Are Authenticity and Compassion Sometimes Mutually Exclusive?

I recently took a trip with my mother. I knew that this time with my mother would be fertile ground for my continued journey towards being more authentic. What I didn’t know, but soon discovered, was that it was also an opportunity to practice being authentic with compassion.

Since my late twenties I have had a difficult relationship with my mother. I don’t know that she realizes that this is the case, but I have struggled mightily to separate from her. I can remember conversations with my therapist more than 25 years ago about how to interact with my mother and how to shift the relationship to more of what I wanted it to be. It’s been a long road.

During this recent trip I kept a daily journal. It was pretty interesting to see how from day to day my feelings about my mother and my relationship with her changed.

One day I’d be focused on all the things she did that had irritated me, many of them long standing complaints, and I’d be sure there was no way I would ever take a trip with her again. The next day I would have had some insight into what her experience was and feel compassion and even sadness for her.

Writing this blog about becoming more authentic has been amazing for me. The freedom that I feel saying what is true for me has spurred me on to be even more authentic in real life, off the written page. I knew that when I returned from this trip that I would want to share my experiences and learning in written form.

Enter my fear, and consequently my dilemma: how would my mother feel if she read what I wrote?

It is important to me to be authentic in my experience of and with my mother. This authenticity is not about making her wrong and me right. It really is a reporting of the process I have gone through not only on this trip, but over many years. And, I feel that I know my mother well enough that if she were to read what I end up writing that she will feel attacked.

Even though my intention is not to attack my mother, not to make her the bad guy, I believe that she will only be able to see where I am criticizing her in whatever I say and not be able to see that the story is not about her, but about me.

This thought occurred to me a few days ago, and I am still working on what the “right” answer is. I am not willing to forgo writing about my relationship with my mother. It is what I need to do to continue my growth in this area.

So far I have not shared my blog with my mother, and I feel okay about that. However, my ultimate intention is to write a book that uses the evolution of my relationship with my mother as a guide for others struggling with similar issues. Would it be inauthentic of me not to share this life accomplishment of publishing a book with my mother? Would I be doing the opposite of what I am espousing in this book to hide from her something that I am proud of achieving?

But what of compassion? If I believe that reading what I have written will be hurtful to her, is it compassionate to tell her about it? Or by trying to protect her, am I taking on her feelings instead of letting her own them herself (a lifelong pattern I have with her)?

It is indeed a sticky wicket, as they say. Right now I’m leaning towards not telling her about it. But is that the easy way out – the way I have always dealt with my mother when I fear a bad reaction?

I would welcome your input, comments, insights and thoughts about this dilemma.

2 responses to “Are Authenticity and Compassion Sometimes Mutually Exclusive?

  1. So much of what you say resonates with me – I too had a difficult relationship with my (late) mother and often didn’t tell her the truth about what was really going on in my life on the assumption that she would disapprove or handle it badly. Maybe I was right – I think I was ultimately trying to protect myself rather than her – but I’m aware it didn’t give her the opportunity to react differently. Maybe she would have surprised me with her support and encouragement, who knows . . . and it’s too late for me to find out now.
    I can’t advise you what to do, only say that if you take a risk you might find out that your mother would like a different and more authentic relationship with you too – I haven’t any daughters myself but I have two sons, and hope that I’ll always be proud of their achievements even if they make me a little uncomfortable.
    Good luck, and thank you for making me reflect on something important.

    • Kay, thank you for your perspective and sharing your own experience – it really echoes my own. I know that part of my reluctance (maybe a large part) to share with my mother is for my own protection. I truly appreciate your input and support.

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