In today's letter, I would like to explore with you the perennial tension between authenticity and belongingness, between honouring who you are and fitting into the world as it is.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TRULY BELONG?
Perhaps loneliness is a universal phenomenon, but you feel it more intensely, more frequently, and more penetratively.
The intimidating reality is that at times no language or image can fully capture how isolated and misunderstood you are.
Your heart breaks when you try to express the depth of your sorrow, the extent to your passion, and be met so often with apathy, indifference, or simply incomprehension.
Long awaited is that someone who can plunge deeply into sorrow, and soar high into ecstasy with you, or the loving presence that goes beyond a surface understanding of your deep well of feelings.
Perhaps after repeated cycles of infatuations, fantasies, and disappointment, you have gone into despair.
Belongingness is a difficult subject for many emotionally sensitive, intense and gifted people.
When we look at the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, belongingness is seen as so important that it comes right after we gratify our needs for food and shelter. It is therefore understandable that many of us would do anything to feel like we are a part of something.
However, if you do not fit society’s conventional definition of ‘normality,' is it worth sacrificing your truth, or contorting yourself for the sake of fitting in?
‘Authenticity’ has become one of those buzz words, overused in online and social media, that it has almost lost its meaning. Throughout history, many philosophers, theologians, social theorists, and thinkers have explored the idea of authentic living. The existentialist philosopher Heidegger (1995), for instance, suggested that being authentic means reclaiming oneself from unexamined conformity. He even named the call for authenticity within ourselves the “call of conscience,” not in a moralistic sense, but because it is the ultimate responsibility of each one of us to realign our beings with our true selves and strip away the expectations placed upon us.
Living outside of the ‘norm’ is always going to be difficult. Being sensitive, intense an gifted is a form of neurodiversity. Although more and more scholars and professionals are embracing the idea of ‘neurodiversity’— the acknowledgment that particular groups of the population are innately different from the norm, the majority of society remains unaware of this biological reality, and most people tend to misjudge minority groups that they do not understand.
The tension between belongingness and authenticity is illustrated in a tale about Zumbach, the Tailor:
As legend had it, a man in this village had succeeded in business and wanted to have a new suit made. He went to Zumbach, the most famous tailor in the land, and had himself measured. When he came hack to Zumbach’s shop the next week for the final fitting, put on his new suit and stood in front of the mirror, he saw that the right sleeve was two inches longer than the left.
“Er, Zumbach,” he said, “there seems to be something wrong here. This sleeve is at least two inches too long.” The tailor, who didn't like back talk from his customers, puffed himself up and said,
“There is nothing wrong with the suit, my good man. Clearly, it’s the way you’re standing.” With that, Zumbach pushed on the man’s shoulder until the sleeves were even. But when the customer looked in the mirror, he saw that the fabric at the back of the suit was bunched up behind his neck. “Please, Zumbach,” the poor man said, “my wife hates a suit that bulges in back. Would you mind just taking that out?”
Zumbach snorted indignantly, “I tell you there’s nothing wrong with this suit! It must be the way you’re standing.” Zumbach shoved the man’s head forward until the suit seemed to fit him to perfection. After paying the tailor’s high price, the man left Zumbach’s store in confusion.
Later that day, he was waiting at the bus stop with his shoulders lopsided and his head straining forward, when another fellow took hold of his lapel and said, “What a beautiful suit! I’ll bet Zumbach the tailor made that suit for you.”
“Why, yes,” the man said, “but how did you know?”
“Because only a tailor as brilliant as Zumbach could outfit a body as crippled as yours.”
(Source: Polishing the Mirror, Ram Dass)
For how many years now, have you been trying to fit in, even when you don’t?
Maybe you have sacrificed your rights, silenced your voice, or endured much discomfort, to be like everyone else?
Can you feel truly belonged, if you are not yourself?
“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.” ― Tahereh Mafi
THE PERMISSION FOR EMOTIONAL HONESTY
Here is the news:
You are allowed to tell someone you are angry, annoyed, frustrated, even when there is no ‘justified,' ‘logical’ reason.
You are allowed to tell the world the strength and velocity of your feelings.
You are allowed to stop putting on that fake smile.
