Doctoral Dissertation Research

One of the great inhibitors of authentic being and action is fear—fear of what will happen to oneself, and what will happen to others if one is authentic. Consequently, my research heavily focused upon the results of authenticity—as well as what happens when one is inauthentic—both for the individual and for those immediately impacted by such authenticity/inauthenticity. To read the study’s abstract, click here. To read a PDF version of the entire dissertation, The Practice and Dynamics of Authenticity, click here (caution: 1 megabyte file; requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).

The research consisted of very ordinary people struggling with very human, but challenging situations. Participants in the study were from each of the nine points of the Enneagram. Below is the authenticity story of one such individual, Nicole, an enneatype Nine. As a challenging incidence of authenticity, Nicole chose to discuss an early experience in her incipient relationship with Mark, with whom she is now married. Nicole had met Mark at a conference.

Nicole detailed the experience as follows:

The situation was right after Mark and I met. And it feels important to give a little backdrop to the meeting, because it's pertinent to the context that I was holding at the time after we did meet.

I, for some years, . . . had been longing for a life-partner. In the last couple of years that I was in [New England], and then leading up to the first year out here [in] California, I was really feeling a sense of urgency around this, or imminence—like it was meant to happen—and also some real frustration that it wasn't. . . . When I came out to California, I really vowed . . . that whatever stood in the way within me of having the kind of partnership I wanted, I really wanted . . . to clear and do whatever work I needed to for that to be possible. So I did a lot of work that first year when I was out here, and a lot of insights came to me in that process.

Just before . . . meeting [Mark], I had been on a vision quest. . . . For the vision quest we had to prepare something like 500 prayer ties, with a prayer in each one. . . . And believe me, many of my prayer ties had to do with my life partner—that was very, very important to me. . . . During the vision quest I got this message out of the blue that said, “Okay, you’ve made your point. Now let it go.” . . . That really reverberated in me. I knew that there was a way I was grasping at this. I had put in my prayers, and it was time for me to let go. And something really shifted energetically for me in that vision quest, something really did let go.

Well, 10 days after that vision quest, I was attending a community building workshop. . . . Mark and I . . . were aware of each other at the beginning. I was helping to sign people in. But it was really when we went to break out into smaller groups to address various special interests, and both of us went to the business group. I sat down in this circle, and it turned out that there was a seat available next to me. This very tall man came over who was striking to me. I found myself drawn to him. He ended up coming and sitting right next to me on a little love-seat bench. We went around the circle and shared about what had really drawn us to be in this particular workshop, and some of what was really up in our lives. As we heard what each of us was saying, it was, “Whoa!” There was such resonance around what was up in our lives and what was important to us, and what we saw ourselves here to do. And so . . . immediately after the small circle . . . I said, “We need to talk..” So we did talk then. There was a lot of energy, and yet I also found myself thinking, “Gosh, he's older than I would be interested in.” He's too old, so to speak, was part of what came up. But I felt this draw to him, this very strong draw to him. So anyway, we had a lovely connection.

The next morning, as I was there early getting set up in the room, he showed up early as well, and came over immediately and asked me to dinner that night. I was surprised, and pleased, and I immediately said “yes.” I thought, “Great”—I was so drawn to get to know him better. We did go out to dinner that night, and he asked me, basically, my life story over dinner. And I had never had anyone so attentively and so generously listen to, and draw out, who I really am. I didn't find myself holding back anything, and felt very energized in the process. I didn't hear a lot about his life that night, but a little bit, and I was curious. I really wanted to hear more. . . . So there was some real strong energy there.

By this time I was already starting to deal with the, “Yeah but, you know, be careful.” . . . I had had a fair amount of experience with jumping into situations where there was a strong attraction, jumping in with both feet, arms, everything, very quickly, and then having it burn out very quickly. I had gotten this message about letting go, and by this time I knew his age and that there was a 19 year age difference between us. I had never dated men more than a couple years maybe, at the most, older. . . . So this was out of my box. And yet there was so much about him that I felt really drawn to, both on a personal and a professional level. So I was sitting with that: What do I do? . . . He described his home to me. I was drawn to that too. And he said, “You'll have to come over.” That immediately raised the conflict for me, because I thought, “Whoa, I'd better be careful here. I don't want to lead him on to thinking that this is something that it isn't.” I was feeling very wary about giving out any signals of a romantic kind of relationship. And yet at the same time, man, I really wanted to get to know him better, and so forth.

