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Is being yourself really scary?

People are it seems really confused around the issue of identity and authenticity, especially when communicating with or presenting themselves to others. The comment “just be yourself”, sounds very simple but is actually a minefield for many of us. Being yourself can mean to enter into a state of authentic being, but you might not be able to work out what that is or how you do it. To put yourself out there in a genuine way can feel very scary since we can feel very vulnerable and we don’t know how it will go down with others. What if we get ridicule or hostility?

Being yourself can be tricky

It’s all the more  tricky when various “celebrities” and PR-savvy people seem to be doing a pretty good job of it, with whom we compare ourselves negatively, until that is we hear that there’s a crisis of confidence in public figures, a cynicism and distrust which seems to suggest that actually what we’re getting isn’t truly honest and authentic. This is often described as the age of narcissism, the false self, self-absorbed and “me first” orientated, presenting some seemingly convincing image but actually wrought with anxiety about whether it is “good enough”. Many people are now asking for honesty and trustworthiness. If you are presenting a “self” that people don’t get, there’s a problem.

Knowing who you are

Being  yourself presupposes you know who you are. Do you know who the being is who you are trying to be?! That can need working out and it isn’t necessarily easy, especially knowing where to start. It’s really important to do some training where you need to share with others in a group and part of the work to involve sharing yourself authentically. It is in groups that you can get the feedback, and people can be very straight about what’s missing. You can learn from that. It’s also important to work on getting connected with yourself emotionally, to sense how you are really feeling, and learn to trust what your body and your feelings are telling you in any given situation. Then learn to express that, so that what you then share is connected with all levels of your being.

At all levels

This brings us to the importance of knowing yourself at all levels of your being, which is not only intellectual and rational but also emotional and sensed as stated above, and also spiritual. Sensing your spiritual side is unfashionable but something that people can sense intuitively. Thus when you are connected at all levels and speak from there, you open yourself to connect with all levels of the other person too, and to others in a group for example. This is the level of the connectedness we have with all others, in the sense that we are all One. So when you are thus connected, you are in touch with a force that we all know even if not consciously, and people can feel almost automatically drawn to you. This is arguably the challenge of the modern age, to use this age of instant communication to connect with all people through our Oneness. To be so aware of being yourself brings a whole new dimension to knowing yourself and being yourself.

Thus real authenticity is to be complete at all levels of your Being, so that you can truly be your Self.

You can still opt out of it all if you choose, and go and find and be yourself on your own or with like-minded. But you might at some level still find yourself needing to deal with the challenge of connecting with less like-minded people. After all, what we resist, we get.

I give coaching to help people overcome their fears, be themselves and communicate effectively with others. To contact me, click here.

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Being in integrity means facing our own demons

How often has something not worked out for you in relation to another because of an issue with being in integrity? For example, how much do you find you aren’t fully trusting of another and where they are coming from, or for that matter they with you? Do you find you aren’t always fully consistent yourself and maybe don’t always show up quite as you think you ought. A useful test can be how you feel, like a certain discomfort, guilt or even shame.

In transactions with another, often key to a successful outcome is the level of trust that exists. A key part of trust is often the integrity of each. We can get ourselves into all sorts of knots over this. There’s the matter of being true to our values. Then there’s the whole thing about honesty, and whether we quite mean what we say. Sometimes, to get ourselves out of a tricky situation or to get what we want we might make compromises. Then we run the risk of being exposed at some point, or simply having to face up to our own breach of our code. That is of course, if you have one!

It’s a  big issue in public life of course right now, with levels of trust in for example politicians, bankers, journalists and estate agents being particularly bad. In the UK it’s currently really bad for politicians right now, and probably elsewhere too, where apparently a half of Britons think they put their own interests first. However, this also applies to attitudes to different elements of our communities, since there’s also marked distrust of for example immigrants and welfare dependents. Such distrust can also mirror life for ourselves, where in difficult times our trust in others shrinks.

