By Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR
More than a handful of people have told me they rarely feel authentic or genuine. And, except for rare occasions when they really let themselves go, very few other people they encounter seem to celebrate life. This leads them to the logical conclusion that this is how life is, and it won╒t get better until they get to heaven╤if then.
I once felt that way. A few years ago, I was enjoying a normal and very ordinary visit with friends when, for no particular reason, I became very uneasy and somewhat disconnected. On the outside, everything seemed to be going well, but it just wasn╒t ringing true. I thought, ╥I don╒t want to be doing this ten years from now.╙
Why did I feel that way? Why was I surprised to discover this feeling? Even more important, why was I resisting the inclination to express thoughts, feelings, or emotions necessary for my happiness?
I realized that a part of myself╤call it my inner self, my core self, or my true self╤wanted to break out and be accepted for who I am. I had been stifling this feeling, spending a tremendous amount of energy trying to be something I╒m not, fearing discovery. The result: ╥I don’t want to be doing this ten years from now╙╤trying to be what others thought I should be, conforming to their expectations instead of taking care of my true needs.
Once I was aware of this, I took steps to embrace my true self and celebrate God╒s grace at work in my life.
Start embracing your true self by looking at your environment, dealing with your feelings, identifying your true needs, and seeking support:
Environment Look to your immediate needs and decisions. You can enter a round of depression, of feeling sorry for yourself. You can lash out at others, frantically looking for someone or something to blame it all on. Or you can say, ╥Why not create a new world safe enough for me to dream, to feel, and to trust?╙
Feeling Replace the things you use to dull or ignore your feelings with the actual feelings. If you begin to feel lonely or alone, feel the emptiness instead of trying to fill it with food. If you feel frightened, feel the fear instead of numbing it with alcohol.
Identifying true needs Your true self needs others (see ╥Seeking support╙), but first you need to know, embrace, and welcome who you truly are. I encourage you to spend today working on yourself, going into the core of who you are and identifying the parts of yourself that feel incomplete, the parts of yourself that feel right crying, shouting, laughing, and doing all those ╥feeling things╙ that might even make you look crazy. Give yourself permission to experience the feelings without jumping to the conclusion that feeling is a sin.
Seeking support Find friends who will let you be yourself, who will accept and love you exactly as you are at this moment, this day╤not in some distant future. One such friend is Jesus, who wants more than anything else to help you know, love, and accept yourself as the person you are. It╒s also helpful to experience Jesus╒ love through another person╤a friend, family member, or spouse. This relational experience makes all the difference in the world, and it╒s a gift of God╒s grace and God╒s love for you.