By Linda Adams, President of GTI
This implies your true voice must be lost. More likely, it’s been silenced. It’s silenced when we “act” like the leader or the parent or in accordance with other roles we have. It’s silenced by the “shoulds” that dictate much of our behavior in relationships with others. It’s silenced by our need to avoid criticism or rejection, to not make waves, to not be seen as different, to not hurt others, to avoid disagreements and conflicts.
Silencing ourselves exacts a huge price. When we hide our real needs and feelings in our interactions with other people, we also hide them from ourselves. When we compromise our values and needs to please others, when so much of our energy is spent on appearing to be someone we aren’t, not only are we misunderstood, but even more importantly, we lose touch with what our true needs, values, aspirations, opinions, and feelings are–our truth, our voice.
Unfortunately, it’s considered “normal” to silence our real selves, especially in the workplace. But consider the steep price we pay in terms of both physical and psychological health. When we manipulate ourselves to appear to be what we are not, we create the conditions for illness. Stress results when there’s a dissonance between how we feel or think and what we say or do. And there is an overwhelming amount of research that shows all of the many ways that stress damages our health and shortens our lives.
Some of this tendency to hide our true selves is rooted in our upbringing. Most of us have grown up and still live in authoritarian environments. Someone else has the answers–first parents, then teachers, and now bosses–and sometimes spouses/partners. The result of this is that we learn to look outside ourselves and rely on others for guidance and direction.
And because being in conflict with others is uncomfortable and upsetting, most of us tend to avoid it by repressing our strong feeling or needs. The predictable result is anger and resentment and ultimately damage to both our relationships and ourselves.
Being Oneself–That’s the Goal, What Are the Steps to Get There?
How many deeply satisfying interactions with other people do you have–the kind where you realize that being engaged in discussion with this person/s enriches your life because each is being open and honest? Each is speaking with their real voice. How many truly fulfilling choices and decisions do you make about your plans, your goals, your work, your life?
The well-known psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, defined being one’s authentic self as “wholeheartedness” – “the ability to be without pretense, to be emotionally sincere, be able to put the whole of oneself into one’s feelings, one’s work, one’s beliefs.”
As we all are painfully aware, this is much easier said than done. It takes great courage and an ever-present commitment, but the payoff is more than worth the effort.
The first step is taking time to figure out what your fundamental beliefs and needs are. What do you truly value and believe now? Do you believe that you “own” your life and that you have the freedom to shape it? Does this apply to other people–your team members, your family–as well?
Authentic, non-blameful self-disclosure is a natural outcome of taking responsibility for your own life. The courage and ability to communicate your thoughts so others can know you and you can know yourself is a powerful, exciting way of communicating. But the thought of giving our opinions and expressing our ideas often brings on a great deal of anxiety. How will others react? Will they accept me? Often we need to re-learn how to speak up because we have silenced ourselves for so long, we have lost the ability.
Fortunately, there’s help to be had. Over the past 40 years, a science of relationships and what causes them either to flourish or flounder has developed. A key component of this new science is skill training for leaders, team members and others which teaches them how to express themselves in ways that increase the likelihood of being heard and understood.
As Rollo May put it in his book, The Courage to Create, “If you do not express your own original ideas; if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”
Think of the potential that is being lost when we betray our true selves. Imagine what could be if we all truly listened to our own beings and had the courage to align our actions with what we heard.