It can be useful however to look to ourselves too. How much does my distrust of others mirror a lack of integrity in myself? In terms of the concept of the Shadow, distrust of others can be a projection. It challenges us to look within and see just how much we are who we say we are. Is there a grain of truth here?

Integrity has three main meanings, according to the OED. It can mean being of  sound moral principles, such as honesty. It can also mean being whole or complete. Thirdly it can mean sound and uncorrupted. Werner Erhard used to articulate a fascinating application, effectively, are you true to your word, are you who you say you are? His call to people was to clean up their act and be authentic.

This really takes us inside to look at where we don’t always show up, where we compromise our values, and create murky situations and leave devastation in our wake. How often do you get into being principled for example, and then cut someone up while driving? It’s easy to preach about others, and not so easy to see it in ourselves. As Christ said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and also first cast out the beam from your own eye before removing the speck from another (he was a carpenter).

It’s very human. We can at one moment feel very pure and whole, and then the next get challenged by something that compromises our values. The universe test us: make a stand for something, and you’ll get tested. Thus it’s so often an ongoing journey and along the way learning more of humility and acknowledging our own tendencies to not always get it as we’d like.

However, in the process we become more authentic and more open to ourselves and to knowing all of ourselves, warts and all. Not for nothing do many spiritual teachers from many traditions teach of purification, of gradually weeding out these tendencies we have to contradict our thoughts, words and deeds.

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Being challenged by openness privacy and secrecy

Recent events have been nicely highlighting an old dilemma we humans face, how much we reveal of ourselves to others. In the public domain, phone hacking and surveillance touches a raw nerve. Yet in the personal domain we may wish to express ourselves openly and without fear, or by contrast to hold closely to ourselves what we feel unsafe to reveal to others. We may feel under pressure to be more open than we wish to be. Yet a whole trend in social affairs is towards being more open in self-disclosure, even to the extent for some of “to let it all hang out there”.

In the public domain, contrasting challenges about privacy, secrecy and openness are presented in issues such as the mobile-phone hacking scandal and the Snowden revelations of spooks’ surveillance of the internet. At one moment there is consternation over journalists hacking into a murdered child’s phone and at another of our internet communication being accessible to spies and (in the UK) efforts made to censor journalists’ disclosures. Yet we want to know more about abuses of power by the privileged and the powerful. People take to the streets against authoritarianism, corruption and embedded elites. We want freedom of expression but then we also want to curtail others’ exercise if not abuse of those freedoms. It’s an old issue.

In the business environment people may hold up approvingly the value of openness, the extent to which for example you share and discuss and involve others, and allow for plurality of views, or the extent to which you share of yourself and are “your own person”, in other words authentic. Leaders who lead best are those who are genuine and achieve emotional resonance with others. In public life, we devote (and/or the media devotes) huge attention to celebrities and to talent and reality shows where the most successful are arguably those who are the most genuine and deemed worthy of our trust, the last-mentioned of course being a quality at present in diminished supply.

In the personal domain, we cherish our privacy and yet we’re curious of the behaviour of others, and often quick to pass judgement. There’s aspects we keep closely to ourselves and might not want to reveal to others. For some, such revelation is potentially humiliating, and can trigger old shame responses and reminders of our own history we’d rather not be put in touch with. Embarrassment and shame are very powerful childhood patterns that can limit us as adults.

Yet we don’t like it when others keep things from us and behave secretly. We want others to be open with us and let us know where we stand with them. We for example expect our partners to share of themselves and thus help us to trust and feel safe with them. People want to know how we really feel about something. Some are more effective at sharing how they feel than others. For example you can see what problems ensue in TV soaps’ plot lines, which are often built around a failure to disclose. Some societies and cultures do it “better” than others. Some may go OTT on it and we now talk of variations on narcissism by those who look open and genuine but are presenting a grandiose and even a false self to others.

