January: Authentic Self

January 8, 2021

By my very nature, I influence those around me. Not by attitude or action alone, but through authenticity of self I may empower others to be better versions of their own humanity. -Jen Hildreth

I am striving to regain momentum in my career post-cancer diagnosis and treatment. In 2019, I graduated from HSU with honors by my strength of will. Now, almost two years after graduation I still feel like a ship without a rudder, navigating the muddy waters of my mind, seeking smooth sailing. But cancer has taught me the waters will rise and fall, the navigable course is sometimes unseen, and I must steer with faith in myself. I am constantly asking myself “what am I capable of?” to reframe the thoughts and feelings that I am incapable and inadequate – I know that is the brain’s negativity bias, and I am validating my strength and potential by turning the kindness I show others toward myself. (Hanson, 2013). If I see all this incredible potential in our collective humanity, how do I see that potential in myself?

I’ve always struggled with embracing my authentic self. As a little girl raised in the Deep South, I was expected to be so many things that I did not feel was who I am at my core. My father expected me to be a pious preacher’s wife. Anytime he asked me, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I knew at the age of 6 he expected me to say, “a preacher’s wife”. As I aged into a pre-teen, he and other men in the church decided to choose a husband for me. Naturally, I rebelled and questioned why any of this was expected of me. Later in my adulthood, I finally began to question all these expectations of other people and recognized that I struggle to be myself because I did not know my authentic self. My authentic self was blanketed by expectation and shrouded by the society and culture of the Deep South and an unhealthy family. It was like looking for my reflection in a tarnished aluminum can. I was never going to see my authentic self if I continued to view myself through these expectations. I had to pull back the layers of trauma, conditioned behaviors and limiting beliefs for internal analysis, self-growth, and healing.

Cancer stripped away so much of my desire to live up to other people’s expectations and forced me to acknowledge the trauma I endured as a child and how it impacted my adulthood. I started asking myself: when all barriers, judgements, and past traumas are stripped away, who are you? What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? I know I am a kind person that treats people the way I want to be treated – with love and respect. So often I freely give my love and respect to people around me, but it has taken concerted effort on my part to give this level of love and respect to myself. I am learning that I need this feeling of validation, especially now.

Wholeness of self – knowing who you are helps you embrace all the parts of who you are and helps you take care of yourself. No one else knows you better than yourself. Through the therapeutic work I have completed with UCSF and Psychoncology, I’ve learned about the mind-body connection. Mind-Body Therapies are effective means of directly influencing stress and wellbeing through integrative mindfulness techniques and are used to help people cope with a range of mental health issues (Williams, 2016). By knowing your whole-self, you may heal.

“It doesn’t matter today that the mind-body connection is invisible, because at the molecular level it isn’t. There are enough chemical cues to convince anyone that mood, beliefs, expectations, fears, memories, predispositions, habits, and old conditioning – all centered in the mind – are critical to a person’s health. … Among the processes that can be influenced by a person’s awareness, healing is one of the most vital.”

Depak Chopra, 2018

During these strange times, I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on my past traumas, how cancer impacts my current state of health, and what grounds me in my authentic self. There have been moments when I felt like I was drowning in an ocean of our shared pain: self-doubt, confusion, rage, disappointment, sorrow. Yet I know there is a beacon of light that shines within us all.

Prompt 1: Write your preferred name in the center of your page. Make it as large or small as you feel necessary. Fill in the surrounding area with words or symbols that describe who you are. Are you a survivor? Yes, of course you are, or you wouldn’t be here! But what else are you? Strong, fierce, resilient. Are you a bookworm? Do you live for the outdoors? Are you a mother, a lover, a friend of someone? Be honest; do not judge or make excuses, let the descriptors flow on to the page. After we share, fold this page in half in your journal and return to it when you feel like you are losing sense of yourself.

Prompt 2: When do you feel authentic? Is there something that you do that makes you feel your most authentic? Describe the last time you were your authentic self. Were you challenged to speak up for yourself and set boundaries? What makes you feel grounded in your core values?

Chopra, Deepak. M.D., Tanzi, Rudolph E., Ph.D., 2018. The Healing Self, A Revolutionary New Plan to Supercharge your Immunity and Stay Well for Life. Harmony Books, New York.

Hanson, Rick, Ph. D., 2013. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Harmony Books, New York.

Survivorship Wellness Program, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center: http://cancer.ucsf.edu/support/survivorship-wellness/

Williams, Mary Beth, Ph.D, LCSW, CTS. Poijula, Soili, Ph.D., 2016. The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms. Third Edition. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, California.

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