The principle of authenticity can be summarized as three abilities: knowing ourselves, living true to who we are, and seeing others for who they truly are. As with the principle of masculinity, wholeness is central to the principle of authenticity. Knowing ourselves, and living true to who we are, means that all of our truth is known and lived. Seeing others for who they truly are includes accepting all of who they are.
This principle tends to be difficult for many of us with same-sex attraction, probably because the same life experiences that created SSA also disconnected us from aspects of our authentic selves and caused us to see others in fragmented ways. Our family systems might have taught us to be who mom and dad wanted us to be and to split off parts of ourselves that weren’t wanted or useful within that family dynamic. Similarly, shame may have caused us to hide or disavow the parts that others didn’t like and to create false selves we thought others would accept. Shame may have also alienated us from those around us. And sexual abuse may have left us very disconnected from ourselves and confused about our gender. Keep in mind that we may have split off weaknesses as well as strengths.
Unhealthy family systems, shame, and sexual abuse may have led to overwhelming emotional conflicts as we grappled with the contradictory feelings they created. Feelings of dependency, love, longing, and intimacy may have been contradicted by fear, anger, resentment, guilt, and shame. Lacking internal emotional resources and support from others, we probably repressed or cut off these emotional conflicts. Some of us became unable to feel any of our emotions because it was too painful or threatening.
The result of all of this in our present lives is that we tend not to experience ourselves authentically, and we struggle to relate authentically with others. We may fragment ourselves and experience others in fragmented ways as well. What makes all of this much more complex is that our minds play tricks on us with our split off parts and with fragmented others. The two main tricks our minds play come in the form of some common psychological mechanisms known as projections and transferences.
The parts of us that we split off don’t go away. Because they are aspects of our personalities and psyches, if we repress them they just show up in unexpected ways. Often, they show up as reflections on other people as though we are projecting our traits onto them in the same way a movie is projected onto a movie screen. These projections keep us from seeing ourselves fully, and they confuse us about others as well. We don’t see who the other person really is—we see who we really are, or want to be, projected onto them.
Similarly, the painful relationships from our childhoods often don’t go away either. Until we work through and resolve them, they can be transferred onto our relationships in the present. This may lead us to respond to those around us in adulthood in the same way we responded to significant people in childhood. Once again, we aren’t seeing who they really are. We are just seeing ghosts from our past.
If we are to learn to live authentically, we may have to make changes both internally and interpersonally. Internally, we may need to become whole within ourselves and accept ourselves totally, rather than splitting off, repressing, or hiding parts of ourselves. This requires an understanding of who we are on a level deeper than our job description, sexual feelings, or the labels given us by family, friends, and society. It requires the capacity to feel and tolerate the full range of our own feelings, which can sometimes seem conflicting, confusing, and painful. And it depends on an ability to integrate these feelings, along with our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world into a personality that can meet the challenges of life and relationships.
Interpersonally, we may need to develop the ability to be fully present and assertive in relationships to the degree appropriate and to respond out of our genuine selves in those relationships. This must start with the assumption that each relationship is unique and calls for differing degrees of self–disclosure. Self–disclosure is not synonymous with interpersonal authenticity. Not every relationship warrants disclosure of intimate personal information, and only a few relationships are conducive to true intimacy. Nevertheless, interpersonal authenticity suggests the ability to be genuine and true to ourselves in a majority of relationships whether intimate or more superficial.
At first, authenticity is best attempted in safe places, such as a therapist’s office or a trusted friendship, where our shut down feelings and split–off parts can be expressed and explored. Integration of contradictory feelings creates a greater sense of inner stability and clarifies relationships of the past and the present. Open exploration of split–off parts reduces the shame that has accumulated around them and allows them to be integrated into the self as well.
This entire process requires facing fear in a profound and new way. We have to let down our defenses in order to re–enter internal conflicts that we may have previously considered too painful to touch. And we need to venture into the feelings in our bodies where illogical, uncomfortable, and unpredictable emotions exist.
As the therapeutic process proceeds, we naturally begin to carry our newfound assertiveness, clarity, and wholeness into the real world of relationships. We begin to allow others to see our feelings in the here–and–now. We become able to reveal ourselves to others and stay in relationships rather than defensively detaching. And we find ourselves in fewer double binds.
It is important to understand that authenticity is both the catalyst and the linchpin of change—authenticity is where it starts and it is what keeps it all together and moving forward. Without it there is not going to be any real progress. It must be the primary focus from the very beginning of the change process.
Take the concepts presented in this lesson to a deeper level in your life through action. Consider the ideas below, then come up with an activity that will stretch you.
Each topic presented in this lesson will be explored in much greater length over the course of the entire GWX curriculum.
- Carefully contemplate what “authentic self” means to you. Journal your thoughts.
- Consider whether shame has led you to cut off, hide, or deny aspects of your real self. Have you hidden your authentic self from others? What authentic aspects of you have you repressed or cut off? What do you think led you to hide parts of you? Journal all of this and notice the feelings that come up as you do.
- Make a projections and transferences journal by carefully observing your behavior for a couple of weeks and writing down all the occasions when you think you project or transfer. You might also observe other people, looking for ways in which those around you might be projecting or transferring. (Be cautious about mentioning that behavior to them since they could easily be hurt or offended.)
- Decide on one denied or repressed aspect of your self that you want to work on owning. Consider a behavior or activity that will help you do that. Then do that activity. Pay careful attention to the feelings that emerge in this process.
- Discuss with your therapist any thoughts or feelings that emerge as you read this lesson and engage in any of the above activities.
Ideas for Groups
- Create an experiential group activity that promotes self-disclosure in an open and accepting environment. If group members have completed the Journey Into Manhood weekend, you might recreate “Walk With Me” (B12) during group.
- Create an experiential group activity the invites group members to share the positive traits they see in each other. Sometimes we may overlook our positive authentic traits. If group members have completed the Journey Into Manhood weekend, you might recreate “The Gold In You” (C12) during group.
- Develop an activity that teaches the concepts of projection and transference to group members who may not yet understand these concepts. If group members have completed the Journey Into Manhood weekend, you might recreate “Projections and Transferences” (A11) during group.
(Men with lengthy experience regarding this topic)
- Reflect on what you have learned and how you have grown in the areas discussed in this lesson. Identify the most important resources, experiences, processes, or lessons you have encountered. Write these things down and share them with GWX.
- Develop an individual or group activity for this lesson. Try it out to see if it works. Then share it with GWX.
Sharing our life experiences is a powerful way to more deeply integrate what we learn. You are invited to share your experience with this lesson with anyone close to you whom you trust. And you are especially invited to share your experience back to the GWX community by writing a post of up to 400 words.
If you have something longer to share, such as a group process protocol or some additional reading, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org