AUTHENTICITY IS FLEXIBLE
Who you are ‘authentically’ in any given moment is a constantly changing thing. In this article we’re going to have a look at how GUILT plays a role in deciding what it means to be authentic.
In every new moment you are exposed to a unique combination of thoughts, mood, inner sensations and environmental factors. The potential variety of combinations is so impossibly vast that you will never ever repeat an experience in exactly the same way. In fact it’s impossible to repeat anything exactly twice, as the factor of how long you’ve been alive is always increasing.
The idea that authenticity is rigidly consistent is ridiculous and impossible, yet we get attached to our ‘identity’ – a completely unchanging structure – as if it somehow makes sense. It’s like sticking with the first mobile phone to ever be invented and never upgrading.
However, there is some consistency to being authentic, a kind of compass that keeps everything flexibly but assertively steered towards a certain understanding of what is ‘right’. It comes through living by your values. Yet even values themselves are flexible. For example, imagine the millions of different ways that you could be ‘courageous’. The idea of courage being acting in spite of fear is consistent, but the manifestation of courageous behavior could be anything from saying “No” to your boss through to taking a bullet for a friend.
Authenticity is not a solid identity structure but a flowing, adaptable state that adjusts to all new variables to remain powerful, joyful and free of guilt. Authenticity is water; identity is ice. Water will always find a way to survive as successfully as possible, whereas ice can be shattered or melt. Today we’re going to look at how one type of guilt turns you into ice, while a different type of guilt can guide you back to a flexible, water-like state of flow.
Who do you wish you were?
All of my work around authenticity is based on a central hypothesis: that deep down you know who you are supposed to be. As supercoach Michael Neill once quoted: “We are all diamonds, covered in horse-shit, covered in nail polish”.
You started out right when you were a child (diamond), but then the adults in society started covering that up with their fears, insecurities and limiting beliefs (horseshit). After a while, you came to accept this distorted view of who you are, and mistook it for the person you are supposed to be. This filled you with dread because you didn’t like what you saw. Your solution to this dilemma, as part of the brain’s natural process for removing guilt, was to attempt to make the mutated understanding of your ‘self’ palatable; you tried your best to make this shameful version of yourself look acceptable (nail polish).
In simple terms, over time we start to observe just how frightened we are all the time, and we constantly feel guilty about this. Sometimes it’s too shameful to even consciously acknowledge, so instead we just get sensations of frustration, pressure and powerlessness. We become victims of the persona we were tricked into becoming, and out of a desperate need to be significant we cling to these identities, as if we would drown without them.
As I’ve often spoken about before, the identity I used to cling to was being Mr Nice Guy. The fears I had been influenced and controlled by my entire life were based on a misunderstanding of social acceptance. Society had raised me to believe that having someone dislike me or disapprove of me was a bad thing; something to be ashamed of. This is the horse-shit that got piled on top of my intuitive childhood confidence, and it overshadowed more helpful beliefs like making mistakes is how we learn and if people don’t like you for who you are then it is not worthwhile spending time with them.
Deep down I knew that something was wrong, because I could see evidence everywhere of people not being ‘nice’ and yet still getting the things in life that I craved. As the weight of the guilt became unbearable, my mind went into overdrive to rationalize being controlled by fears the way I was. My mind convinced me/itself that being a Nice Guy was something to be proud of.
I told myself that people who were assertive were jerks, people who took care of themselves were selfish, and people who had fun were lazy. I applied this ‘nail polish’ justification to my shame to make it look good, which trapped me into a high-pressure pattern of constantly fighting to maintain my Nice Guy identity.
Guilt can be your friend; it can be the single most recognizable warning sign that you are stepping away from authenticity. But there are different types of guilt, and knowing the difference can decide whether or not you learn how to become confidently authentic.
Toxic guilt is the feeling you get when you are not being the identity society says you are supposed to be. This is the identity that the adults in your life raised you to believe was acceptable, attractive and safe. When I was clinging to my Nice Guy identity, I would feel toxic guilt whenever I disappointed someone or somehow contributed to someone else’s pain. Any time I saw myself deviate from what I believed a Nice Guy was, it would physically hurt, like a warm wash of acid flushing through my guts.
Authentic guilt is different; it’s a deeper and more meaningful feeling, a pang of pain that touches your very soul when the highest and most enlightened part of your brain recognizes The Authenticity Gap opening up. This is the guilt that comes from not living by your core values, which has almost nothing to do with what society wants from you. At the beginning of this post I asked you “Who do you wish you were?” This is not that same as “What is your identity?” and it’s important that you know the difference.
The difference: Toxic guilt is felt when you create distance between your behavior and your identity, whereas authentic guilt is when you create distance between your behavior and your values. I call this feeling The Authenticity Gap.
