Looking at a friend’s Facebook post today, after a day of doing couples therapy, then listening to a squabble about theology in the Catholic church on the radio, I am struck by how hard it is to live authentically. I realize that as a therapist, and as Christian, that is my goal for people, but it’s not one a whole lot of people even think about or consider, let alone seek. Virginia Satir, my model for both family and church systems, says that about 1% of people live an authentically.
It’s been so long that I’ve even heard the concept on general conversation, that I thought I would raise it here. Authentic living is this: using your emotions and your thoughts, and your spiritual self and your beliefs beliefs about the way the world should be and acting on them all as often as you can, maybe even all the time.
Living authentically is easier, I think when you’re single and on your own. The minute you are in community or a relationship or with others in any way that means anything, it becomes that much harder to remain true to yourself. If you are true to yourself and the other person or people are true to themselves, there’s going to be disagreement — a difference of opinion. Whether that difference becomes an “issue” depends on a whole lot of factors — self-esteem, maturity, love, ability to cope, past history, etc. Whether that issue becomes a conflict/war is also due to a number of factors — systemic things, individual things, thing things.
Thoreau once said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. By “men”, I assume he meant “people”, but I also know that it’s true that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. The economic system and making a living, being a “good man” requires putting yourself aside at times, just as (I’m pretty sure, but don’t know know) that being a “good woman” requires doing so, Once people are depending on you — children, especially — there are times when you have to put their needs ahead of yours.
The problem is as Thoreau said, “quiet desperation” if you do it too much. Maybe our current fascination with zombies is that we often feel like the walking dead or at least the walking wounded given pressures of our time. If you raise your children to believe things that you don’t because you’ve kept yourself to yourself, it’s going to be miserable for you. If you treat your spouse or partner in ways that only work for them, again you’ll feel miserable, then resentful, then “boom” — something will explode in the relationship. If you work for a company that — for instance, makes bombs — or are part of a gang that does things that you believe are immoral — no matter how much money you make, you’ll feel that something’s wrong — because it is.
On the other hand, living authentically feels right, and strong, and real. Sometimes we have to be alone to hear ourselves think. We need to rest to do so. We need to read and think or contemplate the universe or have some system of beliefs to know what you think and don’t think. How many of us live lives always with others,or as roles? It doesn’t happen as much any more, but there are a lot of women out there who have been somebody’s child, then somebody’s girlfriend, then somebody’s wife without ever just being themselves. How many of us are too busy and tired, or without any contemplation about how things should be?
As I said, it’s hard to be authentic in the present world, but it’s still a goal worth having.