A friend of mine was angry. She was
venting ranting. Her anger was understandable. She had just been dumped from a relationship she thought was moving toward marriage. At the very time she expected a ring held out to her, she received a “we need to talk” evening instead. Hard to deal with, no doubt.
But the next step was painful. She exposed all her anger, disappointment, hurt, and retribution on Facebook. Part of what she said was (paraphrasing here to protect her privacy): This is my authentic self. If you can’t take it, it’s your problem. I live my life out loud and I’m angry. Authentically, genuinely angry.
That post started me thinking on the exhausted and over-used word, authentic. I’ve met this belief before, the belief that says our current emotional state defines us and must be accepted by everyone splashed by the spew.
Wake up, buttercup. Just because you are angry does not require everyone around you to gracefully accept your outbreak of anger, fear, neediness or defensiveness. If you think that a temper tantrum is welcomed because you think you are being authentic, be prepared for a shock. Possibly in an empty room, filled with the sound of people leaving.
Exhibiting your current emotional state without a filter is not authentic. It’s out of control. And out of control is not authentic. It’s something you will want to forget when you calm down. Something you will want others to forget, as well. (Facebook is now in beta testing for fixing regrettable posts and TMI intimate photos of relationships that crashed and burned. In other words, your future loves will not have to live side-by-side with loves who came before.)
What does authentic mean? It means being the person you want others to see. The person you’d like to hear about when you win an award. The person people will talk about at your funeral. In other words, the person you work hard to be, and sometimes just can’t quite hold up.
Life can be disappointing. But an adult tantrum is something best done in private. My favorite anger-release exercise is making a big bowl of red Jell-O, taking it into the shower, and slinging fistfuls of it at the shower wall as hard as I can. This is therapeutic because:
- I am alone in this oddly comforting behavior and it looks truly violent while being harmless.
- The evidence rinses away in a few minutes.
- I feel better afterwards knowing that no one has been damaged by my temper tantrum.
- If my anger dissipates before the Jell-O is set, I get to eat red Jell-O thoughtfully and happily. I’m back in control of my authentic self.
Out-of-control is not authentic. Making other people comfort you when they feel like running away is not authentic. Life can be hard and misery drops down on all of us. Handling it like a grown-up is authentic. Hard, but it makes you proud of you. That’s the point.
—Quinn McDonald works on being authentic on a daily basis. It’s a complicated business.