By the time the workshop ended we discussed the fact that he would be in touch, and that he wanted to invite me to come over and visit sometime. . . . This wasn't just going out to dinner; I'd be staying over at his house. . . . So I knew this was coming, and I felt all churned up about that, I remember, as we left. I thought, “How am I going to deal with that? I want to go, but I don't want to give any expectations. I want to be real clear that this is not about a romantic relationship.” . . . Anyway, he ended up calling, literally Monday morning, first thing, after the workshop. I was having breakfast, I think, when he called. By then I had been sitting with this dilemma, and thinking how am I going to respond to him. I'm not sure that I had even at that time fully come to terms with what I wanted to do when he called. I didn't expect him to call so quickly.

So in many ways this was a situation where when he called it almost forced me to come to a clearer position for myself, because I knew I couldn't go forward with coming for the visit, without having some clarity between us. . . . It wasn't that I felt I was prepared, that I was ready. But somehow when he called I was. When he called, there I was . . . immediately feeling this comfort. There was an ease that was present between us right from the beginning, and yet there was this thing in the background that I knew I had to get settled to free me up to just be able to explore things together.

. . . I don't even recall all of the sequence of what happened, but clearly he was wanting to explore a romantic relationship. I don't remember how he worded that, but he was putting out the question of wanting to explore what our connection was about. There was something in the clarity of his question or the situation that had me just know, in that moment, that I have to address this, and I had to say to him, “You know, I'm really, really drawn to get to know you. I really want to explore a relationship with you, and I want to be real clear that I don't see this as a romantic relationship.” It was really hard for me to do that at the time, especially given that I had been wanting that so much. But I just . . . knew that I couldn't go to visit him without clearing this issue up. The truth is, he, from the beginning, was so many of the things that I had said that I wanted, but I had been clear about age range too—and he didn't meet that. So it was like the thing that was having me, literally, put a big boundary around that. . . . I don't think I ever before this time had so forcibly had to deal with that choice [of being true to myself]. I think it was literally a life turning choice for me. I had done that in other situations, but none that had the implications that this did.

Inhibiting concerns. Nicole acknowledged that she had strong concerns in stating the limitations to the friendship in that early phone conversation. Foremost, there was the very conscious concern of losing the possibility of any sort of relationship with Mark:

I felt really conflicted: Here's someone I really want to be with, and I don't want to lose this opportunity. I felt like, “My God, if I flub this up I may lose this opportunity to know this wonderful man, and with whom I share so many professional interests as well as personal.” . . . It felt like it was risking, . . . if I wasn't interested in the kind of relationship he wanted, then I was going to lose the whole thing.

For her, that concern had some solid history to it. She said her experience with her husband in her “first marriage had been that when I asserted my wishes, counter to what he wished, it was a total disaster.” Although she acknowledged “some compatibilities” in that relationship, she said that “to have peace in the relationship at all, I was often having to put aside my needs.” Moreover, beyond her first marriage experience, she said,

Several . . . important relationships since my first marriage had literally ended very quickly when there was something that came up where I was asserting myself in some new way. It would be the end of the relationship. So I associated that with an incompatibility between asserting my needs and being in an intimate relationship.

Then there was the concern about how to bring up the issue of the age difference. She stated that “in my Nine-ness, I could imagine the potential pain that he might [feel]” in her bringing that up. Her ability to identify was also “part of the awkwardness; like, how do I say this, or how do I -- you know, the vulnerability” of expressing the age difference as a factor.

Motivating forces. Nicole stated that “somehow because of the age difference, I had to set a boundary for myself, to be true to myself, at the time.” Because of her boundary, she said she did

not want to get into a situation of the expectations, and the pressures around sexual involvement or romantic involvement, when I really was not wanting that then. Not that I wasn't wanting it at all, but I was feeling like I did not want it in this situation.

Moreover, although now being sorely tested as a motivating force, being “true to myself” had become the primary value in her life. She elaborated on the choice-point:

Given how important . . . being in an intimate relationship . . . was to me, this was a huge test. Because the truth is, is that I had also made a commitment, some years earlier, that the most important thing for me was to be really true to myself. . . . My integrity, my being true to myself, was a fundamental choice that I was making in my life. . . . This was a coming together of my longing for partnership and my commitment to being true to myself. I didn't realize it consciously, but the two, in my belief system, were not compatible: You can't have an intimate relationship and be fully true to yourself—sorry!

To resolve the conflict, she said, “I had to not push through it, but to confront this conflict of beliefs for it to be possible.”