You are allowed to perform a big, romantic gestures, or write the weightiest love letter, without feeling embarrassed or like that is not a glorious human expression.
You do not need anyone’s permission for all the intensity inside of you to come up and come out.
However, no one external can give you the permission to emotional honesty. You may first come to learn about this unconditional allowing in the presence of a loving other, in a non-judgemental spaceof a spiritual meeting, or the empathic guidance from a therapist. But ultimately, only you have the power to free yourself from the tyranny of cultural confine and social appropriateness.
People who can show up to the world authentically free are first and foremost congruent within themselves. Knowing that you can be completely and unconditionally emotionally honest with yourself gives you a secure base, a springboard you can use to be brave in the world. A deep-seated sense of joy is not found in the absence of sadness, it is found in a space where even the deepest grief is allowed. Not just sadness, but anger, frustration, disappointment, everything and anything that would have been deemed ‘bad’ and forbidden elsewhere is allowed. Your ability to open in the world strengthens when your heart detects a loving allowing for everything that comes up. You do not have to like your intense emotions all the time, but they have to be permitted to take temporary refuge in you. Then, even with the greatest sorrow and grief, there is a sense of aliveness— because you are there for yourself, participating, being fully present to your reality. It is in this space where all the wild animals in you are allowed to roar and soar, that the courageous spirit in you can thrive.
To find a real, lasting sense of belongingness in the world, you first find yourself. Not just find yourself, but make a true home within.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” -Brene Brown
FINDING REFUGE IN A COMMUNITY OF LONERS
To truly connect with anyone, you must show up as who you are, with all your imperfections and struggles. If being you makes you feel unbearably lonely, you ought not to dismiss your heartache and longings, as they are precisely the vehicles to you finding your people. In a strange, paradoxical way, you can find some refuge in letting the loneliness of being intense bring you to a community of loners.
Your tribe exists, even it is harder to find it, even your friends are dotted around the world, cutting through time and space. You may have to look beyond your immediate surrounding, into our collective life, the woes in nature and the world. You may look across history, into paintings, literature, poetry, hymns, and lyrics.
You may even have to plunge deeply and unapologetically into your aloneness— by writing it, screaming it, singing it, drawing it, dancing with it. In other words, you get real with who you are— in any shape or form. When you can do that not only do you allow others to find refuge in your voice, you also liberate others to do the same.
Emotional honesty is the best medicine to you existential aloneness. You can only identify the light and sparkles in others when you can own them for yourself.
“The more of me I be, The clearer I can see.” - R. Archelaus
LET AUTHENTICITY TRUMPS PERFECTION
Any human expression is in itself a creative act, a public art form. You do not create meaning only when you call yourself an artist or a writer. You do so by how you show up every day to life: how you cook a meal, solve a conflict, or have a good conversation. And in this art, your unapologetic authenticity is unmistakably compelling, more so than being ‘beautiful,' ‘original,' or even ‘creative’ in a conventional way. When you are making your mark in the world, realness will always be more powerful than a facade of perfection.
When we see something beautiful, we are in awe, but we appreciate it like we would with an object. In this instance, you only have an ‘I-to-it’ relationship, rather than an ‘I-to-you’ relationship.
When something strikes us as being original, we admire it, but we put it on a pedestal. It is still not a two-way street.
When something seems complete and perfect, we may feel inspired to emulate it, but again from a distance as if they are the guru and we are the student. There is little real intimacy.
When we hear words and see images that are radically truthful, stemming from the core of one’s being, we are instantly impacted, connected, and a real conversation begins, as if in a kind of spiritual unison.
You know what this is like. You know it when someone dares to be raw and expose parts of themselves. You know it when you hear a powerful speech, heard a resonating song, read a poem that speaks to your soul.
So when it is your turn, see if you can forget about social appropriateness and conventional wisdom. Discard perfection or the facade of okayness.
Let me take a pause to qualify what I mean: Authenticity for does NOT mean that you have to tactlessly show all of who you are all of the time. It only means first and foremost being real and genuine to yourself. Being true to yourself, you may limit your time to certain people or that you only share small bits of yourself. If you are around individuals who get overwhelmed by your intensity and intellect, you may need to slow your pace and choose activities that engage both of you at a similar level. With self-honesty, you can be both sincere and strategic, and your actions will be backed up by a kind intention towards both yourself and others.
