By Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

It happened again. I was wrapping up my two-day conference teaching play therapists all about Synergetic Play Therapy, and I cried. I cry almost every time.

The tears seem to come right about the time that I tell my students, “Thank you for showing up and giving me a place where I can be me, doing what I love doing more than anything.” And every time I find myself struck by the bigness of the moment and the widening of my heart that seems to follow.

In a culture that is constantly trying to get us to be something we aren’t, having moments where we truly get to be ourselves is nothing short of extraordinary. I find these moments when I teach.

I’m not the only one changed and inspired by the idea of authenticity. These courses change our students, too. When I ask them what they learned from our time together, someone inevitably says, “I got permission to be myself.” My heart swells each time I hear this.

I often look out into the audience when I teach to find tears in my student’s eyes. Maybe they see their own vulnerability in me? Maybe they recognize the moments in their own lives when they too have allowed themselves to be authentic? Maybe they found a heart connection with another person? Whatever it may be, the power of authenticity and its impact continually moves me.

Authenticity hasn’t always come easily for me. Born a twin, I always compared myself to my sibling and found it confusing to establish a separate identity. I can’t remember a time growing up where I wasn’t trying to be someone I wasn’t on some level.

By the time I reached my late twenties, I felt exhausted. I spent my life morphing to people’s expectations of me and had no real clue who I really was. And my life showed it. I struggled in my marriage, and my health deteriorated until doctors diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue. Depression set in, and I felt lost.

But hitting rock bottom at 29 helped inspire a dramatic change in my life. There, I found myself, and birthed my authenticity. Ten years later I can look back and say, “Thank you.” I got the message.

The irony is that authenticity is hard. It’s hard to be ourselves, especially when we face the possibility of rejection, disappointing others or losing opportunities and or relationships. I feared not being good enough and rejection.

Yet, I have discovered that trying to be someone else causes far more pain than trying to be good enough in another person’s eyes. I now see that the ultimate rejection is me rejecting myself.

I see my students struggle with this. They try so hard to do things “right.” They try to become the therapists that they think they “should” be. As a result, they become disillusioned, burned out and their hearts are filled with doubt. They lose themselves.

In those moments when I saw a tear in their eyes or when I heard them express gratitude and relief that they just got permission to be themselves, I can’t help but hope that maybe they caught a glimpse of their own perfection. Maybe for a just a few moments they realized that they were strong, capable and brilliant. Maybe they saw that the greatest gift they could give a client or others in their life is just being themselves. Maybe their hearts opened and for a moment they no longer felt lost. Maybe they heard that little voice inside that said, “You are perfect just the way you are.”