I’ve been thinking today about the things that enable/allow/prevent us from being our authentic self and what impact this has on our minds and bodies. There is a cost of not being our authentic self.
For those of us who work heavily with attachment, we know the importance of attunement and mirroring by the primary caregiver on the developing infant and their sense of self.
When our primary caregiver sends the message, “I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I love you just as you are”. Well, that’s the creation of the internal world right there! As adults it becomes ‘money in the bank of resilience’. When we feel insecure, we go back to those moments of ‘it’s OK to be me’. Alternatively, with little or no attunement and mirroring we don’t learn who we are. Or that it’s OK to be us. In turn, we wrestle with, ‘I am ____________ but I am not allowed to be this.
Fear of rejection, abandonment, ridicule, reproach can not only prevent us from being authentically us, they can have dire consequences on our resilience, our mental health and also on our physical health.
Many people I work with who have had to hide themselves, emotionally speaking and/or an attribute of their identity, end up with a mind/body disconnect. It’s the brain’s way of ‘dealing’ with constant misattunement.
We don’t really know the full cost of not being our authentic self. It can take years of unlearning and re-learning to be able to lift the mind/body separation. To allow for and learn self-attunement. The impacts can be severe. Many suffer with chronic fatigue syndromes (part of this is the body getting us to listen) and other long-term health conditions with little or no hope of the situation improving.
I am passionate about helping clients to gradually allow themselves to connect different parts of themselves. Also, in supervision, it is vital that we can be our authentic self. There’s a vast difference between affirmative therapy/supervision and something much more benign like “I am happy to work with anyone; I treat people the same”. It essentially repeats that pattern of not being attuned to and mirrored.
We can’t be all things to all people but we can learn affirmative processes for areas such as working with LGBTQIA+, BAME, disabled, neurodiverse and differently classed clients and supervisees.
I’ve experienced a number of supervisors over the years and thankfully there are only a few unhelpful moments. However, working with a queer supervisor, the difference is massive in terms of me being able to show up as my authentic self, unapologetic about my identity. Knowing I’ll be understood on that level help to free me up to think more openly about my clinical work. This in turn helps each person I work with.
Internalised shame – the cost of not being our authentic self
When we’ve lived, for any length of time, in a world that tells us that we are different/bad/wrong/sinful this is what we internalise however hard we try not to. That’s why affirmative work is so important as we are starting from minus figures essentially. We have to put something back in rather than simply be blank and bland about it.
So where do we learn affirmative therapy/supervision? Sadly I am not convinced there is enough affirmative content within therapy training programmes. So the onus is on ourselves to be accountable for what we need to learn. It isn’t enough, for example, to simply use a client’s name and pronoun as requested – we need to understand why it’s important. It’s not a level playing field. We need to understand the battle fought to get to that point; the discrimination faced. That’s what moves it from “I work with anyone” to “I see you, I hear you and I love/respect you as you are”.