Authenticity: Key to Transformation
Articles By John Amodeo
Should I change myself or accept myself as I am? Although self-change and self-acceptance appear to be in opposition, they're two essential sides of the same coin of self-transformation.
When people come to my office for therapy, they usually want to change themselves -- or reshape their partner. Being unhappy with how things are, they're eager -- if not desperate -- to implement changes. But little do they realize that the key to creative change doesn't lie in our usual efforts to fix ourselves, poke at ourselves, or push ourselves. Just the opposite. The key to real and lasting change lies in the paradoxical art of accepting ourselves as we currently are.
The terms "self-acceptance" and "being ourselves" are thrown around loosely. Sometimes we use that expression to justify abusive behaviour: "I'm just being myself!" Or, "Don't try to change me!" Sadly, what we're often really saying is, "I want to stay stuck in my rigid defences, fixed opinions, and self-righteous behaviours. I don't want to show you what's really going on inside me." Even sadder, we may not allow ourselves to see what's really happening in our depths, perhaps fearful of what we might find.
Being ourselves really means being authentic. And authenticity requires that we connect with the ever-deeper layers of our felt-experience. As we become willing to courageously uncover what's happening in our depths, we become less split inside. We heal the conflict between who we actually are and who we're trying to be. As we relinquish our self-image of who we think we should be, we discover -- finally -- the vibrant world of who we actually are.
Tragically, society trains us to avoid certain feelings. Boys are taught that being a man means being tough (not wimpy), which translates as "don't cry or show hurt." Women are taught that showing anger means you're a bitch, so "be nice." As a result, we feel fear or shame when feelings arise that we believe will be objectionable. We try to shape and peddle an image that we hope will gain acceptance and love, rather than rejection or disdain. This core human longing for love and belonging leads us to achieve what Fritz Perls calls "self-image actualisation" as opposed to self-actualisation.
The inner split between our authentic self and manufactured self creates a quiet war in ourselves. As we distance from genuine feelings and wants, we betray essential aspects of ourselves. As a result, we remain distant from others. The refusal to show the tender and vulnerable parts of ourselves keeps us isolated, hidden, and alone. Yet, we remain unaware of our own pivotal role in pushing people away by betraying our authentic self. By not embracing and exposing who we really are -- our tenderness, our fears, our strengths, our limits -- we live armoured in defences.
The flip side of judging ourselves is that we subtly condemn others with our judgments, hostility, and accusations. We use anger to hide our fear and shame. Or, we withdraw into a world of silent judgments toward people, perhaps believing we're superior.
Those of us who are spiritually inclined are also susceptible to this trap of self-betrayal. The effort to maintain an image of serenity and feeling good may lead to an avoidance of "messy" emotions and conflicts. As a sad result, we may never learn how to engage in a deep and sober sharing of core feelings, wants, and longings. Relationships remain unaccountably shallow as a result of not finding the courage and wisdom to expose our vulnerable depths.
The key to transforming both ourselves and our relationships is to learn what it means to accept and embrace ourselves just as we are. Spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti made the profound observation that, "If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation." Psychologist Carl Rogers drew the same conclusion through psychological observation: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."
Welcoming the whole of who we are leads to a spirituality of embodiment, rather than a futile, perfectionistic struggle to transcend where we are right now. Within a context of warm self-acceptance, we're no longer battling ourselves. By creating a friendly space for what we ordinarily push away, we reclaim disowned parts of ourselves. Transformation ensues from allowing and embracing what we normally avoid and deny. As a result, we become more whole, more complete, and more contactable. We find an inner peace and calm aliveness that becomes self-communicating. Intimacy with others deepens as we become more intimately acquainted with ourselves.
We need to find paths that bring awareness to the full range of our humanness. I've found Eugene Gendlin's Focusing approach to be particularly useful. Certain forms of meditation, such as Vipassana, also bring awareness to present experience as it actually is, rather than how we'd like it to be. Psychotherapy can also provide a safe and supportive place to discover and welcome our authentic self.
Many of us are attracted to dramatic, exotic paths that promise transformation. We may have out-of-body experiences and taste the ecstasy of Tantric merging, but can we be emotionally honest and forthcoming with our partner? Can we communicate with clarity, kindness, and respect -- even when we don't get what we want?
Oftentimes, the most profound paths are the simplest. Does our personal growth practice enable us to extend warmth toward people and be empathically present for their joys and sorrows? Can we look with kind eyes upon the grocery clerk, and speak gently, although assertively, to the phone solicitor struggling to make a living? The fruits of personal and spiritual transformation show up in these ordinary, everyday extensions of our heart.
About the author
John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFCC (#MFC14453), is the author of Love & Betrayal and co-author of Being Intimate. He has over twenty years experience as a psychotherapist, with offices in San Francisco, Marin, and Sonoma County. He has been a frequent media guest, including CNN and The Donahue Show. For more information call (707) 829-8948 or (415) 681-1030.
Keywords: Key to Transformation, Authenticity, Spiritual, Being ourselves, John Amodeo, Intuition, Intuitive, Articles, UK, South Africa, Cape Town,