought to' and 'must'.
I never really understood the power of words, that choosing one word over another could really change how you feel and how much pressure you put on yourself.
For me, that word is 'should'.
The phrase 'you should' looks harmless but think about how you would feel or have felt if someone you admired or looked up to said to you:
"You should be ..thinner, married by now, more successful, etc"
How did it make you feel?
For me and many others I suspect, it evokes the fear of not being okay and not being good enough.
A therapist taught me the value of listening to the words that play in your head and particularly watching out for words like "should" and "ought to'.
Instead, replacing them with "I'd like to..
"It would be great if ...."
By making those changes, it takes the emotion, the guilt and the negative associations out of those thoughts.
Perfectionists tend to be very fixed in their thinking and views.
In other words, there is a straight line in their thinking from the start to the end with no deviations.
Tal Ben-Shahar writes in his book, 'the Pursuit of Perfect" (McGraw Hill) that perfectionists are driven by fear of failing, so their primary that concern is to avoid falling down, deviating or stumbling.
So to overcome perfection, the research suggests you need to be okay with failure.
How often do you see people posting on Facebook and social media saying 'Hey I failed today.'
But this is why we need to fail sometimes and be ok with it.
"When we put ourselves on the line, when we fall down and get up again, we become resilient," Tal Ben-Shahar says.
And if you learn from a loss, then you have not really lost, he says.
If we avoid taking risks, or avoid rising to the challenges we face, whether it's in relationships, work or family, you're sending a message to yourself "I can't really do this."
The reality is probably completely the opposite.
And by embracing those challenges, you will give your self-esteem a major boost.
To me, the opposite of perfection is the feeling that 'I am enough. I am okay.'
And being vulnerable and living an authentic life means being okay with your imperfections.
Love to hear your thoughts.
Until next time,
Sophie Scott is the Medical Reporter for ABC. Subscribe to her blog here www.sophiescott.com.au
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