When couples enter my office, they often report that they have a communication problem. This may be true, but more importantly, they are often having difficulty being authentic — both with themselves and with each other.
The foundation for healthy and vibrant connections is forged through authentic mutual sharing of what each person is experiencing inside, along with how they communicate their experience to each other.
Many of us pride ourselves on being authentic, but authenticity is a tricky term. It points toward an ongoing process of uncovering what’s percolating deep inside us.
We may pride ourselves on being authentic when we express our “honest” opinion about what’s wrong with someone or become rageful. But this doesn’t qualify as authentic communication. Attacking, judging, and blaming others is far from what it means to be real and honest.
Authenticity involves a sincere effort to go inside ourselves and uncover what we’re actually experiencing, and then communicate that. True authenticity requires that we pause and check in with ourselves before responding, rather than sloppily venting emotions in a reactive way.
Here are two key ingredients that comprise a robust and interpersonally engaging authenticity.
- Being mindful.There can be no authenticity without mindful awareness of what we’re actually experiencing. Mindfulness means attending to our experience just as it is without judging ourselves. We allow our experience to be just as it is.
Oftentimes, we don’t allow ourselves to experience what is because it’s contaminated by shame. We imagine that something is wrong with us for having particular feelings. We try to fit ourselves into some image of how we think we need to be in order to be respected or loved. We judge ourselves as weak or defective if we experience uncomfortable feelings, such as sadness, hurt, or fear. We may be convinced that if we showed vulnerability to others, they’d be so horrified that they’d reject us or think less of us.
But vulnerable feelings are simply a part of being human. It’s a great strength to embrace our humanity, not a weakness. Bringing a gentle mindfulness to the full range of our human experience and disclosing this to people we want to be close to creates a climate for rich connections.
By being mindful of what we’re experiencing from moment to moment, we stay connected to ourselves. This intimacy with ourselves creates a foundation for being more intimate with others. Noticing and sharing our authentic experience invites people toward us. Allowing a person to see what’s real for us, we invite them into our heart.
- Being kind.We’ve probably known people who are kind but emotionally dishonest. They hide their genuine feelings, leaving us to guess about how they feel or what they want. It’s difficult to connect with people who are not sincere and direct. We may choke on their sweetness when it’s not linked with authenticity.
However, the attempt to be real without the softening ingredient of kindness can quickly morph into brutality.
Mindfulness wedded to kind communication is a powerful force. Being aware of our feelings and wants and conveying them in a kind way is more likely to be well-received.
Human hearts are tender. People become less defensive and more receptive when we communicate our feelings, not only genuinely, but with a gentleness that takes to heart how vulnerable we all are.
In Buddhism, “Right Speech” is one part of Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Before speaking, we might pause and ask ourselves: Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?
In my work as a couples therapist, I notice how connections become deeper and sweeter as the couple becomes mindful of what they’re authentically experiencing — and as they cultivate the courage and skills to convey this in kind and gentle ways.
Rather than struggle to change, fix, or analyze each other, love thrives in a climate of mutual authenticity bathed in the gentle waters of kindness. People who feel safe being together are naturally drawn into a deeper participation in each other’s hearts.