The trend towards greater openness and authenticity, which observers of cultural trends would argue is what is going on, poses potential difficulties for us, both at a public level, in our work and in our interpersonal relationships. Yet, what can be missed in all this is the potential that authenticity presents us with. Being who we really are brings others closer to us. We trust each other more, and can collaborate much better. The glue that holds society together can be healthier and much more effective. We can get far more of what we need, and…it is so much easier.

So often in personal development, when people cross the “authenticity” threshold, it feels like a breakthrough, like one has let go of a whole lot of baggage and constraint, and a massive sense of freedom and love floods in. Maybe our society has this journey to make too, since the personal and the interpersonal are so often closely intertwined.

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People need to feel more connected to you

Do you find yourself talking about a matter perhaps quite close to you and somehow people don’t seem to quite understand? You might for example be talking and there’s a non-reaction in your audience, like there’s no energy in the room, and people looked switched off, and perhaps bored and distracted. It’s likely that they’re disengaged. So how do you get them so they’re more connected to you and what you’re saying?

Today people need to get from you how it really is. Which sounds good, except that often you don’t know how to convey it, at least not in a way that people really get it. This can be about moving from your facade to how it really feels.

Talking from your facade can be quite easy. It might be habitual. Your facade might be what you present to the world, what you think works with others, behind which you can operate quite safely. Jung called it the “persona”. That way you can keep people from getting uncomfortably close, especially those that haven’t passed the entry test yet.

A clue can be in that you talk “about” something. You might use words like “it is” rather than “I think” or “I feel”. “It” is further away, at the level of the facade. It’s not that you’re being false necessarily, and then you might be, but just that you’re keeping it “out there”, not close in “here”. “Aboutism” is how we talk about what’s going on in a detached, not so emotional way, as if we’re describing something that tells the listener “about” the matter, without bringing them in close to how you really feel about it, what it does for you, and how really plugs into your emotions.

To move to how it really feels is to make it more personal, like what lights you up about it, what it has to do with your life and with your passions, and how it really matters to you in some way. People then feel they can connect with you, resonate with you, feel like they are more at one with you, like it could be their journey too but it’s your’s that you are talking about.

Some people I think seemingly do this a lot, although even this apparent self-disclosure, tears, warts and all cannot necessarily take you close to them. It’s about how you authentically feel. People can put on a good emotional act. One test is how you feel around them.

Thus, to be able to let people in so that they get you authentically, you may well need to do your own journey to get what your authentic self really is. People often don’t know that and you may not know that either! Also you may need to cross the self confidence and self belief threshold about speaking about yourself in front of others. That can involve letting go of the fear and feeling good about you around others. The two can often go together. Then when you’re clear about that, you can trust to let go and be yourself with others, and truly bring people into your world and know that space truly for maybe the first time.

Knowing who you really are, and being yourself, also involves letting others in. Then it comes full circle and we then really know ourselves completely. For it is also through others that we can come to know ourselves. It’s a paradox.

This is why the journey to being authentic is not just about helping others to really get you, but also to finally help you to fully get you.

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Being who you are brings others closer to you

It can be a big step to share of yourself but it brings others closer to you. If you are being who you are and truly share of yourself others are more likely to trust you. Why is this?

When we learn what is really going on for another, we can potentially get the “real” person. It’s like nothing is hidden, it’s all out there in the open. That’s why organisations often encourage openness, because it helps people to work together better. We feel safer with it. We know what we’re dealing with. Also we can more easily relate to it. We can identify with it, because we can see an aspect of ourselves in it. This is where mirroring is at work, where others reflect back to us an aspect of ourselves.

