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On Being Yourself May 15, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Family, Friends, Love, Parenting/Children, Religion.
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What does it mean to “be yourself.” These days, it seems we are constantly hearing someone extolling the virtues of being “genuine.” What does it really mean?

Being Rapunzel

My Mom used to “let her hair down” with me from time to time. In other words, she would step out of “mom mode,” and just share from the heart. This meant she was going to drop as much pretense and facade as she could, and let me see her real thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes, it was difficult for me to understand what she meant, or accept what she had to say. After all, it’s not always easy to think of your Mom as someone who is a regular human being. Other moms may be depressed, or frustrated, but not yours. Other moms may have sexual thoughts or fantasies, but not yours. She’s not just a mom… she’s your Mom [capitalization intentional]. (Note: Mom did not make a habit of sharing her sexual thoughts and fantasies with me. I used that as a “for instance.”)

One of the best aspects of Mom letting her hair down was her ability to teach me spiritual truths in this mode. Whether it was my horror at her language on the way to the hospital, or her willingness to express anger and frustration to God when she prayed, Mom showed me that putting on a front with God was just silly. If He’s God, then He would see right through it, so what’s the point of being anything except honest in your communication with Him?

I Second that Emotion!
This brings up the notion of what Mom called “emotional honesty.” For her, that meant first being honest with yourself about what you were feeling.

Am I lashing out at others because I’m really mad at myself? Am I burying some conflict that I don’t want to admit to? Am I transferring to others anger that they don’t deserve, because I’m not willing to express those feelings in a healthy way? Mom said we (people) were notorious for second-guessing our emotions, instead of just stepping back and looking at what they were.

Great Expectations
Once you’re emotionally honest with yourself, the other half of the equation is figuring out who you can share this “private self” with. In my life, there have been only a handful of people that have even been interested in knowing the private side of me. Within that small group, only a couple have I ever trusted with seeing who I really am.

Sometimes, that trust seems misplaced. You try to be yourself, and then find out that some aspect of your private self is confusing, or upsetting, or annoying, or horrifying, or… just not acceptable. Is there any deeper sense of rejection than having opening that private door… that door to who you are cracking open… and feeling it slammed shut because what someone else found or saw was just not acceptable?

It’s one thing to feel rejected because of something superficial like your appearance, your sense of humor, or your preference of Weird Al videos. (I’m partial to “Amish Paradise” myself.)

It’s another thing entirely to feel that you have exposed that most private side of yourself, and felt it cast aside as unworthy of acceptance. Does this happen because we set up unrealistic expectations? Do we put on such a great show with the superficial things that we set the expectations in the realm of perfection, something we can’t hope to achieve?

My experience is that perfection is found least in those private areas of my persona. Hidden away from everyone else are the aspects of who I am that are least palatable… least acceptable… most troublesome or difficult to accept.

Exceptional Acceptance
The converse to rejection, simple acceptance, then becomes so very different. If someone can look into the depths of my soul, see the dark shadows, the filth, the musty areas that haven’t been cleaned up for visitors, and still accept me, then that’s something truly unusual.

One of my best friends is a career missionary. Early on in our friendship, we discovered that we could talk about anything. Nothing was off-limits. As a result, we were good “accountability partners” for each other through the years, as we could never “pull one over” on the other. In that acceptance I found a wonderful sense of comfort.

Who accepts you, exactly as you are? Who have you allowed into those musty corners of your soul? Did they accept the mess, or demand a Superfund cleanup?

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