The Courage to be Ourselves

Do you ever wonder why it is so difficult to be who we truly are?  

The first half of life is the platform where we are more vulnerable to external imprints (including our family of origin) than our inner voice.  If our family values money, prestige, and fame this is what we are imprinted to achieve. All through history, society has placed great emphasis on external values like those.  Notoriety, money, fame, high-end living, all become seductive goals for our egos. But these values are superficial and impermanent. Once achieved, their novelty wanes and a deeper emptiness surfaces.  We don’t have to go far to see wealthy and famous celebrities reveal the lack of meaning in their lives. From experience, we can conclude that money and fame are superficial values that run only skin deep.

For the first 14 years of our life, we receive parental imprints, first from our mothers, then our fathers. After that, the magnetic pattern of family and ‘familiarity’ is internally laid and we begin the next stage of ego development towards young adulthood into midlife.  Our inner guidance system begins communicating with us through discomfort when we make choices from imprinted patterns that run contrary to what we feel is right for us, our Authentic Self. Our body feels this split. This can present as symptoms of agitation or feeling ‘out of sorts’, and also anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance or even general malaise and fatigue, and other physical symptoms.

During the first half of our life, we adapt to the world around us, first to our families, then our peers, and society at large.  When we are young, our very survival depends upon our ability to adapt. However, adaptations that keep us alive are different from the adaptations that we feel may be necessary to preserve our loyalty to family patterns. Family patterns that are not in alignment with what feels right for us, when obeyed, can actually rupture our alignment with our Authentic Self.  This can damage our self-esteem, over time. For example, a gifted artist, rather than pursuing a life of creative expression and financial simplicity, may adapt to a family’s expectations to become an engineer or a doctor as their family may value a professional career over art. If they don’t pursue their passion for art, the split between their true nature and their adapted choices, over time, may begin to present as symptoms of depression or anxiety.  The lack of meaning in their professional life is clearly due to their adaption to family values versus pursuing what they love. In compromising intrinsic values for externally imposed ones, the tension between the Authentic and adapted Self results in their symptoms. These can only be healed by creating a course correction to pursue their passion in favor of a career that does not feed their sense of meaning. This can often mean risking abandonment by their family whose values they are rejecting over intrinsic ones.  This choice requires courage. A course correction like this is common in midlife.

The courage to be who we are is essential for us to live from a place of meaning.  We must be prepared to disappoint others in our quest to follow our bliss, our inner guidance system, and to live authentically.  This is difficult for most. Embedded in disappointing others is our fear of being rejected and abandoned. These are core fears that drive many of our adaptations in childhood to begin with.  They arise again in mid-life when our inner voice begins to remind us to live authentically. At this juncture, we must choose self-alignment over adapted choices. This requires sustained and enduring courage as we must face and transform these core fears in order to align with our inner self.  Of course this involves risk of losing relationships, but it is a risk worth taking to live from a place of meaning. If not seized in midlife, this opportunity for course correction becomes more difficult over time.

Pursuing who we really are and living from our Authentic Self can even heal the previous damage done to our self-esteem while pursuing external values in favor of intrinsic ones. The courage to align with our true nature rewards us not only with meaning, but also with healing.  

It greatly helps to understand this context, absent in our culture, and engage our courage to be who we are.  I believe this is the only way to recover true meaning in our lives. It is the deepest Medicine needed for healing ourselves and others.  It is also the threshold we must cross in midlife to earn the ability to mentor others.

©Apr2019 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: Reclaiming Your Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press.