You cannot be everything to everyone, but to find your place in the world, always, always trade authenticity for perfections.
“Home is where your people are.”
EMOTIONAL HONESTY AS A NOBLE ACT
In our world today we have divided ourselves in a countless number of ways— between black and white, between the majority and the minority, between introverts and extroverts, between the stoic and the sensitive. People often feel threatened by what they do not understand and comprehend, and eventually attacking each other. Our current political climate is a clear reflection of this dark side of our tribal nature.
We have become very intolerant towards individual differences. This is why the sensitive and intense people often find themselves on the margin of society, being condemned as being ‘too this’ and ‘too that,' or that somehow they are deemed as being too fragile for the world. Differences are inevitable, but the lack of mutual understanding and kindness breed aggression and cruelty, making us vulnerable as a whole.
That’s why your authenticity is not just a real act of courage, but also a form of noble public service.
By showing up to the world as the sensitive empath that you are, you are championing not just for your rights, but also all the passionate and porous souls that come before and after you.
By legitimising your anger when others call you a ‘drama queen’ or ‘too this and that,' you are helping the sisters and brothers who you have never met except on the plane of art forms like music or literature.
By not keeping up with an ‘I am fine’ facade and honour the value of candid connection, you are setting an example to not only your daughters and sons but our next generation of children. As you already know, they are far more impacted by what we do and the way we are, rather than what we say.
Being unapologetically honest about your emotional reality is not only personally healing, but also transpersonally meaningful.
“Our power lies in our small daily choices, one after another, to create eternal ripples of a life well lived.” - Mollie Marti
INSTEAD OF SORRY, SAY THANK YOU
In the beginning, being emotionally honest can make you feel queasy. You may feel guilty, ashamed, self- indulgent, and self- critical. This is not because you are doing anything wrong, but because years of social conditioning have made you forgotten about the exuberance of your most innocent, natural state as a passionate and intense person.
Somehow, you have gotten into the habit of apologising for who you are, yet it doesn’t make it right. For instance, do you find yourself saying sorry excessively, even when there is no reason to? When you feel like you have ‘overstepped,' can you bounce back and regain perspective, or do you quickly spiral down a storm of shame?
To begin shifting this pattern, let’s start with one small practice:
Instead of ‘sorry,' say ‘thank you.'
When you apologise for your intensity, you are depriving yourself as your birthright- the right to own your space and be honest about who you are, where you are at, and what you feel. Such act of playing small does not serve you or anyone.
By seeking forgiveness, you are also seeking reassurance. Doing so, you not only diminish your rights, but you also depend on others to tell you you are okay. Instead, you can demonstrate strengths and sensibility by owning your actions, and be accountable for their consequences.
Rather than justifying your feelings or editing yourself, see if you can respond with a gracious ‘Thank you’: Thank you for seeing me, thank you for accepting me, thank you for loving me.
By keeping your back straight and saying a humble ‘Thank you,' you free yourself and others from a power dynamic (of you seeking approval from others), from the need to pretend, or to butter things up. By replacing ‘Sorry’ with ‘Thank you,' the energy between you can flow freely again.
It’s time to inhabit your place in this world fully, including your right to be intense, passionate, and imperfect. Rather than going down the rabbit hole of shame and blame, honor the others’ love for you by way of self-compassion. Reciprocate kindness not by apologizing, but inviting the other to grow with us in mutual appreciation.
Ultimately, you can only begin to heal the wounds of being told ‘too much’ by fully acknowledging your identity as an emotionally intense gifted individual, and embracing your unique needs and desires, without editing or apologizing.
Inch by inch, day by day, I am still learning to be a better lover to myself, the world and those immediate others around us.
But as a collective, we can do it. We can reclaim our space in the world.
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
―Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
If some of the words in this letter seem familiar, you may have first come across them on the Eggshell Therapy Facebook Page.
I am aware that sometimes these letters can feel too lengthy or weighty, and you may find it easier to follow the Facebook Page, where similar ideas and information are regularly posted in smaller chunks and a slightly different format.
In whatever shape or form, however, I am immensely grateful for your ongoing support!