There is no doubt in my mind that being honest about how you really feel, and living an ‘authentic’ life’ results in a very fulfilling experience. The word authenticity is synonymous with positive psychology: a state of being which is reached by living a life of meaning and purpose. And yet, being honest and authentic can be one of the hardest things to do, and can bring with it some negative feelings, which are all too easy to run from.
In practical terms, being honest with yourself about how you really feel, and getting what you need in life to be happy, means that you get a healthier and more fulfilling existence. What is meant by needs? Carol Ryff explored 6 criteria for psychological well-being, which included purpose and meaning in life. Cory Keyes further created 14 criteria for flourishing: Martin Seligman’s model is PERMA: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments. These are human needs which, when they are met, produce emotional wellness and we thrive. Getting your needs met is essential to health and wellness.
How it works in real life
Often an unmet need is at the root of many problems people experience. In relationships, if you can’t get yourself heard, feelings of insignificance and worthlessness can follow. If you feel lacking in love and attention, this can lead to low mood. Attention is a form of nurturing which is as essential as food to the human condition. Many bullies instinctively withdraw and use attention as a weapon, and if this ever happened to you, then you know how painful it is.
Funny thing: people who struggle to express how they feel and their own needs tend to connect themselves with people who struggle to hear the needs of others. This makes learning to be honest with you and others even harder, an uphill struggle and a lot of people give up. In real life, being authentic and seeking to create a life of well-being can be a challenge simply because for many years if you didn’t know how, then you may have created a life inadvertently which can be hard to get out of.
I call this the treacle effect. When I first began my exploration of positive psychology there were definitely some needs in my life not being met. However, at 50 years of age, I had an established life and it was easier perhaps to ignore this fact. Climbing out of certain parts of my life and into one with more meaning felt like climbing out of a jar of treacle.
What stops you telling people how you really feel and creating a good life?
Fear, in a word. Fear of ridicule, fear of rejection, fear of not being able to control a situation, fear of consequences, fear of not knowing how to cope, fear of not being loved or of being worthless. These are human states to be worked through. Experiencing emotional growth is a myriad of pains and pleasures, and not always in an order you understand or would choose.
Admitting to myself how I really felt about some things in my life was scary. Telling others led to change. The brain will always choose the familiar, however unsatisfying it is, until you work out a way to make change ok.
How to be better at it
Generate and foster self-love, at its most basic. Self-love, in my opinion is the motivator for the good life, and is the beating heart of positive psychology.
Self-love for me was an acknowledgement that I was deserving of the good life: one of psychological wellbeing. Every person is equally deserving of getting their emotional needs met.
The equation for authenticity is self-love plus honesty plus action. Authenticity opens doors to meaning, purpose and the good life. All of us can cope with short term problems, out of choice or necessity, however long-term sufferance is really bad for mental and physical wellness.
Growing self-love to acknowledge how you really feel and what you need, and then expressing it, sometimes means a leap into the unknown. It means trusting yourself that whatever the outcome, it’s going to be the right one. It requires some deep breaths, a lot of support and giving yourself the gift of help from others, professionally or from friends. Begin by asking yourself the simple question: how am I really feeling about this?
As someone once said to me…..it doesn’t have to be easy. Just possible. And it is.
About the author: Sue Roberts is a coach with 13 years’ experience and is currently a student studying for a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at Bucks New University.