I have been thinking a lot lately about authenticity, being “real.” I have been striving more and more for this in my life. In his book, The Book Awakening, Mark Nepo says that when he realizes he has stopped being authentic, he has to “practice being real by saying what I feel, not just once, but continually.” I thought this was a profound statement, that for him being real and authentic involves stating what he is feeling on an ongoing basis.
Mark further writes that he has struggled with this throughout his life because it is natural to withhold what feels real in order to survive. He writes, “When someone says or does something that hurts me, I have learned to absorb the hit and pretend that nothing has changed.” I love that imagery, because it does feel like we absorb the hit in those moments when people say hurtful things. He says that doing this uses up energy, this pretending.
He goes on to say, “It is so simple and yet so brave to say that we are hurt when we are, that we are sad when we are sad, that we are scared when we are scared.” Yes, I agree, simple and brave. Simple, yet not easy to do this in the moment. Mark talks about how this “energy of realness” changes things; it prevents us from using up the energy we were using to pretend.
I always loved this book because he encourages “turning toward” feelings, acknowledging and expressing them, instead of stuffing them down. He encourages being real and authentic. Sometimes it is most helpful to express feelings privately, but other times it is most appropriate to state our feelings to another person.
The people I have the privilege of working with often talk about how insensitive others can be in regards to their cancer…their life with cancer, their feelings about cancer, their body image, etc. The people in their lives don’t get it, don’t know what to say, or sometimes just don’t care about their feelings, and say things that hurt. I think it is important to say so when this happens. I find that too often we all “absorb the hit” and pretend nothing happened, so as not to embarrass the person or make them feel badly. I don’t think this helps anyone grow. We end up expressing the hurt privately, crying in the shower, because we have no choice but to get it out of our systems, but somehow it still hurts.
I have found that when I have told someone, “When you said that, I felt hurt,” or stated that I am scared or sad or angry, many times the other person rises to the occasion and apologizes and explains what they actually meant to say. Because of being told how their words affected another person, they become better at “being there.” If the person doesn’t do that, chooses not to grow, then I still feel like I have been authentic in that moment. I find that the feeling moves through much more easily than if I “absorb the hit.”
What about you…have you “absorbed the hit” too often? How does it feel when you have stated your feelings in the moment when someone says something hurtful or insensitive?
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