Most of us want a lot of the same things: to be happier, to be more fulfilled, to feel a sense of belonging, to love and be loved in return. One of the problems keeping us from living a totally fulfilled and engaged life is that we tend to look outward, externally, for that happiness, fulfillment, and success, rather than looking inward, where it really comes from. And while we all strive for a sense of belonging, to fit in, we need to be aware that fitting in is not belonging! Fitting in often requires that you change or suppress your authentic self in order to emulate others.
In high school I was popular. I fit in. I spoke and behaved and dressed by the unspoken standards of the popular crowd; I did not allow myself to be known for who I really was. I was not being truthful about my passions or real interests, nor did I divulge any weakness or fears. These were not my conscious thoughts. And because I did fit in, I felt I didn’t need to explore who I was or ask myself if I was happy or spend time on what I found to be meaningful. Out of fear of being unpopular, I didn’t stop to ask myself who I wanted to be.
Belonging, on the other hand, is arriving on your own terms, with your own voice and your own style. Belonging is a deep sense of being accepted for who we are, with the knowledge that even our worst character traits or flaws will not be attacked or used against us to cause pain. There is an old Yiddish word, ekht or its modern adaptation, echt. It’s an adjective and it means,“to be true, to be genuine, to be authentic.” To truly belong, you have to feel accepted for who you are. You have to be echt. How can we be accepted by others in a meaningful and genuine way if we don’t love and accept who we are at our core? How can we speak and act and think in perfect accord with our true core self, if on some level we don’t like who we are?
We are accustomed to looking outward for fulfillment. Kabbalists teach that every situation in life has an internal and an external aspect and they are rarely, if ever, the same. The external aspect is life- everything you see, everything you can touch — our physical world. Then there is the internal aspect, which is the connection that we all have to the Light of the Creator. In that connection is where we find our true selves, our best nature, where we can push aside any outside worries or challenges and reconnect to our purpose and our certainty. When we are in touch with our innermost nature, we have certainty beyond logic that we are going to be alright, we trust the process of life despite anything negative we are experiencing in the physical world, and thereby acknowledge our inner voice and let it guide us to the place we ultimately need to go.
Disconnection from our inner aspect, the loss of connection to the Light of the Creator, is the reason we can feel a lack of self-acceptance, among other things. Everyone has struggled with self-acceptance at some point in their lives. When we waste time and energy obsessing on all of our perceived flaws or areas where we feel are lacking, or when we spend time with people who view us in a negative light and point out our flaws, we are giving those falsehoods power and they continue to grow, further chipping away at our self-image. But here’s the secret: no one is perfect. Not one person. You are enough, just as you are.
When we come to truly believe that we are enough, life opens up because we have no fear of being attacked for who we are, what we think, or what we do. It doesn’t mean, however, that we WON’T be attacked, it doesn’t even mean that it won’t hurt if we are; vulnerability on this level knows the risks but accepts that the rewards far outweigh that risk. Vulnerability is defined as having the capability of being physically or emotionally wounded or open to attack or damage. Admittedly, vulnerability sounds distinctly unpleasant. Terrifying, even. This may turn people away from wanting to be vulnerable, but the pay-off that comes from being vulnerable is what makes it worthwhile. It feels like being in a soft blanket in front of a warm fire on a cold, rainy night. It’s where you want to be and it feels perfect. One of the ideas that I advise most frequently to couples is to allow themselves to be vulnerable to each other.
Here’s another secret: being vulnerable isn’t a choice. You’re already vulnerable every single day of your life. Your only choice is how you handle those moments when you feel exposed or judged. Some people handle those awkward moments with denial, numbness, or even anger. I spent many years trying to create perfection in every aspect of my life, because if something is perfect it is unassailable. There is no way to criticize perfection, because, well…it’s perfect. I really dedicated myself to building protective walls against vulnerability by pursuing perfection. When I finally saw what I was doing and that it was not creating the results I desired, it was laughable! Getting to the place where I could recognize my behavior and where it came from was quite a journey, but that realization has been extraordinarily freeing for me.
Self-acceptance is the baseline, the foundation that happy lives are built upon. It is the gift I want to give all my children. I want them to see the self-acceptance and authenticity that I have in my life and I want them to feel 100% supported and loved for just who they are. My children will feel the strength and certainty of my love through their academic failures, awkward growth spurts, missed opportunities, and every disappointment endured, so that when they are adults they will have learned from me that while not perfect, they are more than enough.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Is there some aspect of your personality that you are hiding, for fear of being ridiculed or ostracized? Are you a secret fan of Miley Cyrus? Do you belt out Air Supply songs in the shower? Are you afraid to share your dream of becoming a concert pianist? Let go of the fear, be vulnerable and practice the art of being echt…Who knows what might happen!?