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Being Congruent is the Key to Living with Authenticity

By Linda S. Pucci, Ph.D.

Many people talk about being authentic. To me that involves being true to who we REALLY are. Do we BEHAVE in ways that are true to our values and beliefs? Are we honest with people or do we try to cover up?

Being authentic may sound easy and self-evident, but in our culture, it is often difficult to find a way to have your insides and outsides in tune with each other. The concept of being in tune or being authentic involves being congruent–having your outside match what is going on in the inside.

I’ve been learning about this first hand. I have horses. One of the things about working with horses is their ability to provide feedback with whether our outsides match our insides.

Since horses are prey animals, they are constantly alert to danger. One of the ways they sense danger is to look to see whether or not their environment is CONGRUENT. In the wild, they react clearly and immediately; they want to be as far away as possible from things that are not congruent. Domesticated horses may not react quite as intensely, but they DO react.

Generally, horses faced with incongruent behavior will move away. They are watchful, knowing that something isn’t right. For example, if I approach a horse with smiles and soft talk on the outside, but am anxious or stressed on the inside, he knows something isn’t right and moves away.

Unlike humans, horses don’t value covering up or pretending that “everything is O.K.” Much of the time, our human culture doesn’t reward congruence. Think about when you ask someone how they are doing, and they actually TELL you. Think about how uncomfortable many people are if others are “being emotional” around them.

While it would be nice if we all felt serene and centered, that probably isn’t a realistic expectation in our stress-filled world. After all, part of the stress of our world is in PRETENDING to be calm, rational and “in control” when we may feel just the opposite. Talk about INCONGRUENCE!

Are you someone who protests that everything is “fine,” when your body language is screaming just the opposite? Being congruent doesn’t mean that you deny your state; it means that you are honest about how you are both inside and outside. Once you recognize that inside and outside moods don’t match, you can figure out what you need to do to change it. Otherwise, you are stuck in a denial state, where you are pretending that nothing is wrong.

If you are incongruent, not only will horses run away from you, but people won’t want to be around you either. You may be smiling, but those gritted teeth give you away. The fact that the smile doesn’t reach you eyes tells people you are being dishonest about your feelings. Trust, the cornerstone of relationships, can’t develop when there is incongruence. If the inside and outside of YOU aren’t in harmony, how can your relationships be in harmony?

You might wonder what you are supposed to do in order to make the insides and outsides match. “No one wants to see me as angry as I REALLY am,” you might think. Perhaps not. But acknowledging is the first step to being congruent. This means acknowledging to yourself and, yes, to others.

How do you do this? First, pay attention to your feelings. Notice what you feel and acknowledge it to yourself. What emotions are you feeling? What sensations in your body are signaling for you to pay attention? Acknowledge to yourself that you are feeling anxious, or angry, or relaxed.

Next, think about how to be congruent. You don’t have to spill your emotion everywhere–just acknowledge it. You don’t have to tell the world EVERYTHING. You can acknowledge a negative emotional state by saying, “I’m not feeling so great,” or “I’m out of sorts right now.” “I’m feeling kind of sad (or angry, or emotional).”

Allow your insides to match your outsides. When you are congruent, you are living honestly. Your life doesn’t have to be perfect, just authentic.

© 2012 Linda Pucci, Ph.D.

Linda Pucci, Ph.D. is a life coach, trainer and owner of Inner Resource Center, LLC in Maryville, TN. She has over 34 years of experience helping people overcome obstacles and self-sabotage by using her solution focused approach. She is dedicated to helping people find the resources they need to transform their lives. She often has horses facilitate the learning process in her personal growth workshops or on-site coaching. For more information and additional free resources, go to InnerResourceCenter.com.