authentic self

Healthy Friendship, Undistorted Mirrors, and Spiritual Growth

Woman Holding Blank FrameDuring a time of great crisis in my life, my therapist said to me,

"Remember Greg, other people's reactions to you say more about their story than about yours."

I've never forgotten that advice.  I've certainly seen it to be true over and over again.  And it's helped me stay focused and centered and grounded on my truth ... most of the time.

You need to remember this, too, whenever people choose to respond to you in judgmental or critical ways because you've done something or said something they disagree with or oppose.  One of the lessons we learn in life is that people tend to see us through the lens of their own self concept.  They actually are judging themselves vicariously through us.

We are often loved and admired for who people choose to think we are or need us to be rather than who we really are.  And conversely, we are often rejected or snubbed not for who we really are but for who they see us to be and whether we've lived up or not to their projected image of us.

Either way, we are being responded to from their own personal needs not our own.  It's a false self and image.  They're not holding up an undistorted mirror for us to see ourselves as we really are.  They're holding up a picture they've painted of us.  And it's destructive to us if we base our self worth on an illusion.

I love the way Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, puts it:

"Beauty or ugliness really is first of all in the eye of the beholder.  Good people will mirror goodness in us, which is why we love them so much.  Not-so-mature people will mirror their own unlived and confused life onto us, which is why they confuse and confound us so much, and why they are so hard to love."  (p. 153)

For this reason, as Rohr emphasizes, it is a necessity for us to find at least one undistorted mirror that reveals our inner, deepest, and yes, divine image:  a loving, honest friend to help ground us by how they see us in our truth and accept us for our truth.

A Spiritual Dimension of Friendship

This is truly one of the deep spiritual dimensions of friendship and human relationship.  Healthy friendship holds a mirror in front of us so we can see ourselves undistorted, the way we truly are, who we really are.  And that friend who holds the mirror for us says to us, "Whatever you see in this mirror, I love.  I accept you the way you truly are---the real you, not some false image of you that either I or others might project, or even you might project on yourself.  I love and accept You."

I have a friend just like that.  He and I have been on our friendship journey for 15 years or so.  We have talked on the phone or in person whenever we can be together almost every week of those 15 years.  He has held the mirror in front of me through the highs and lows of my life, reminding me of who I really am, no matter how others have responded to me.  That mirror has revealed some ugly things that I tend to shrink away from, as well as some beautiful things I'm drawn to.  But through it all, he has loved, accepted, and affirmed me for who I really am beyond all the externals I and others tend to fixate on.  And that has helped empower my own growth into the person I truly am and want to be.

Rohr makes the observation that

"it is only whose who respond to the real you, good or bad, that help you in the long run" (p. 153).  This is the only kind of love that ever redeems.

That's why my friend Paul has been so empowering and transforming to me through all these years.  Together, we have learned and practiced how to see each other through the lens of our deepest core truth.  And this authentic sight has been instrumental in growing us both spiritually, relationally, and individually.

This is the way God has modeled friendship with us.

"Like any true mirror, the gaze of God receives us exactly as we are, without judgment or distortion, subtraction or addition.  Such perfect receiving is what transforms us.  Being totally received as we truly are is what we wait and long for all our lives.  All we can do is receive and return the loving gaze of God every day, and afterwards we will be internally free and deeply happy at the same time.  The One who knows all has no trouble including, accepting, and forgiving all.  Soon we who are gazed upon so perfectly can pass on the same accepting gaze to all others who need it.  There is no longer any question 'Does he or she deserve it?'"  (Ibid., pp. 159-60)

My friend Paul continues to give God's gift of perfect receiving to me time and again.  I hope I can do the same for him.  After all, it's our deepest human longing and desire---to be loved, accepted, and perfectly received no matter what.  Isn't it?

Are you that kind of friend to someone else?  Do you have this kind of undistorted mirror in your own life?  Is your view of God/the Universe one of perfect receiving of you, who you really are, with no judgment, only acceptance---that you belong here in this world in all of your authentic being---that you truly matter?

Choosing To Be Nobody But Yourself: The Costs and Rewards

authenticity-in-brandingE.E. Cummings once wrote, "To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself---means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight---and never stop fighting."

Wow! That statement really hits me deeply because I know that to be true in my life experience. There's a reason so many people don't go on the search for their authentic self---because it's so hard, sometimes even painful, definitely difficult. You're often battling against your own powerful limiting beliefs, against other people's expectations of and choices for you. It's easier to deny that nagging thought that we might not really be living our authentic selves.

No wonder it often takes a crisis to shake us off our pedestal, forcing us to go on the search for authenticity. When we choose to push against the system of our own beliefs and others' expectations, the system pushes back. You've felt that, haven't you? The systems in our lives use shame, guilt, religious dogmas (which in essence is using the "God" card---"you're going against God's will for you!"). We're told we're being selfish and narcissistic, thinking only of ourselves. "You just need to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others. After all, didn't Jesus say, 'Take up your cross and follow me?' Remember, life isn't just about you."  Those messages are deeply personal and painfully powerful to go up against.

Talk about strong push back. It always happens when you choose to practice authenticity, stepping into the full expression of your true self.

I remember walking the streets, sometimes in the middle of the night, wrestling and struggling with the implications of my choice to live my life rather than the life so many others I looked up to were telling me I was obligated to live. I felt so alone. The weight of the world burdened me down, sometimes even literally, as I felt the loss of so much I had valued in the past. The push back on every level was intense.

But little by little I began to realize that the alternative was even more potentially damaging. Even medical experts these days are recognizing this truth. Here's the way Dr. Brene Brown states it, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are:

"If you're like me, practicing authenticity can feel like a daunting choice---there's risk involved in putting your true self out in the world. But I believe there's even more risk in hiding yourself and your gifts from the world. Our unexpressed ideas, opinions, and contributions don't just go away. They are likely to fester and eat away at our worthiness. I think we should be born with a warning label similar to the ones that come on cigarette packages: Caution: If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief." (p. 53)

Sacrificing who we are for the sake of what other people think we should be just isn't worth it. There might be some short term pay offs (like superficial and conditional acceptance, affirmation, kudos). But the long term damage, as she points out, are brutal.

So what do you do when you're experiencing the Big Push Back? Brene Brown says she repeats three simply phrases to herself:

Don't shrink. Don't puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.

That's right. Your true Self is sacred ground. It's who God sees you to be and believes for you.

That's why Jesus, when the Devil tempted him to doubt his true Self, refused ... three times in a row ... in the middle of the hot desert ... when he was at his tiredest, hungriest, weakest.

"I don't need to do anything to prove myself to you, Devil, or to please anyone else's expectations for me. I know my truth because it came straight from the mouth of God when He told me, "You are my Beloved Son; I believe in you; I'm proud of you! Period!"

So next time you're feeling the Big Push Back, whether from your own inner doubts or other people or powerful institutions, remember to do three things:

Don't shrink! Don't puff up! Stand on your Sacred Ground!

And when you do, remember you're in good company. Even Jesus did that.

So here's to choosing authenticity. Here's to fighting the good fight. Here's to all the health and well being that come from standing in your truth.

And if you need some support to do this, write me ( and I'll suggest some ways I can be helpful.