If I had a penny for all the times I’ve been asked this question, I’d be sitting on a mountain of coins.
I was rather vigorously conditioned by my mother to please anyone and everyone, never hurt a feeling, never be a problem or disappoint anyone’s expectations of me. Most of all, never ever tell the truth if the other person might take offense. This worked about as well for me as it did (and still does) for her. In other words, it didn’t work for me at all, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
As I matured, I started to ask a deeper question. “What is intrinsically wrong with allowing others to simply have their uncomfortable feelings?” This more relevant inquiry began the day I realized my world had become like a prison cell, one I entered voluntarily when I appointed myself controller of everyone else’s feelings. From the relative safety of my cell, I imposed the following rules:
- No one could feel anything unpleasant because it made me uncomfortable.
- No one should experience life’s ups and downs because I couldn’t handle it.
- No one ought to be mad, sad, disappointed or down in any way because my emotional security felt threatened when they did.
If you think sparing others pain by sacrificing your authenticity is preferable, I’d like you to reconsider. The truth is — it’s not really about sparing them. It’s actually about you and your own unwillingness to be present with emotional discomfort.
On rare occasions, usually at major turning points in your life, you may find the survival of a relationship is honestly threatened by your authenticity. Here you will arrive at a crucial juncture. Do you cave in to keep the peace, or do you risk loss by being authentic?
There will certainly be circumstances wherein something you authentically do or say sets off a chain reaction of bad feelings in others. You might even be rebuked or ejected from the “tribe.” Or you might have to leave them to be true to yourself, to shed their drama and to spare yourself the toxic effects of their requirement that you be something you are not in order to remain included.
No matter what happens, I hope you hold fast to your truth. It’s your only real potential for a fulfilling life. Whether or not the reactions of others are extreme (or you are making them so in your own imagination), you have a choice. Grow into a person who can live your authentic life, or shrink your world into an untenably restricted space where you must become a creature of artifice in order to cope.
So, can you be authentic without hurting others? Well, the short answer is you can’t be authentic and please everyone. The more meaningful answer is this: you can’t make life pain-free, but you can make life fulfilling if you empower your authenticity and live from your truth.