(L)earning the Freedom to Be Authentic

What is freedom? The Miriam-Webster dictionary begins to define it as: “the quality or state of being free, as:

a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action

b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence

c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous.”

A very high calling, really. An invitation to be vulnerable, true to the essence, the core of who we are. I suspect many/most/all of us have been well-trained through our stories, our childhood relationships, to live from a small set of choices or actions in response to others’ interactions with us. It happens without our thinking, often without our even knowing. I didn’t know to question these well-learned responses until the last five or six years of my life.

For me, my go-to response was shame. I learned this response painfully and repeatedly, as a sensitive, young girl, from a mom who was tightly controlled, and controlling, unwilling to live in her emotions, or to acknowledge the validity of the “negative” emotions of others. For many years, I tried to live up to what my mom modeled and taught me about her reality of emotions as weakness and shameful indulgences.

Talk about feeling trapped. Small. Unknown. Unacceptable. Afraid of being pushed even further away from connection with the smallest sign of “unacceptable” emotion. Believing I had tight constraints in how I could choose to live or act. Being rigidly constrained in the power of my desire for my mom’s approval. Living in an onerous prison, cut off from my true self.

I was still trying to earn my mom’s approval when I met my husband, and during our first few years of marriage. As the Lord blessed us with children, I began to do the closest thing I have ever done to rebellion of my mom’s life view: I chose to validate my children’s emotions—everything from their frustration, to anger, to joy, to confusion. It took a few more years before I gave myself permission to validate and accept my own emotions—and this process began only after my mom’s death.

At first, I only saw glimpses of progress. I saw the shame and named it, but didn’t really know what to do with it. I slowly began to name and own my emotions. At first, I was flooded with mostly the emotions my mom had labeled as “unacceptable.” I was shocked at how much anger, confusion, envy, and bitterness I had inside. Then came the unexpected, sweet bonus: I felt joy more fully. My heart rose with happiness over small things: celebrating my sons for who they were; the beauty of the moonlight through a frosted window; my husband’s laughter; pride in my work when I finished any of my craft projects.

So where am I now, in my journey to freedom? I am discovering my playfulness. I am choosing to be honest about how I feel. It feels awkward at times, but exhilarating. I’ll show you a recent scenario:

A few weeks ago, my husband was cleaning up the kitchen. I was overcome with gratitude for this man in my life. Wanting him to know how I felt, I said, “I love you.” He quickly pivoted to look at me, his hands covered with soap suds, a confused look of disbelief on his face, and said nothing. I just smiled, whispered, “I just wanted you to know,” and went upstairs to bed. On my way upstairs, I realized that I felt no shame for having caused his confusion (which, may I say, has been my lifelong go-to response in awkward moments), and felt relief at this newly discovered freedom. I realized that I am not responsible for how others respond to my vulnerability, and discovered that it was kind of fun to see my husband off-guard. The poor guy has no idea who he REALLY married.

I have been learning to trust my heart, my emotions, more. And learning how to share my true self more, with my family and friends. I’m finding that this vulnerability has resulted in deeper connections as people respond to and reciprocate the openness I initiate. I’m feeling less trapped in a prison of small living. I’m seeing that what I have to say and share makes a positive difference in how others see themselves. I love living life more openly, more true to myself, and inviting others to the same.

I’m ready to live more freely, exempt from the onerous burden of shame, without the constraint of living to please someone else, and liberated from the power of my mom’s voice saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

I am hungry for authenticity with all my relationships and thirsty for freedom to live wholeheartedly. Will you join me?

Psalm 107:9—For he satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry soul with good. NIV

Brooke Fossell has long been captivated by the power of words and story. She has been learning to embrace her own story, along with her femininity, longings, and voice. Married for 22 years, she has four teenage sons. She enjoys walking (preferably outdoors and near water), reading, and coffee dates with her husband. She enjoys her writing at this blog.