The Authentic You

Epictetus once said, “It is impossible for man to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” This quotation sums up why so many of us are not experiencing contentment or serenity in our lives. We think we possess knowledge that we actually haven’t yet acquired. And where our ignorance has the most devastating impact on our ultimate outcome is when it pertains directly to ourselves.

If we think we know ourselves, yet we have never taken the time to understand ourselves, then it will never be possible for us to live an authentic life.  What is an authentic life?  It is a life in which we are making the decisions that are in keeping with what is best for is. It is a life where the opinion of those around us matters a great deal less than the opinions we have about ourselves.

To live authentically, you have to strip yourself of everything that is not genuine. You have to let go of learned behavior that does not match up with who you really are. And you have to get to the point where you would rather disappoint everyone else in your life than to disappoint you.

Some people would say that such a philosophy promotes selfishness. But what it really does is enable you to give others the freedom to be authentic, too. Once you cease meeting or trying to meet the expectations of others at the expense of your own needs, they will be forced to gain clarity about themselves and what their needs may be.

I have spoken about the potency of habits in a previous blog post. And I want to delve more deeply into the way that habits can negatively impact both your life and the lives of those around you. When William James wrote his chapter on “Habit” in his Principles of Psychology, there were many things about human behavior that had not yet been discovered or analyzed. James encouraged people to allow certain actions to become habitual, such as eating a meal or taking a bath.

The problem is, even these seemingly innocuous activities should actually be engaged in while we are thinking about them. Why? Well, the more we get into the pattern of doing things without engaging our mental faculties, the more inclined we are to not use those faculties at times that it is essential for us to do so. Now, there obviously are habits that have a positive influence on our lives. But sometimes we need to make sure that the habits we think are positive actually are.

For example, if we have a habit of repressing our true thoughts and opinions in order to be accepted by others, is that really a good habit?  Or does it simply appear to be good on the surface? And, even if we do win this much sought-after acceptance, is it really worth very much if we had to pretend to be someone other than ourselves in order to gain it?

Let me ask you something. If someone told you that he or she would write a book under your name and that it would be a best-seller, would you think that was a tempting idea? Even if you did, would the accolades that you received when the book was published mean nearly as much to you as if you had written the book yourself? Or would a certain part of you feel like a fraud?

When people told you what a wonderful writer you were, would that mean that you would actually believe them? Or is it possible that you could get to the point where you actually believed that you had written the book? If you answer no, I challenge you to reconsider your reply. Although you may think that I’m taking things too far by using this example to illustrate my point, you probably at least concede that it would be possible for some people to buy into their own fraudulent identity.

Sometimes it is easier to get trapped in a life that is compromised of learned behavior patterns and assumed opinions than it is to explore our own authenticity as an individual. To conform to what others think we should be does not require courage or conviction. What it does take is a self-image that is not clearly defined. I am often told by people who cross my path that they would finally have happiness or contentment in their lives if they could just find the right career or if the man or woman of their dreams would miraculously come into their lives. Although I empathize with such thought patterns, I think that they are both unrealistic and dangerous.

For one thing, such beliefs prevent us from taking the time to work on ourselves. They remove the necessity of personal growth because we are looking at  something outside of ourselves to make us complete.  And, when that person or that career fails to live up to our idyllic fantasies, we are left feeling even more dissatisfied than we were before. In a way, it’s like someone with an eating disorder attempting to “cure” the problem without getting to the root of what is causing it.

When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. The illness itself harmed me far less than the way the doctor I was seeing at the time treated the illness. Rather than taking the time to analyze and examine what was causing me to deprive myself of nourishment, she blamed me for not eating and seemed to subscribe to the erroneous assumption that I was making a conscious choice not to eat. If you know anything about anorexia, you understand that it is not a choice. Even though those who are anorexic often use starvation as a coping mechanism to handle the fact that certain aspects of their lives seem to be beyond their control, they are not consciously engaging in this behavior.

Similarly, if you are unfulfilled or unhappy and you are seeking a relationship or a career to escape from the emptiness within yourself, you may not be doing this intentionally. When we feel a void within us, it is only natural that we might have a frantic need to fill that emptiness.  It’s interesting how quick we are to talk about connecting or reconnecting with our bliss. But is there still not the assumption that we have discovered our “bliss”? Emptiness and bliss are not compatible. Thus, as long as we have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction within ourselves, we are not only not connecting with our bliss–we have not found our “bliss”.