Thus there’s great power in authenticity. Although it is not so easy to work out which bit of you is the authentic one, especially if in the past you have done a good job of concealing it from others, and even from yourself. So the one who shares of him or her self may seem pretty convincing and people seem to buy into it, but possibly not really. I’ve seen people get lots of endorsements from others as one they trust and believe in, and yet I’ve seen the same person do a good of concealing their real self. It can be such a good act that people believe it. Maybe they want to. But underneath they don’t really. It is a collective act of denial. This can particularly be so of narcissism. Thus I’d suggest that today, where there’s a lot of “me” out there in the public domain, there’s an element that isn’t quite true. People can even do all the right things, down to tears and all, and we can feel really with them. But not all of them.

Because it isn’t so easy as it seems, knowing who we really are. I think we’re better at it than we were, but there’s more work to be done. Really being authentic means knowing who is the “I” that I’m being authentic about. That’s the real challenge.

When we learn to connect with our deeper Self within, there is then no need for posturing and trying to “be” someone, and the rest of the narcissistic stuff. The authentic, real inner Self has nothing to be, and in a sense isn’t anyway. Because there is no longer a sense of a seperate self, which is in any case Ego. We’re all One, and there’s nothing to prove, nowhere to go, nothing to do, just Being, for It’s own sake, in pure humility.

Doesn’t that sound a whole lot easier suddenly?!

And people are then totally at ease around you. In fact they want a bit of it!

I give coaching to help people be themselves in public situations and thus be more effective. Click here.

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How much are you who you say you are?

How much do you live your life in honesty and integrity? Are you who you say you are? It’s a very useful question, all the more relevant in the light of the recent scandals in public life. It’s a good time to check with ourselves. Do we practice for ourselves what we insist of others?

We’ve had a week of devasting revelations about the UK banking industry, whose reputation must have reached a new nadir. Now we have news that the bankers were dishonestly fixing their interbank lending rate, the LIBOR, and artificially inflating their performance. The press have been full of words like honesty, integrity, corruption in corporate culture, and trust. There have also been wider comments about the conduct of the press itself in the light of the News of the World hacking scandal, and its interlinking with politicians right up to the Prime Minister of the day. Not long before we had the MPs’ own scandal of dishonest expenses claims. Let’s hope that enquiries into all this have generated a healthy self-searching amongst people in public life.

To enquire of ourselves too is important. It’s not uncommon for people to practice one thing for themselves and expect another of others. Moreover, people may hold a set of beliefs about being in integrity but fail to practice it, or find reasons why these needn’t apply in certain areas of their lives. The law court records will be full of stories of people who’ve lived like that. The classic example is of course the person who in public is the paragon of virtue, like for example a priest or the judge, but who in their private lives abuse others or themselves. It’s that while the shadow in us is unexplored, owned and dealt with it must find a way to leak out and express itself in some way. People who work with others in a helping role particularly have this challenge, in that otherwise their shadow side can impact their dealings with others. This is one big reason why therapists, coaches and others should receive their own personal development: go for yourself first on the journey that you aspire to lead others along.

Hence it is hardly surprising that there is a howl of outrage when more banking misdeeds are exposed, since at essence people need to trust bankers with their money. So it’s a breakdown in trust. However, this crisis of trust in relation to the powerful is much wider, with concern being expressed about the powerful and wealthy in general. It’s as though the established order itself is in question, since somehow it hasn’t worked for huge numbers of people in many countries. Again, this will have it’s impact at the micro-level too, in a crisis of trust in others and in established arrangements. “Will I be OK,” people wonder, “and will I be OK with this person?” Safety and security are bottom-line concerns, at the base of the Maslow hierarchy of needs. When feeling threatened we revert to these thoughts and feelings.

Yet, this can be dealt with, when we remember to have faith, trust and belief in ourselves, confidence in ourselves, self confidence. Our own “failings” and those of others are ego behaviours, not who we are. Here again is another challenge to re-member.

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So what is this knowing who you are all about?

It’s a current buzz word, knowing and being who you are. In development work, we might be talking about being more yourself, finding who you really are, or being true to yourself. But what does this mean?

