“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Right now—in the aftermath of the election, in the midst of a pandemic—many of us are walking on eggshells; feeling on edge. Our nation seems divided and some of us are coping by keeping our mouths shut or tamping down our true feelings.

Maybe you’re the lone liberal in a conservative Texas town, the ardent Trump supporter in progressive Brooklyn, or an LGBTQ youth scared to come out of the closet. In today’s fraught  climate, lots of us are just trying to fly under the radar right now—and experts say it may be making us sick.

Living with A Secret

Welcome to the land of cognitive dissonance —a place of mental conflict that arises when your actions do not line up with your beliefs. “It’s an uncomfortable state of mind when someone has contradictory values, attitudes, or perspectives about the same thing,” says psychiatrist Grant H. Brenner MD, FAPA, co-founder of Neighborhood Psychiatry, in New York City. “The degree of discomfort varies with the subject matter, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction.”

This state of being is characterized by discomfort, stress, anxiety, and fear—and the degree of these negative feelings largely depends on how much disparity there is between the conflicting beliefs, how much these beliefs matter, and how well a person manages self-contradiction.

If you feel DACA kids deserve a path to citizenship, but your family does not, you may find yourself espousing a view contrary to your own. While it might seem helpful at that moment, living in this way can cause shame and conflict with ourselves.

Being liberal in Ruby Red country can attract abuse, as can backing the current President, especially if you’re young. Psycom connected with Ava Langan* (she asked that we use an alias to protect her privacy), a college junior at a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Ava is a good student with an active social life and a handful of friends she considers close. But none of them know her secret.

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Because she’s a resident of another state that permits early voting, she cast her ballot for the current president in early October. But she couldn’t celebrate the thrill of participating in her first presidential election with anyone at school.

“My friends don’t like the president and would never speak to me again if they knew I supported him. Worse, I’d be canceled on social media the minute the word got out,” she says. “I hate living this way—it feels so fake—but it’s just easier to keep my vote to myself. I’m too scared to let them know I don’t see the world the same way they do. ”

Danielle DiMonda, LCSW, a therapist with a private practice in New York City focuses on issues around authenticity. She has advice for Ava and others who find themselves in a similar predicament.  Here’s what she had to say:

What’s At Stake

Remember the old adage warning that to keep the peace it’s best to avoid conversations about religion, politics, or money? Ideally, there should be the ability to have an open exchange of ideas and respectfully listen to other people’s opinions. But in this instance, this year’s election is different. It’s less about agreeing to disagree and more about taking a firm ideological stance on one side of the moral divide or another.

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Here’s why: many people feel that Trump is a racist and has created a massive divide in our country, and has implicitly supported white supremacists. He has said harmful things about women and is not a supporter of immigrant or LGBTQ rights. Essentially, if one of Ava’s friends is part of any of these communities—BIPOC, LGBTQ, immigrant or first-generation, or is in favor of women’s rights—they may likely feel far more passionate about her choice to vote for Trump than they may have felt about a vote for a past Republican candidate like Bush 1 or Bush 2.

To move past this inner conflict,  Ava may wish to consider the following points:

    • Can she articulate her why? If this is the stance Ava is taking, has she asked herself why? Why did she vote for Trump? Why did she feel he was a better choice than Biden? Is she clear on her why?
    • What does Ava fear her friends will say if she speaks her truth? If Ava is clear on her ideals, then why is she afraid to articulate her feelings?
    • What does she feel about what her friends’ objections likely are? Has Ava looked at the issues from the perspective of people of color, LGBTQ, women, immigrants, and other marginalized communities? If so, what conclusions has she come to about how the Trump presidency has impacted these groups? It’s important for her to think through this so that she can speak directly to the concerns they will likely raise.

    If Ava has examined her feelings, looked at the data, and is still in favor of the current president, she should feel emboldened to live her truth—as unpopular as it may be. I would advise her to take the time to carefully consider her “whys” so that she can speak to her choice intelligently to those that may not agree.

    Cancel culture is real—but so is the detrimental mental health impact of not living truthfully. I advocate that after self-examining, Ava choose to be authentic and true about her choice—unless she opts to follow the adage and keep her opinion to herself, which is always an option (and one our grandparents may have advocated for). She will face this type of situation in every facet of her life, throughout her life. Learning how to navigate her truth may be one of the most important lessons she learns in college.

    The Rewards of Authenticity

    Psychologists Brian M. Goldman, PhD, and Michael H. Kernis, PhD, of The University of Georgia, define authenticity as “the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise.” In 2000, they developed their Authenticity Inventory, which spans four key factors: awareness, unbiased processing, behavior, and relational orientation.

