Without being able to point to any one particular reason, it’s been one of those weirdly raw and open weeks for me. I’ve been sick. People I love are going through some shit. I’ve been having very earnest and sincere conversations about politics and gender and authenticity on facebook of all places. (I know.) It’s messy.

I have been thinking a lot this week about what it means to be a messy human.

Not in the pre-Marie Kondo sense. (Though I am very messy. Ask anyone who has ever lived with me.)

No, I mean in the Whitman, we contain multitudes, sense.

I am messy in that way, too. (Ask anyone who has ever lived with me.)

There is this paradigm in the self-help world that tells us there are right ways to be messy (emotional vulnerability, feeling your feelings, being in your body, being authentic!) and there are wrong ways to be messy (controlling, thinking instead of feeling, shaping yourself to fit those around you, codependence and controlling and manipulation!).

I admit I frequently buy into this paradigm.

At its foundation, it’s motivated by good intentions and inclination toward truth. Because I think we all intuitively understand that spending your life controlling your feelings instead of feeling them, trying to present the most socially acceptable and pleasing version of yourself to others at the expense of what you really think and feel, judging yourself and others, keeping up with the superficial jonesing that our world seeks to cultivate in us–that way madness and brittleness and twisted-in-ness lies.

We intuitively understand its danger because it is exhausting, and makes us feel tired and small and grippy.

It narrows our point of focus from the breathless, expansive swirl that comprises our universe everyday and leaves just the brittle remains of what we are able to hold together between our hands and overwhelmed thinking mind–scraps of obligations and plans, the slight from a colleague, and the call or email to return, the facebook comment that seems to be about you, the decision to respond or ignore it– all the things we must take care of to keep our life humming along, until our bodies are just things holding up our brains, our feelings are just things in the way of moving forward.

But sometimes this paradigm morphs into its own form of policing.

I have been noticing this in myself because I am taking two classes right now, one with Martha Beck, called the Integrity Cleanse, about learning how to be true and honest with yourself and others, and one with Brene Brown, called Living Brave, about learning how to be brave by being vulnerable. (I’m such a life coach, I can’t stand it sometimes.)

I resist a lot in these classes. At first I thought it was just my same old same old rebellion (always with the “but why,” Lauren, always the same old song).

But then I realized, it’s not just about my usual resistance.

It’s about using concepts like vulnerability, and authenticity, and integrity as a trap. It’s about holding yourself to some impossible standard.*

That impossible standard is that you have one true, whole, unified authentic self, and that if you can just be brave enough to tap into it, to act on it, to let it shine, everything is just all rainbows and bliss and you’re honest, and you feel your fucking feelings even when they’re awful because they’re somehow less awful because you’re magically feeling them instead of thinking about them and ruminating over them, and then (gulp) you tell people about them, and you stand your ground without being mean to people or belittling them, and

did I mention people fall at your feet over how beautifully you have integrated into your authentic self, I mean they are just weeping in awe over how emotionally and spiritually inspirational you are to them?

And that if you don’t do that, if you show different parts of yourself to different people, or if you struggle to show all parts of yourself to any one person, if you do it with varying degrees of openness or success or whatever, too bad, so sad, you suck.

If, for example, you are someone who vacillates between feeling things very deeply (crying over NPR, getting very angry and yelling sometimes, okay, a lot of times) and thinking about things very deeply (but why can’t you just let it go?), but also has a hard time always expressing that in a 100% vulnerable and open way, even with people she mostly likes and trusts–then you might feel like there is something wrong you with you sometimes.

Hypothetically.

Maybe it’s just me. Ahem.

Two weeks ago, when we were talking about feedback, a friend said to me, “yeah I have noticed that you tend to think about something before you allow yourself to feel it.”  She didn’t mean it as a criticism. It was just an observation. It was definitely not like the time someone I was close to called me “aloof” and implied that I might be an emotional robot. That was definitely supposed to be a criticism.

It wasn’t completely untrue.

Sometimes I am an emotional robot.

This is my dirty secret, y’all: I am a life coach and sometimes I compartmentalize my emotions until it’s more convenient for me to deal with them.

When I say it like that, it’s like, yeah, duh no shit, that’s what adjusted people do, silly.

But, I have been trained, or trained myself maybe, to see that tendency as a problem.

(I am not always able to do the thing one of my favorite clients does when she hears a criticism of herself in her mind: she follows it up with “and I love that about myself.” “My name is Lauren Russo, I am a life coach who is sometimes an emotional robot and I love that about myself.” Hm.)

And after my friend made that observation, I thought (see what I did there, always with the thinking), “well, maybe that’s just how I do it. I feel things, but usually my thinking mind gets there first.”

And I do actually love that about myself. I love how thinky my brain is.

Sure it gets a little manic in there sometimes and sometimes we really have to pull the emergency brake because it’s a runaway train on a thought-spiral track to nowhere good. Which maybe, you’re sort of feeling like that’s what happened with this email, here. That’s okay.

I feel good about it–I think?

(I used to get in trouble for saying things like “I think I feel this” in coach training. If you say that, they will say “how do you think a feeling, Lauren?” until you get it. It’s annoying but it’s really helpful for those of us who have a hard time knowing the different between a brain thought and an emotional feeling.)

Heather Havrilesky, as you might know, is one of my favorite people I do not actually know in real life. She writes an advice column that is frequently the best thing on the internet. Well last week, she wrote one of her best ones yet. Easily top 3.

It’s titled, How Do I Express My Feelings Like a Human? Don’t you love that? It’s one of our most basic questions I think.

And this is what she said, when someone wrote in about her concern that she was too fake, too thinky, too self controlled, too angry, both too vulnerable and not vulnerable enough for the people around her:

“You are 100 percent grade-A human exactly the way you are right now. Buffeting between thoughts and feelings, becoming confused, feeling angry, running away like a clumsy bear, weeping into your hands, brushing yourself off and saying, “I’ll never weep into my hands again!” and blaming other people for their emotions, getting defensive, saying GREAT FINE EXCELLENT! to anyone who asks how you are, being a masterful fake, getting shit done, breaking down and crying all over again? THIS IS WHAT HUMANS DO.”

It’s what we do, guys. It’s what we do.

We are all masterful fakes, and we are all beautifully messy, and we can be beautifully true and authentic in our masterful, messy fake ass way.

Usually I try to do a better job of tying everything together by the end, but today I’m leaving it messy, and I will just say,

Fake on, player, fake on,

XO,
Lauren

PS–if you know someone who is also sometimes an emotional robot with a molten core of deep feeling, then please share it with them

If you are said emotional robot with gooey center, and you want to get my love notes in your inbox without having them forwarded to you, then click here

* I didn’t even get a chance to talk about the gender politics of this kind of vulnerability work, but if you too sometimes notice that it is mostly women doing the vulnerability and authenticity work and have thoughts and feelings about this, please let me know because I would love to talk about it with you.