Nicole also acknowledged the role that the message during the vision quest played in the process, and in her decision:

Ten days earlier in the vision quest, I got that message about letting go. That was an important part of the preparation. Because yes, I needed to do that in order to free up because there was too much investment in a partnership, and it would conflict with the choice of being true to myself. I needed, in this situation, to have that be first and foremost, dominant. So that there was no compromise on that.

Part of what motivated her too was her awareness of one of her patterns that she definitely wanted to change:

As a Nine, the issue of losing myself, especially in an intimate relationship, was my history: . . . I always put the other person first. And I would get lost in the process. I wasn't willing to do that anymore. That wasn't the kind of relationship I wanted. . . . As much as I dealt with loneliness at times, or with the sadness of not being in a relationship, I had come to really appreciate myself in that way, but also to live my life in alignment with what was important to me. On my own, I didn't have to compromise anything for anybody else. And as a Nine, that was a huge thing. I had for a number of years been learning what it was like to live according to my truth—and I liked that! I liked it a lot!

Overall, Nicole thought she got the wherewithal to make the choice she did because of “the work I had been doing on my own, both the personal growth work, the therapy, the school, the spiritual work—all had been about strengthening my sense of myself.” In addition, she said that her value of being true to herself “had been tested in a number of other kinds of situations, and I had come through each time.” Acknowledging that “a lot revealed itself much more in looking back than what I was at all conscious of at the time,” she said that “I just knew that it was a huge risk to do this, and that I had to do it. . . . I wouldn't have felt like I could have lived with myself if I didn't.”

Discernment process. Nicole had developed her own discernment process, which she called “my inner traffic light, . . . about when I’m being true to myself or not,” and used it in this situation. Saying that the time-frame involved in this case was “certainly no more than 48 hours—it was relatively short,” she described the process:

I learned that it was my body that really told me when something was right or not. And when I’m literally experiencing . . . a lot of turmoil and churning, often that is during what I call the yellow light period. The inner traffic light is a visceral kind of feeling that I have. The red light is when I get to the point where I have a very clear “no” to a situation. The green light is when there’s this flow of energy and it’s moving, there is no obstacle. It is just this breathing easily, this fluid kind of energy experience. But often preceding the red or the green is a period of not knowing yet, and I call it the yellow light—churning, confusion, self-doubt. I often go through self-doubts in the process—things like, “Why do you have such standards? Why can't you just settle for something less or whatever?” The self-doubts are all part of that struggle period. So I’m familiar with that place, and I was dealing with a lot of that conflict when I thought about this. Because I was feeling this real green light to pursue, to explore the relationship, to get to know him—I mean, this real draw, a very clear draw. And yet . . . I had already decided in my mind that he was too old for me, . . . that the age difference was too much for this to be feasible, appropriate, or right for me in terms of a romantic relationship. So . . . the age factor served as kind of a black and white criteria [sic] on which I could come to a clear statement of red. I could say “no” because of this age difference; I’m not . . . going to pursue the intimate relationship. And yet I had this green light to pursue a relationship, to get to know him and so forth. So the conflict came in, how do I resolve those? . . . I suspect that if he'd delayed that call I would have churned a whole lot more. There is a way in which I had already been sitting with the dilemmas in myself long enough. And I think the pre-work that I had done, even years before, of really making the choice of being true to myself, somehow in this moment it was like . . . I have to speak my truth here.

Outcomes for Nicole

Short-term. Some short-term outcomes were immediate. Nicole said that, “When I was in the middle of the conversation, it was very clear to me how relieving it was once I got it out.” She added that,

There was this flow of energy again. It was such a relief when I did it and found out that I didn't lose the relationship. . . . It was this huge weight lifted . . . like receiving a huge gift—that I can actually get to know this man and explore this relationship, and he's not angry at me or resentful that I'm saying no to something. Right off the bat!

While fully acknowledging that Mark’s statements and responses integrally contributed to her experience, she said “the boundary that got set allowed a freedom that I had never experienced before in a relationship with a man like that, . . . to be able to share, and to feel—like I could share all of who I was.”