    By using this tool, they found that living authentically offers myriad benefits—from a strong sense of self-worth and self-competence, a greater ability to follow through on goals, and more effective coping abilities. At its core, authenticity requires self-knowledge and self-awareness; you have to accept your strengths and weaknesses. By becoming accountable and connected to your values, feelings, and desires—you will act in ways consistent with those qualities. In other words, you have to be able to face up to the truth about yourself, which requires candor and honesty.

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    Living authentically means not letting others blind you to what you hold true or bully you into taking a position you disagree with. It means not conforming to ideas or views just because others want you to or because it is the majority opinion. Authentic living means that you weigh the evidence for yourself, listen to your inner voice, reach your own judgment, and stand in your truth. In the immortal words of Frederick Douglass: “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

    Why You May Be Hiding Who You Really Are

    Sometimes it is not easy to discern if you are actually living authentically or not. If you find yourself uncertain, ask yourself some key questions. Do you show up for things out of duty rather than desire or tell people in your life what they want to hear rather than what we want to say?

    Here are some indicators that you may not be living authentically:

    1. You’re too scared to leave your comfort zone.
    2. You make excuses in order to maintain a false and idealistic self-image.
    3. You define your success by others’ standards.
    4. You act with little to no self-reflection or consideration.

    Even the most self-examined person can lose track of their true self sometimes. It requires bravery to let ourselves be seen for who we are and what we believe. To expose our real thoughts and feelings we have to learn how to be strong and vulnerable at the same time.

    “If you find yourself struggling with fear of living your truth, ask yourself: What do you fear if you come forward? That you’ll be ridiculed? Ostracized? There may be a cost to living your truth. For instance, it may be inconvenient to back LGBTQ rights in a deeply conservative town— those around you may not be supportive. Still, you will be standing in your truth,” DiMonda says.

    There are many reasons to hide who we are—fear of being disliked, not wanting to disappoint people, not wanting to be ridiculed, and more. However, there are emotional and even physical health-related consequences of living in this way.

    The High Cost of Living A Lie

    Not being your true self—whether that means being in the closet if you are LGBTQ, hiding what candidate you want to vote for, or pretending to like something that you abhor is draining—mentally, physically, psychically.

    “From a mental health perspective,” DiMonda says, “this commonly looks like burn-out and stress. The emotional consequences of not living your truth can include low self-esteem, low self-confidence, low self-worth, low self-respect, and shame. Physical consequences often include anxiety, stress, depression, headache, backache, gastrointestinal issues, jaw pain from grinding teeth, and lowered immunity (which is especially concerning in the midst of a pandemic).”

    “Who we are, what we desire, and what we value may not always conform to what others expect or believe,” shared Veronica Kaulinis, founder of Vulnerable AF, a workshop series that encourages vulnerability, intimacy, and thought-provoking conversations to help people live more authentically. “Finding a way to live your truth is empowering and builds your sense of self-worth.” For those of us feeling disconnected and emotionally armored, here are some ways to help you learn how to live in your truth.

    Less Inner Turmoil in 6 Easy Steps

    Here are some simple steps to help you live more authentically:

    #1. Become self-aware. Living authentically begins when you set the intention to be genuine. You have to become aware of what that looks and feels like and develop the desire to act in accordance with your truth—even when it makes you feel vulnerable.

    #2. Embrace vulnerability. Being who we are requires vulnerability. When you expose your real thoughts and feelings, you are empowered and will eventually see vulnerability as a sign of strength. Being vulnerable is a practice cultivated with effort and consistency, like anything else.

    #3. Be inquisitively introspective—check-in with yourself. Dimonda recommends asking yourself these questions: “What am I afraid of? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? List the pros and cons of what might transpire if you live more openly with something that is currently submerged.” If you want to live authentically, it’s essential to get clear about the choices you’re making.

    #4. Cultivate courage. Living in your truth requires you to have the courage to leave your comfort zone. You have to step away from following the crowd and maintaining a persona that is not really you.

    #5. Be brave. Authenticity may involve making “unpopular” decisions and acknowledging parts of yourself that you might prefer to veil. But in the end, it will allow you to live a more open, honest, connected life.

    #6. Practice self-care. Self-care is vital to you being your fullest and most embodied self. Part of living an authentic life is taking care of yourself, tuning in to what you need, and making decisions that are in accord with what is truly going on inside you.

    Life Outside the Comfort Zone

    Taking these kinds of steps requires courage—but embodying your truth is also rewarding and will nurture your self-confidence, which will help you express your thoughts and feelings with more ease. You will feel more empowered to swim against the current and express yourself in a new way. And for those of you haven’t quite gotten there, we have some good news—living authentically is a practice you can cultivate with mindfulness, consistency, and a little effort.

Last Updated: Nov 18, 2020