We can do work on ourselves to discover more about ourselves, the different “parts” of us, what we are aware of and not aware of, what we think are the parts we like and what we are less comfortable with, what characteristics cause us difficulty, what are our strengths, and so on. It can be a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion, not that it may seem that way, and – if you like onions that is! – the core is the sweetest part. The discovery of who we really are can be a major breakthrough for many people. However along the way we may need to work through some obstacles of the ego, both the layer we present to the world and also the areas we’re less comfortable with that we might hide from others and perhaps too those parts we might even hide from ourselves. Beneath all that lies the real Self. It’s a journey each makes for themselves, in their own time and in their own way, for some very quickly but for others more gradually; for some painfully, for others a fascinating journey into aspects of themselves. Many describe the ultimate breakthrough as joyous, or full of love or a great sense of peace, or a sense of coming home, that all is well with me and all is well with the world.

In the process, people often find they need to be honest with themselves, and probably in the end a lot more honest with others too. Honesty here is about acknowledging that this is who you are, warts and all. Yes, you can be like this, although it is probably your ego and not who you really are. Yes, this is what’s really been going on, this is how you’ve been, and you can change it, stop it or let it go. We might feel embarrassment or shame but that’s more ego, again not who we are. We might think we’ve been wrong, but that too is ego. We might think we’ve now got to get it right, but that too is ego.

It reminds me a bit of the yogic practice of “neti neti”, not this…not this, used in the search for ultimate meaning. We’re peeling back the layers of the ego, to find the jewel that lies within.

There also humility involved too, as we let go of all that stuff that we thought defined us and which we find we no longer need as it doesn’t serve us. This is why the narcissism found in so much personal development ultimately needs to be dissolved in order to find the real self. You just cannot continue to inflate the self and pretend that this is who you are. Not surprisingly, many who have had powerful awakenings in finding who they really are just aren’t likely to tell people about it. They tend to live in obscurity. What’s the point of making a fuss about you if for example you, in the ego sense, doesn’t exist, since All There Is is the One!

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Speaking with the power of authenticity

I was running a training course in leadership for managers last week, about presentation skills, and what was so very clear for these people that what this course was really about was their ability to be authentic, to be who they are, to be true to themselves. When they came over most powerfully was when they spoke with passion, from the heart, like they meant every word, that what they said really mattered, as though in some subtle way it connected with something true inside them. And this connected us with them. We felt with them, right there in the moment, like it connected with something in us. Such power.

This is such an important leadership trait, and yet so sorely neglected: our ability to be authentic and to create resonance with others. I’ve seen people be very disconnected in this way and for people to be disconnected from them in turn. I’ve watched people try it, like turning on the passion bit, and yet still not quite convince. Or we think we are convinced but it turns out to lack substance.

It’s a journey, finding your authenticity. It means coming to know yourself, who you are, and then, in this case, to communicate from that place. So you need to know that self inside and you also need to learn to speak and interact with courage, from the heart, le cour in French, where many of your positive feelings lie.

This journey can be short for some, longer for others, but contrary to what people tend to want, there aren’t quick fixes. It can seem like peeling back the layers of the onion, to find your truth within, getting to know the different parts of yourself, letting go of certain aspects, emphasising others, dropping certain fronts that we present to the world that don’t serve us, healing hurts, recognising that what’s really there inside is OK after all, coming to like or love ourselves, indeed discovering the sheer magnificence of the Self that dwells within.

When you really know yourself, Who your really Are, people just get you. They just get the message. They trust you, believe you. You have true credibility, built on the authentic power of who you are, not on some fiction presented to the world because that is what we think works or what we think people want.

So in this course I mentioned at the start, when people spoke authentically, even the shy ones, even the ones lacking self-confidence, got our attention and engaged us. All very simple, really. No huge effort, just a matter of Being.

This is therefore where developing self awareness is so important.