Of course, like the word happiness, bliss is also a word that can be defined in many different ways. However, I have the sense that it conveys the essence of elation or exuberance. If we use that definition of bliss or even partially subscribe to that definition, then we must also admit that there are not many people whom we have ever known who have seemed very exuberant or elated. Does this mean that it is unrealistic to expect to ever feel bliss? No. But it does mean that we may have to redefine the word. The other option is that we will have to accept the fact that, even though we want to believe we are connected to our bliss, we are actually still pursuing it.

One assumption that prevents us from living authentically is the idea that happiness or bliss is a destination that we will someday reach. Perhaps, some of us even think that if we feel loved and appreciated enough, contentment will be ours. But what sort of contentment are we seeking? If you are honest with yourself, I think you’ll admit that you are not looking for the temporary feeling of rapture that comes from devouring a piece of chocolate cake.

Chocolate cake is wonderful, but once you’ve eaten it, it’s gone. If you pursue the wrong type of bliss or if you are not clear about the type of bliss that you won’t, you may end up with a lot of what I would call “chocolate cake” moments but no lasting feeling of fulfillment or significance. Is that what you want? Even if you could exist on a diet of nothing but candy, cake, and cookies, would that ultimately satisfy you?

To me, the satisfaction that comes from lots of  “chocolate cake moments” is a bit like the happiness that is derived from buying clothes and jewelry or taking a trip to some country you’ve never traveled to before. Sure, there is enjoyment–but how long does it last, and how profound is it? Your soul is never going to be content if the only nourishment it gets are from things that have no lasting value.

At the end of your life, knowing that you have lived authentically and honestly is going to mean a great deal more to you than how many pairs of shoes you have in the closet or how many trips to Europe or exotic locales you have taken. And unless you are living authentically at the time that you enter into a relationship or marriage, you will not find happiness in that partnership, either. For no matter how much love, admiration, and acceptance you get, if it isn’t the authentic you who is being accepted or loved or admired, how can it make you happy?  

An actor I once knew told me that he believed that nearly all people are wearing masks and that only when we get to the point in our lives where we are willing to take off our masks will we be at peace with ourselves. It is somewhat uncomfortable to accept this concept. For, if we do, we have to wonder how much of the behavior we are witnessing on the part of those around us is sincere.  But when we understand the reason why we wear masks, we can embrace the idea without it making us feel overwhelmed, confused, or uneasy.

Usually, we put on these masks at a very young age. Why? Because when we are children, we start being told what behavior is “acceptable” and what behavior is “unacceptable”. Our hands are slapped when we touch the hot stove, and we get a spanking when we decide to stick our finger in an electrical outlet. We hear so many “thou shalt nots” that, merely for the sake of ease, we repress our needs and desires and modify our words and actions in order to please those around us.

The problem is that we carry this repressed behavior into our adult life, and, instead of the masks getting more transparent, they oftentimes get more opaque. Eventually, separating our real faces from the masks that have been covering them for so long becomes almost impossible. For one thing, the masks have become our security blankets. As long as we are wearing them, we are able to face the world without having to constantly worry about being rejected. Even though we may get rejected when we wear our masks, the real persons being rejected are the persons we’re pretending to be.

In a way, wearing a mask not only protects us from being hurt but it also means that many of the negative judgements that are made about us can be disregarded. We can tell ourselves, “Well, that person didn’t really know me. If  he had, he wouldn’t have rejected me.” Yes, this  may be the case, but is it not better to be rejected for ourselves than to be accepted for someone we’re not? 

If we do not give other people the chance to see and get to know the true individuals that we are, we are inadvertently forcing them into the role of unwitting conspirators in our  elaborate attempts to weave a life built upon half-truths and lies. So, we are both failing to connect with our own authenticity and encouraging others to be inauthentic as well.

As I learn more and more about human behavior and examine with growing clarity the role that our mental conditioning and our learned patterns of behavior play in our success and happiness, I realize that as much as an artist works to perfect his paintings or a pianist works to polish his or her technique, we must work at mastering the art of living.  Once again, I turn to Epictetus, who said, “For as carpenter’s material is wood, and that of the statuary is copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man’s life.”  In the end, each of our lives if what we have made of it, and we can either choose to master the art of living or we can always be stuck in a never-ending cycle of lies, destructive patterns, deception, emotional pain, and learned behaviors. Which choice will you make?

Until soon,

Alexis, the SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva

It’s your heart. So, guard it!

heart13There will never be a way to prevent ourselves from being hurt by other people. Even if we were able to look inside the hearts and minds of everyone around us, we would probably still fall into predicaments that brought us misery. At the same time, in order to make a toxic person really have the effect they want to upon us, we must dwell on all the ways in which they have hurt us. We must allow them to continue to steal our joy and happiness from us long after the wounds have been inflicted, which means that if we let go and refuse to hold onto the pain, we are the ones who win—not them.

