The ability to be authentic and vulnerable will serve you well on your cancer journey, says Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist at Cancer Wellness.
"We know from research in integrative oncology that the key to physical health and cancer recovery is being able to access and express our sincere emotions rather than try to mask them, which is what we tend to do in our daily lives," she says. "Also, if we are not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and authentic, we may not feel comfortable reaching out for help. We may become too private or self-sufficient and not get the support we actually need."
What are authenticity and vulnerability?
Being vulnerable and authentic means being able to acknowledge and express how you really feel. Many people are angry, sad and scared after being diagnosed with cancer.
"Authenticity is having the courage to show up as you fully are and to allow yourself to be seen and revealed," says Buttimer. "You have a right to fully show up in all of who you are. You don't have to show up in a way that is convenient to everyone else or that makes you look needless. Doing so can really backfire."
Authenticity with yourself and others
The first person you must practice authenticity with is yourself.
"It's a big a-ha moment for people because we often block intimacy with ourselves and don't acknowledge our deepest, truest feelings," she says.
To practice authenticity with others, you need people in your life you can trust. Look for someone who is already part of your life and has shown you unconditional love and acceptance. There is usually at least one person. If not, find a counselor or coach to help you.
"No one is an island," says Buttimer. "Community and connection are imperative to the healing process during cancer treatment."
Look at practicing authenticity like exercise and take baby steps in revealing yourself. This will help you build "muscle" over time and find more people with whom you can practice vulnerability and authenticity.
When asking for help and support, it is important to recognize that everyone cannot and will not show up for you. If that happens, it doesn't mean you should stop reaching out and asking for the support you need.
"Not everyone is a safe space to land," says Buttimer. "As Brené Brown says, people need to earn the right to hear your story. We shouldn't share our emotions and journey with just anyone. Find people you can lean into and with whom you can be vulnerable and authentic. Then keep looking for those people."
How to uncover your authentic self
Buttimer suggests these exercises to uncover your true self:
Journal regularly about how you are feeling. Your journal is a safe space to express your emotions without fear of judgment.
Let go of the brave face. When you find a friend who is safe to confide in, allow yourself to express real emotion and let go of the brave face. You don't have to say you feel fine. You can say, "I'm feeling scared or shaky today."
Let yourself cry. Instead of holding back tears while watching a movie or when you are feeling sad, let yourself cry.
Practice meditation. "Meditation pierces through the layers of armor in our daily lives. Sometimes the armor is so habitual that we aren't even aware of it. Meditation allows you to get really quiet and connect with a deeper part of yourself," says Buttimer.
Practice yoga. "Vulnerability and authenticity are not just mental activities," she says. "It is especially helpful to cancer patients who have their bodies poked and prodded during treatments. Yoga allows you to be fully in your body, so you can access deeper feelings and emotions."
Read books or articles about authenticity or vulnerability. Buttimer recommends The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown.
Read more articles on emotional health and well-being.