Image by Storyset on Freepik

Talk & Listen Sessions

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Authenticity and the Life of Dogs

 The world is full of broken people inflicting their brokenness on others.

~ Dannie-Lu Carr

Earlier this year my psychotherapist reflected back to me my need for authenticity. This was within the context of wanting to be liked and accepted as the "real" me, without having to present a refracted image of my true self. My reckoning was that external acceptance of a portrayal of an imagined self serves only to connect with a facade. The real self remains in a void, remote and disconnected. I had explained I just wanted to be me, to not have to try and be someone or something that I was not, and to be accepted in that way. This means being aware of thoughts and feelings, acknowledging them, and being open about them. Allowing our emotions to surface and then naming them, rather than pushing them back or deflecting them away, allows congruence with our inner reality. This fosters integrity which makes us more wholesome human beings. I believe that this is the only way that human connection can have real meaning.  To me, this is what it means to be authentic. I had explained this thinking in one of my sessions. I clearly remember my therapist nodding at the time, perhaps in agreement or maybe just to indicate he was listening.

Authenticity is a topic that comes up regularly at Talk & Listen, my peer support group. It's interesting to see how this is something that seems to resonate with so many people. Some time ago somebody new started coming to the group sessions. This person, who I shall call "Mark", talked at length about how important authenticity was to him. I remember him explaining that it was one of the values that he lives his life by and that he believed honesty was essential to fostering good relationships. He had shared a story about how a small group of people had not acted with honesty and authenticity towards him and that he had felt betrayed, depressed and upset as a result. Members of the group, myself included, offered emotional support and at the end of the session he said that he felt much better as he felt he had been heard and understood. 

Most people generally acknowledge that authenticity is an essential ingredient for living a good and meaningful life, whether or not they practice what they believe. It's such a fundamental part of human connection and one that becomes apparent very early on in life. Six year olds are pretty clued up on it even at that age! Here's a quote from one such child that views this from their perspective:   

Post-It note written by a six-year old about authenticity
Post-It note by a six-year old

Last Saturday I met up in a coffee shop with someone I've got to know from my support group. We had lots to talk about, including our experience of the group. My friend remarked how well it seemed to be going and how it seemed that everyone who comes along always feels that they really benefit from it. I then told her about a situation that had stunned me and left me feeling quite anxious and upset. A recent meeting had not seemed different in any particular way to any other. I always conclude the meetings with a go-round at the end asking everyone how it was for them. One of the regular attendees said that he had enjoyed coming along again and had got a lot out of the session, just as he had said on all of his previous attendances. This person was Mark. After I formally concluded the meeting, he even stayed behind for about a further half hour to chat with myself and a few others who had also decided to hang around for a bit, before leaving as normal and saying that he looked forward to coming along again next time.                     

"Meetup" is the main platform I use to advertise the group. They introduced a rating facility some time ago where people can leave a star rating and additional feedback of events that they attend. The additional feedback comprises some tick boxes and free text where people can describe their views in their own words. I have always felt pleased and reassured to see that where people have left feedback for my support group meetings it has always been at the five star level with corresponding feedback. Mark's rating, however, when I saw it later that evening, left me in shock and utter disbelief. He had rated the session with just two stars, and ticked boxes to state that the meeting was "not as described", "not engaging", "had no impact" and that he had a "problem with host". He had left the free text box blank, so provided no clue as to why he chose to leave such incredibly negative feedback. He had said nothing other than how useful and engaging the session had been whilst he was there but then left feedback that completely contradicted this.

Screenshot of rating and feedback from Meetup
Meetup Rating and Feedback

The support group operates on a peer-to-peer basis where we all support each other. I am just the same as everyone else who attends, with my own anxieties and insecurities. I recall vividly that during the meeting in question I had explained that I was feeling particularly anxious and that my confidence had taken a knockback. I too was asking for support and understanding in making the effort to organise, turn up and run the session despite being in a frazzled state. I remember Mark saying during the session that he felt I was "doing a great job". It's not possible to get inside Mark's mind and identify the causes of his subsequent behaviour. He had made a point of explaining at a previous meeting how important authenticity was to him and how the actions of others who had not been authentic with him had left him feeling. At this most recent session he said he enjoyed and benefitted from taking part but then left pretty toxic feedback, and without offering any explanation as to why. 

Mark has been one of the more outspoken members of the group. He isn't someone who seems to have much trouble in getting his points across or speaking his mind. If indeed he had issues with the meeting he had plenty of opportunity to let me know after it had formally ended during which time he stayed behind to chat. He also had a free text box where he could have offered some explanation but left this blank. I told someone else I know about the feedback and they said they thought that Mark was clearly dishonest and that he'd had plenty of opportunity to talk about the meeting if he'd felt he wasn't happy for some reason. She also said I shouldn't take it personally. However, the dishonesty and the "problem with host" don't really allow much room to see it any other way. My coffee shop friend was as baffled as I was. She said she couldn't understand why he would leave such negative feedback, especially as he would have been aware what harm and distress it would cause me personally. The hugely inspirational and insightful Dannie-Lu Carr, who I've worked with in the past, sums things up perfectly: "The world is full of broken people inflicting their brokenness on others".

There is one final bit of the Meetup feedback where attendees are asked the question "Would you attend again?". Mark responded "No".

No comments:

Post a Comment