As you know, I am very forthcoming at this blog. I share things that some people might not even reveal to their closest friends. Do I care? Actually, if I can reach even one of you by something I say, I regret none of my personal confessions. But you do have to watch who you open your heart to. Look upon the heart as a beautiful sanctuary within yourself. There are two doors closing this sanctuary off from the rest of the world. You can open them only if you decide to. If you are at a place in your life where you feel that you need the approval of other people to feel okay about yourself—that their acceptance of you is crucial to your happiness and positive opinion about yourself, you are at risk of being deeply hurt. There are what I would call predators of the heart, and they come in many different shapes and wear a variety of masks. They are almost like vampires, in a way. They prey upon your energy and your spirit to satisfy their inner emptiness. However, they are often convinced that their lives are bringing them fulfillment. Rarely will they admit to you that they are seeking something other than that which they’ve already got. To make you feel that you are necessary to them in some way would give some of the power they think they possess away. Now, if push comes to shove, and they are concerned that you may escape the designs they have on your life, they might be capable of saying anything. But they are generally reluctant to admit any signs of personal weakness.  When I think of a character in literature who is a predator of the heart, I cannot help but think of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ classic novel, Great Expectations. She is not content to merely lick her wounds and drown her sorrow by living a reclusive life. Rather, she picks out another person as a vessel for her vendetta. If you haven’t read the book or seen a film adaptation of the book, you will not have a thorough idea of what I am speaking of. However, you can take my word for the fact that Miss Havisham is a true predator of the heart. In a way, she is a tragic and pathetic figure. It is nearly impossible not to feel sorry for all the pain she has experienced. Yet no pain that we experience justifies our preying upon the hearts of others.

As a diva who tends to speak whatever is on her mind, I want to share with all of you something that happened to me yesterday. I was betrayed by someone who had pretended to be my friend. Has this happened to me before? Yes, of course. It’s probably happened to most of you, too. I think that one reason this happens is because our society preaches a “me first/you second” philosophy. This means that, even if a person betrays someone close to them, if it’s in that person’s best interest at the time they do it, they somehow manage to excuse their conduct. Now, many cases of betrayal are connected to revenge. Rather than letting go of resentment and anger, a certain type of person holds it in until, at last, it boils over and they do something that hurts someone else in a way that can be devastating. Unfortunately, when bitterness, resentment, and/or anger begin to cloud someone’s vision, there is a strong chance that they will begin to perceive that they are being deceived or wronged in some way, even if they’re not.  In other words, they may at some point be incapable of thinking logically. Predators of the heart are often paranoid, too. They see those who do not allow them into their inner sanctuary as being against them. They may even have grandiose ideas about their relationship with someone whom they are trying to prey upon. They may see that person as belonging to them, even if the person doesn’t. The person who betrayed me felt he had the right to interject himself in many different aspects of my life. He was also jealous of anyone else whom I have in my life, including my mother. You see, he felt that anyone who was giving me advice or input aside from him might prevent him from having the all-powerful influence in my life that he felt he needed. When he finally saw that I was determined to remain in charge of my life and was willing to fight him for control of it, he betrayed me. He made sure I was aware of his betrayal, too. I think he concluded that only in my knowing about his betrayal would he receive any sort of personal gratification. How many of you believe, now that I am introducing you to the concept of predators of the heart, that you might have crossed paths with one of these persons? Might there even be one in your life right now? “Maybe so,” you say, “but how can I tell?” Notice how you feel when you spend time around someone whom you suspect is a predator of the heart. Do they find ways to make you feel that you are weak? Do they play up your faults in a way that is subtle? For example, might they say something like, “Well, you know, you have loads of flaws, but I love you anyway.” Does this sound familiar? You do see what they’re doing, don’t you? They’re wanting you to feel that you can’t really handle the big, bad problems in your life on your own. So. . .they are there to help you. All you have to do is wrap up your heart and hand it over to them first. Then they’ll take care of everything.  Pretty soon, of course, you’ll be wondering why the decisions you’re making don’t really match up with the decisions you want to make. You may also find yourself tolerating things that you never thought you would put up with. But, you see, your pet predator of the heart has convinced you that you will never find another friend or lover like them. So, you’d better let them drain all your own thoughts and opinions from you. If they want to start controlling your mind, you’d better let them do that, too. I mean, they’re probably smarter than you anyway. . .or at least wiser, right? They seem to know so much. They seem to have all the answers figured out, and, even though it seems like they are trying to take control of your life, surely all they’re really trying to do is help you. Right??? Wrong. Predators of the heart have no more compassion or empathy than the living dead. Never deceive yourself. A predator of the heart is never thinking of his prey as anything more than an object to nourish his or her desire to control. Your feelings and needs don’t count. Dracula never did seem to care much about the needs of his victims, did he? No, he cared only for satisfying his lust for blood. And he was very seductive, too, wasn’t he? He never told his victims, “Hello there, I’m a vampire. May I bite your neck and drink your blood?” If he had done that, how believable would it have been? Well, like a vampire who beguiles his victims, preying upon the hearts of others begins with seduction. For you to be willing to open up your heart, you must first be under the predator’s “spell”. For me to say that a predator of the heart has a standard method of worming his or her way in to your life would be giving you the false idea that you might be able to pick out a predator of the heart readily. You will rarely be able to do that. What you must do, though, is immediately pay attention to any feelings you have of wanting to distance yourself from the person. If you ignore them when you feel them, they may go away as the predator starts to know you better and begins using better and more cunning tactics. Pay attention to the behavior the possible predator exhibits early on in your communication with him or her. Does he or she argue with some of your beliefs and opinions? Does he or she make you feel that you are ignorant or ill-informed for standing by the convictions you have? Later, if the predator perceives that arguing with your beliefs isn’t the way to win you over, he or she will use different methods of doing so. This is why you must analyze all of your initial contact with the person.  To be honest, the predator of the heart who has just exited my life showed plenty of sides of himself that were objectionable to me early on in our friendship. I found him abrasive and argumentative. I even wondered why he wanted to be friends with me since it was evident to me that he and I were different in a number of ways. Yet after awhile, he seemed to have somehow made himself a fixture in my life. I didn’t even realize it had happened, until it already had. Although this man had seemed perfectly content with his life when I first met him, as time went on, he began to infer that I was fulfilling some kind of deep personal need he had. By making me believe this, he succeeded in brainwashing me into thinking that I had to put up with him, no matter how unkindly or harshly he treated me. When he would instigate debates, I would be drawn into them like a fly being drawn into the web of a spider. Before I knew it, he had actually managed to create a certain amount of alienation between me and my mother because she recognized him for what he was, and he sensed that. I suddenly became a victimized princess locked in a tower with a mother who was, to use his terminology, “an ogre”. He tried to make himself the center of my world—indeed, the only person who really had my best interest at heart. At one point, he sent me ten and twelve e-mails a day. When I tried to tell him I couldn’t respond to all of them, he attempted to make me feel guiltyand even accused me of trying to end our friendship. Predators of the heart are very good at making you feel as if you are blame when you try to fight them. For them, you see, only their desires exist. And your mission in life, in their mind, is to gratify these desires.