Toxic guilt is usually short-term; an immediate response to what you perceive as negative feedback. This is like when someone yells at you for making a mistake and you feel ‘bad’ about it. Authentic guilt is different. It happens later, once the fear has gone away, and it is a much worse feeling – a painful and sickening regret that is difficult to even acknowledge.
Authentic guilt is when you remember being yelled at the day before, but rather than feeling bad about getting yelled at, you hate yourself for not being more assertive. You brain has registered your behavior and taken time to consider it, allowing for the rational frontal lobe of your brain to analyze it and compare it to the ideal person you wish you were. And your assessment came back as a failure.
For most people authentic guilt happens so late after the event that they feel helpless to do anything about it. It builds up over time because it is not dealt with quickly or effectively (overcoming authentic guilt requires courage whereas overcoming toxic guilt usually means taking the easy way out). Before too long it is no longer recognizable as ‘guilt’. Instead it morphs into other forms, like stress, depression, rage, self-loathing and apathy.
By welcoming authentic guilt, seeing it as a messenger telling us you how to change into the person you wish you were, everything starts to become clearer. Instead of trying to convince yourself that it would have been ‘inappropriate’ to stand up to the person who yelled, you can acknowledge that standing up for yourself would make you feel better long term. You can accept this information as advice, given from your highest self to your frightened self.
Dealing with toxic guilt usually requires doing something you are comfortable with, like bowing down to other people. Dealing with authentic guilt on the other hand requires discomfort; doing something that scares you a little and creates a perceived risk of negative consequences, like standing up to people.
Behaviors you feel frightened to do are often what is required to close The Authenticity Gap (though there are exceptions). Once you can accept this a whole new world of opportunity becomes immediately available to you, to the point of being completely limitless.
If you want to remove the toxic guilt in your life and be proud of yourself every day, check out the Confident Mindset Inner Circle – for free
IT’S ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU DO
Your brain is constantly recording, measuring and analyzing evidence, all the time, whether you are consciously aware of it or not.
Due to the infinite number of variables affecting you at any given time, you will never experience a single moment that is exactly the same as any other single moment. Yet you will feel as if you are repeating things because your brain is constantly categorizing and stereotyping to make the random chaos of reality easier for you to manage.
That means if you want your brain to work towards confidence and authenticity, you will need to show it the right evidence to create helpful patterns and categories. The brain cannot really tell the difference between what you imagine and what is real, and records each of these with equal enthusiasm. If you have constant thoughts about needing to stick to your identity, then your brain will eventually create patterns that reinforces the identity, as it interprets your constant thoughts as reality.
We cannot consciously control thoughts, just like we can’t control the weather. Often the very act of trying to control thought leads to psychological issues, with extreme cases being shown through things like depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Much of the self-help content out there is aimed at helping you try to ‘control’ your mind, with measurably unhelpful practices like positive-affirmations being thrown about, as if they’re a cure to ‘bad’ thinking.
Luckily, there is something out there that overrides thought: Behaviour.
Changing your behaviour can create evidence for your brain which is much harder to deny than thoughts or feelings. And unlike thoughts, which ‘pop’ into your conscious mind, and feelings, which are a physical sensation that automatically generates as part of the thought process, behaviour can be controlled through conscious decision-making processes (or at least the illusion of such).
The simplest and most effective way to create the evidence your brain needs to make helpful patterns is to act right. When you engage in behavior that aligns with your values and the best information you have available at the time, you will create evidence towards the simple belief that being authentic is good.
With each piece of evidence of ‘being authentic is good’ that you receive, your irrational fears and insecurities weaken their grip on the controls. Through taking the right actions you can prove your ‘identity’ wrong!
Let go of trying to control your thoughts and feelings for a while. Go forward with a simple idea: focusing on behavior, and learning what it means to do what is ‘right’ through trial and error, guided by your authentic guilt.
We are raised to believe that we must have the ‘good’ thoughts and feelings in order to do the ‘right’ thing, but this is a complete myth. You can do the right thing any time you want, no matter how you feel or what thoughts are crowding up your mind. You don’t need to feel confident, brave, smart, clear or focused to do the right thing, you can do it in spite of almost any internal barriers. I had one client who was able to do the right thing during a full-blown panic attack.
If she can do it, you can too.
Think of the last time you deliberately put yourself in a fearful situation, like starting something new or trying something dangerous. Even though your mind was racing and your heart was pumping and you felt light-headed, were you still able to make your body go through the necessary actions? Perhaps it’s been a while since you did this, maybe you can barely remember the last time.
If that’s the case then you’re in for some fun adventures.
hey awesome post Dan, and keeping my behavior in mind because of this! the line that spoke to me the most was:
“You can do the right thing any time you want, no matter how you feel or what thoughts are crowding up your mind. You don’t need to feel confident, brave, smart, clear or focused to do the right thing, you can do it in spite of almost any internal barriers. “