It’s a real challenge to know when and how to be authentic in a relationship
Being honest and open while in contact with another human being can be deeply fulfilling, while at times, also terrifying. How do we decide when to be real and when to keep the mask on? It’s a tough call; a lot is at stake.
I believe that every one of us longs to be seen for who we are in our truest, most authentic self. For some of us that longing may be buried beneath self-doubt, fear, or skepticism. But at the core is a deep yearning to be seen for who we are, in all of our beautiful and bizarre idiosyncrasies.
And yet, when we arrive in moments in which we are fully seen, it can feel like a nightmare where we’re naked on stage, exposed and anxious. Or it can feel like a cold clear sip of water when we’re parched, rushing and fumbling so that it spills and we can’t take it all in. Or perhaps it feels too good to be true, and a skeptical voice comes up with reasons that this moment of true intimacy isn’t what we hoped it would be.
It takes courage to be authentic
There are so many easier ways out, to avoid being fully present in relationship. You might go back to looking at your phone, turn on the TV, censor your feelings, go up into your head, space out, have a drink, have a smoke, eat more, work late, resume the masks of the many roles we play … the list goes on and on.
And, there are many ways that being fully present, open and honest is simply too risky. I could be rejected. I won’t do it right. I could be judged, misunderstood, overlooked. I could be told I’m too much. I could feel vulnerable. I could feel responsible for how I impact the person seeing me. I could be responsible for being my authentic self. That last one is a zinger. I long to be seen for who I am at my core, and yet I’m responsible for bringing out my authentic self in order to be seen.
So what to do when you’re teetering on the edge, trying to decide whether to be real or retreat? Let’s think about the effects of both. We’ve all made the choice to tune out. We probably all do it many times a day, but what is the real impact?
What happens when we turn away from authenticity?
- less closeness with the people around us
- frustration at not being understood
- arguments about trivial things when the underlying issue isn’t expressed or dealt with
- feeling disconnected or isolated
- longing for more meaning
- resorting to substitute experiences (social media, addictive behaviors, etc.) that leave us unsatisfied and wanting more.
What’s possible when we are being honest and authentic?
- increased closeness and intimacy with others
- feeling seen and understood
- sense of personal fulfillment
- increased chances we’ll get our needs and desires met
- stronger friendships
- the chance to change our assumptions about ourselves and others
- the chance to find out that others have similar fears
Every time we open up it’s not guaranteed to go the way we hope for. It can be really challenging. The risk of having someone misunderstand or be judgmental is certainly real. But if you don’t try there’s no possibility of it ever happening.
In other words, you can’t win if you don’t play. As a life strategy that allows for the possibility of more intimacy and greater fulfillment, it’s almost always worth it.
About the Author
Ruby Kriegsman is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is San Francisco. Her specialties include therapy for individuals, couples, young adults and those identifying as LGBTQ.
According to Ruby, “Being alive is challenging. Opening ourselves to love, desire and expectation can lead to experiences of disappointment, anger and loss. But we don’t have to manage it on our own.”