Recently, Darling magazine contributor and journalist Stephanie May wrote a beautiful article about love, vulnerability and making ourselves known. In discussing the world of dating, she talked about the scary corners we enter into when the illusions of romanticism fade into the background and we are truly seen.
As a psychologist specializing in women’s health and wellness, I often meet women who wish to leap into the waters of dating, yet something holds them back. Sometimes it is fear, past hurt/rejection, or familial/societal messages that over time, instilled deep feelings of not being “good” enough or deserving of lasting and stable love. Below, in referencing Stephanie’s article, I answer some common questions that arise when we prepare ourselves for the path of authenticity.
How do we prepare our emotional/spiritual selves for the journey of finding lasting love?
Scary as it may be, openness yields intimacy. When emotionally preparing for the possibility of lasting love, a great starting place lies in exploring our existing relationships. For most of us, there are people with whom we let down our guards and are truly seen. This may happen with close friends or family, at work, or even through our own spiritual practices. In tuning into our internal relational maps, we can better understand ourselves, and birth the insight necessary to lay down the foundation for the rest of the journey.
Is there anything harmful about being inauthentic?
Often times, inauthenticity emerges when it does not feel emotionally safe to be who we are. And unfortunately, our culture contributes to this feeling. There are abundant societal messages, which reinforce that women must attain an “ideal” appearance in order to meet the “ideal” mate.
Attaching to these faulty beliefs often causes our values to go haywire. When we devote energy towards the external, it is often an attempt to cover up the deep and normal insecurities that awaken when we feel vulnerable and exposed.
And so often, these dynamics create the ideal conditions for inauthenticity to emerge. When we depend so heavily upon our external selves to provide an internal feeling of okay-ness, an insatiable quality erupts, because in order to survive, inauthenticity relies heavily upon more “superficial” ways of being to maintain self-esteem. This suffocating dynamic leads to emotional suffering that may manifest as excessive worry, insecurity, profound sadness and loneliness.
There is so much pressure on women to attain an “ideal” appearance, especially when dating someone new, how can we combat these societal messages?
The pressure on women to attain external beauty is rampant in our culture. When we internalize these messages as truths, we enter the waters of what I refer to as the “if only,” game. “If only I was thinner, prettier, smarter, then I would be….” This unfulfilling spiral leads us to search for a panacea that will soothe these erupted and disrupted feelings of inadequacy.
Over time, attaching to these societal messages leads us to embody a false self, one filled with isolation and misunderstanding. In the landscape of less than and not enough, we are left holding feelings of deep insecurity as we try to perfect instead of accept ourselves.
We can combat these messages, and more importantly the feelings that accompany them by being mindful of the language we use amongst our friends and family. For example, as women, how often do we ask a friend how a particular piece of clothing makes us look? Unfortunately, the pressure and emphasis on how women appear is deeply embedded in our culture. We can challenge these messages by choosing language that supports and empowers the development of our emotional versus physical selves.
In her article, Stephanie talks about how we “can not be fully loved if we are not fully known.” How can we become comfortable enough in our own skin so that we can embody authenticity?
Finding love doesn’t come by perfecting our external selves, or by diminishing our words by not speaking our truths. Quite the opposite: by acknowledging and examining what we don’t know and have yet to learn, we make room for curiosity and introspection. It’s in these tender moments that vulnerability emerges and intimacy if formed. When we lean into our vulnerabilities, often our expectations soften, and acceptance, instead of being a sign of weakness or defeat, validates that we are doing our very best, just as we are. By honoring and validating the company of the self, we nurture the most important love relationship of all, and it’s in this space that authenticity develops and true love is fully born.
One of my favorite childhood books, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” talks about the “realness” of human relationships. In this story, the Velveteen rabbit is told, “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you. You become. When someone loves you for a long, long time, you become real. And once you are real, you can’t become unreal. It lasts for always.”
Image via A Well Traveled Woman