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Taking action when truly connected to who you really are

Taking action, making changes, moving forward in life and/or in work, we are at our most effective when truly connected to who we are. This is about understanding the nature of authenticity, our true self. But how do we know this for ourselves?

You probably already know it, for example when you feel “in the flow”, in the zone, you can be highly effective. “Flow” is a concept, also called “Optimal experience”, which was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Another example might be being “in love”. You might have had the experience that when in love all things seem, or seemed, possible. You can read about it in poems, hear songs about it, and read novels. A whole era of Romanticism in the 19th century was devoted to it. When people are “in love” they often tend to think that they are somehow truly “themselves”, complete, at one with life. The problem for many of us with this is that it seems to be temporary, and like the Romantics we might find ourselves regreting its loss and be more engaged with that than being present with the feeling of love. People can also confuse wanting love, ie being engaged around the absence of love, than actually engaged with love itself.

However, there’s another aspect to love, one that is for example experienced by meditators or those in deep prayer or contemplation. Here, one may feel a deep sense of love that is not associated with a person and to which many might give a spiritual interpretation. Here there’s no object necessarily, but just the sense of love. Here too one might feel complete and as One.

People report this experience in group work, as I have found through my work, where the depth and level of work has brought the group to feel very bonded and, they often say, “there’s a lot of love here”. Each feels it, but it seems also “in the room”, like we all feel it. I tend to call this “Transpersonal” love.

Reports by people who have had strong breakthrough experiences, either in their own personal work or often in group work too, are similar. They can report that they feel and expanded sense of potential, full of love, complete, “at One”, connected to everybody, and no longer worried or concerned by anything. They say things like they know who they are at last, that they have “come home”, and all is well with themselves and with the world. You can read about this in the work of Steve Taylor.

So, if we’re going to talk about authenticity, there’s several levels to this. There is for example where you might feel you’re being genuine but maybe without a lot of self-awareness around that. Then you might feel you’re being yourself, then you might have found your authentic self as opposed to parts you might have played in the past. At a deeper level, you might move on to have reached a point of Oneness, unity and love. The authenticity we tend to speak of that offers the most powerful and profound breakthroughs is the last of these, that of Oneness, total love.

We work to help people get a clearer sense of who they are in our programs, such as The Point of Awareness.

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How to get that magic ingredient you need to influence others

For me as a coach one major classic issue people want coaching with is how to be influential. It’s like a million dollar question as it can have a great impact on their careers – and/or their relationships.

At one end of the spectrum is the person who is less assertive and needs to step up and make more of an impact to get results. At the other is one who is too aggressive and over-bearing towards others: as one coachee put it to me not long ago, “I get results but I leave bodies.” For others, it is simply that they need to learn the art of navigating organisational politics. They need to promote themselves, build connections, get known, network, create allies, get support, or win friends in high or different places. Some simply need to be able to present themselves better, to sell themselves and their ideas.

I said it has a bearing on relationships, because the work often involves getting closer to people, disclosing more of themselves, listening to people more, and getting more of a sense of what makes people tick – and understanding themselves. One key is often self-awareness, knowing their own button-pushers in themselves and learning to manage themselves and their emotions better.

Yet, at core, I so often find, people who really undertake this journey need to learn to know, love and value themselves. Because, if you want to influence others you need self-belief, that sense inside that “I’m OK just as I am” and authenticity, “This self I am expressing to you is really me…this is me.” You’ll need confidence to do this but also that knowing of who you really are. People buy authenticity above all, from one who believes it!

This can be a challenging journey, because you might need to face truths about yourself and come to terms with them and resolve them. Yet, so often people report that the results vastly outweigh the apparent difficulty at the start, because they often feel better in themselves and, which is vital, others want to be around them more – hence this is one way you get the influence.

This isn’t the only or the fool-proof journey, but it’s one a lot of people take.

If you are curious, and think you might need it for yourself, you can get a free discussion with me about it and explore whether it is right for you.