A Side Effect of Psychotherapy: Authenticity

Healing, on a deep level in psychotherapy, begins the process of learning to listen to yourself.

Today’s world is full of noise and stimulation. Too many messages, media, and constant beeps around us are pulling our attention. We are everywhere and nowhere all the same time. How often do you sit down and feel what’s going on inside? If we’re unaware of all the external forces pulling on us, our internal space can become crowded, and we lose ourselves.

Hearing vs. Listening

We can all hear sounds throughout the day. The music playing on the radio, the airplanes flying overhead, the waterfall, the car that needs a new muffler, the TV in the background, and our boss giving the agenda for the staff meeting. We’re primarily passive players when we hear what’s happening somewhere in the background. Internally defended, we predict, prepare our response, numb against presence, and sometimes deny feedback from others. We often hear things we want to hear, filtering out messages against our prefixed notions: those red flags, gut feelings we ignore.
Going about life caught up in routines and trends, we can quickly become anxious and depressed, developing symptoms like panic attacks, insomnia, physical pains, and restless sleep. All these symptoms might be our soul screaming for our attention to listen — listening to our bodies, minds, and souls. What needs attention? What is trying to speak inside of you?

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

I often find myself asking clients who have bodies full of aches, heaviness, or panic and, in some way, neglect themselves. “If your body could talk, what would it say right now?”

Listening is active: we’re engaging in a process. We listen to learn when we’re interested and participating. Our ears perk up, and we might lean forward, wanting to take in more. Or we sit back open and allow our minds to change. Think about the last time you heard someone tell a wildly curious story. The first time you listened to a beautifully rich song or tasted all the complex flavors of your meal. You plunged deep and open, listening through the senses. Through inquisitive reflection, you can learn how to listen inwardly to yourself.

The soul speaks loudly and clearly once you acknowledge its presence and feed it some attention. If we’re skilled and self-attuned, we might listen to something inside telling us a direction to move. You might get an intuitive download that you have to move cross country, change careers, or ask out that person.

Deep open listening is curious, without judgment, prefixes, or assumptions about what will come next. We’re not listening if we’re on autopilot, finishing our partner’s sentence for them. We’re not listening to ourselves when we move forward in a relationship that we know, in the long run, is not the right match.

We can tell we’re listening if we ask to hear more: from someone we might initially disagree with, from a body that has ached with unnamed symptoms, or from the repeating thought that we push away.

Most of us long to feel deeply known and understood by others. Validation, recognition, and appreciation feel good. Intimacy with ourselves and others bring richness and depth to a life of routine and inauthenticity. And yet how much of ourselves do we truly understand? The impulses that drive us, ruts of patterns that aren’t helping us move forward, of convictions that we are passive victims of our circumstances.

Which inner voice are we listening to?
Do we believe all our thoughts?
Is our inner critic driving our behaviors?
Are our fears holding us back?

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

From a curious lens, we’re fascinating and often complex. Inside us lives a world of polarities, ambivalences, and conflicts about what we want and how we live our lives. On the best days, sometimes we’re still a tangled mess, often sabotaging ourselves without awareness!

I recently talked with a longtime client in treatment who was continuously conflicted about his desire to stop using illicit drugs. He said he found drugs pleasurable and blamed society’s views around drug use as the problem. “Forget what everyone else says- what do you want?” I said, challenging him. When honest with himself, he acknowledged that while comfortably baked in his routine, his drug use was also a way of evading his responsibilities and moving forwards with his life.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Honesty and Authenticity

Authenticity comes when you’re connected to and accepting of yourself. Authentic listening is openness to not knowing what comes next. Authentic living requires tolerating uncertainty about how life will go but staying true to yourself regardless of how others feel about it.

We self-abandon when we stop listening inwardly; sometimes, that’s protective, but often, it’s a way of settling. There is no soul in settling. To get back to ourselves, we must tune out the “shoulds,” the noise, and the scripts that society would prefer we follow. Society transforms when we are all a little more of our authentic selves. The masculine man who allows himself to drop some tears — the good girl who finally voices her anger.

Change happens not when you’re trying but when you truly become something different.

Through contemplation and reflecting on ourselves regularly, we can learn how to listen to what our mind, body, and soul are saying. We don’t know what we’re missing out on if we aren’t all, in some fashion, finding what’s in our souls. Maybe we never had someone be curious about us and what makes us tick, what ticks us off, or what truly fills our hearts with light and joy. The sorting through comes when we can soften enough, get radically honest, and deeply listen.

Authenticity is the search for the most genuine self. The self that lives beyond the expectations of outside voices and aligns with the honest inside voice. Turning down the voices of others, the “normals” of our generation, cultures, and expectations placed on us, we can start to listen inwardly to find our deepest needs. We must be quiet, safe, and curious enough to hear our souls speak. It has the answers you seek.


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