Long-term. When she first began to talk about the long-term outcome, she smiled and said, “Well [pause],” thereby acknowledging that she and Mark were now married. She thought that the authenticity and openness on both their parts in the initial conversation

set the stage for our whole relationship. . . . and not only in that 4-month period of becoming really wonderful friends. But then when it was time to shift the relationship into a romantic level, we were both, within the 24-hour period there, able to shift to a level of commitment to each other that I had never been able to make before. Because it came out of an incredible foundation of authenticity—of each of us. . . . It was the foundation of the relationship, of really supporting each other in being fully alive, and becoming fully who we are. And that's what I wanted. I didn't have many models in my life at all of that being possible, but I just held it, the vision. And it wasn't until that test, in a way, that it really became possible. Ironically, by pushing it away, letting go, like my vision quest said, “Let it go! Let it go in order to have it, in a way that you really want it.”

Outcomes for Others: Nicole’s Perspective

Short-term. Nicole thought that the outcomes for Mark from the authenticity of the initial conversation had “a lot of similarity” to her own experience. Implying the short-term outcome, she said that

in a way, it freed him up, as well, to explore this open-endedly in terms of a relationship, and not be invested in what was at stake. And I think maybe my being willing to state that quite so plainly to him . . . may have been part of the stage setting. He and I did go back and forth on this in different ways, [each of us] reinforcing speaking our truth right from the beginning. So I think it set the stage for doing that with each other, that conversation, right off the bat.

Long-term. Speaking of “the long run,” she stated that

the foundation that we established during that 4-month period created a level of trust and a level of confidence to make the commitment that we made right after it did shift. . . . Long-term, I think he recognizes, as I do, because we started that way, we were able to move into a whole other level of commitment to each other, when it was time, with the strongest foundation that either of us had ever imagined.

Outcomes for Others: Mark's Perspective

As Nicole indicated, her authentic communication in that phone conversation, even though it is the primary focus here, was not the only such authenticity being put forward. Mark too had been very forthright from the very outset of the conversation about what his interests were, with “no games.” He said,

I kind of surprised myself by expressing a -- you know, I had been a long time not involved romantically, and that I was really open to exploring that possibility. And so it was a little bit unusual to do that before we even had a date. But I put that out there, and she was . . . fairly clear that that wasn't where she was.

Consequently, to some degree his perspective of the outcomes of Nicole’s authenticity in the conversation also included his own contribution to the whole conversation.

Short-term. Mark cited that one short-term outcome for him was that he “felt good.” He thought that he “felt kind of cool about being as forthcoming as I was, and having gotten the clarity at this stage in the relationship. That was really the first exploration of connecting together.” He said,

I felt that we were both open, and we were both forthright. And even though there was an offer and a rejection, that didn't get in the way of exploring a different kind of relationship. So there was a sense of feeling pretty good about myself,for my part of that. Some pride.

Given Nicole’s response, he acknowledged “there was some disappointment,” but also said that “that was not the dominant feeling.” He stated that he

saw in Nicole someone who was really interesting on a lot of dimensions, a lot more than I had experienced in anybody that I had connected with. . . . So the interest in connecting was not dimmed by the restrictions that she placed.

As noted earlier, Nicole had brought up in the conversation the issue of the age difference between them. He said that her stating that as a concern was “not really” a problem for him: “It made sense to me that that would be, . . .could be a concern. It's also a little bit presumptuous to say, ‘Hey, just because I'm 19 years older, let's play anyway.’”

Long-term. Although decidedly circumspect about putting too much emphasis upon one interaction and attempting to make a correlation with the unfolding of subsequent events, Mark nevertheless acknowledged the possible long-term impact of the “truths telling” of that initial phone conversation:

I think it potentially had a really big influence. It's hard to say. But it was a kind of clean, clear, no-fault truths telling. In one of our early subsequent encounters, she had a project to do, a biography, so I went to her place to tell her my life story, if you will. And I found myself revealing aspects of that, . . . laying it out with the level of truth telling that was without precedent for me; it was like a no holds barred. And that, that level of disclosure, I think was noteworthy. And it could be that this initial level of openness and truth telling over the first telephone call, was somehow foundational to that being the way we would be with each other. I think my relationship with truth-telling was a long and slow learning process. I came out of an alcoholic family, so there was a level of denial. I came from a Catholic background, so there was a lot of kind of secrecy and guilt. That was a part of, and still is, a part of my personality. So movement toward that kind of openness has been a slow process, and it reached a new level, I think, with Nicole. And it was interesting that it came forward as quickly as it did in that conversation. And it's also even more interesting how revealing she was with me and I with her in just several weeks down the road from that first meeting. . . . The level of forthrightness or truth telling that we both showed at that initial encounter could well have helped kind of catalyze that particular path.
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