“But what do I do?” you ask, almost in despair. See, I knew you would ask this. . .and, truth be told, I am still finding new and better ways in regard to how to deal with predators of the heart with each passing day. What I advise is that you stop looking at the conduct you see and start looking at the intentions behind the conduct. If your would-be predator-of-the-heart tells you that he/she loves you even though he/she told you a few weeks before that he didn’t believe in love, pay attention. If he or she says that he is a loyal and true friend to you, even though he/she told you at another time that he/she had a “big mouth” and was always talking about his/her friends behind their  backs, do not ignore it. If he/she confesses to you that he/she is usually the one who walks out of a relationship, do not assume that you will be treated any differently. Although there are many people who will never tell you the truth about themselves, there are also many people who will sometimes make revealing declarations or remarks in an unguarded moment. And the moments in which a predator of the heart lets down his/her guard are the moments that matter. If you have already been the victim of a predator of the heart, the worst thing you can do is to continue victimizing yourself by dwelling on the situation and/or associating it with the person you are right now. The only reason you should even remember what happened is to know how you can prevent it from ever happening again. For if we do not look towards the past to teach us lessons, then it serves no purpose. Indeed, should we not allow the past to instruct us in how to live better and more wisely, the past is, as the poet Carl Sandburg said, no more than “a bucket of ashes.”

This diva didn’t think she would manage a new blog post today. For one thing, physical exhaustion is something I’ve been battling since I awakened yesterday. This being the case, it wasn’t a good time to be betrayed. But, you know, things like betrayal don’t come at the times that are most convenient for us! *wink* In fact, I would say that they are more likely to come at inopportune moments. However, I have a bit of encouraging news: sometimes we’re dealt our hardest blows in life just before everything takes  a turn-around for the better. So, the next time somebody who pretended to be your friend turns out to be an enemy instead, just know that the void they create in your world by no longer being in it will leave room for somebody or something wonderful.

Make each moment matter. . .make each day count. And live with passion and enthusiasm!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

 

This page and all written material at The Success Diva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate. The Success Diva