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A rock and a hard place.

Often I find entractes very uncomfortable but fascinating at the same time. These undefined breaks in-between the acts generally seem unnecessary and too chaotic. Their disorganised structure where people erratically look for a safe spot in a foyer, awkward eye contacts and aimless waiting make me nervous and restless. Entractes are like a small cracks in the matrix, unplugging me from the reality of the performance. The logical flow of the play is interrupted and I am thrown into a new narrative that has no obvious goal or rules that are relevant to me. These rules are defined by biological need, social norms and economic pragmatism. You go to the bathroom, chit chat and grab a glass of champagne with dried out canapé. The discrepancy between what you feel like doing and what you must do is very present and evokes an uncomfortable feeling this mismatch.

This physical feeling of discomfort explains the hesitation we experience when our authentic self is willing to act. By authenticity I mean a strong sense of having authorship of our own actions, maintaining coherence between what we feel, what we say and what we do. I want to behave in a certain way but don’t dare to break the structure. I would love to simply unzip my true self and allow it to be more explicit. Instead I feel the weight of my prior experiences, my culture, my genes, my present self, the predefined expectations and many many other factors that play along with my being, appearing and behaving.

Why is authenticity difficult? Being in touch with our own self and act upon it shouldn’t be complicated. Gabor Maté, a physician who specialises in trauma and developmental theory, pointed to an interesting connection between the difficulty to be authentic and the need for attachment. Attachment to others is a fundamental human need, it is rooted in our physiological and psychological design. Without support we simply can’t survive. Being born as remarkably fragile creatures, we are completely dependent on the others in our environment. In constant need for love, care and belonging. On the other side we have the need for authenticity, the ability to be in touch with our intuition, being able to navigate autonomously and manifest who we are in activities and relationships. Authenticity is also an evolutionary need for survival, if we detach from our bodies and our gut feeling, how long can we survive in the wild? In the long run, both are essential for our development.

The complication comes when we look at the developmental stages of a human being. At different sages of our lives our needs are prioritised differently. When a child grows up, her main priority is to belong, without her parents it would be impossible to exist and be an authentic self. Sometimes, a child’s exploratory behaviour is met with judgement and even criticism. Maybe parents are too busy, distracted, in a bad mood, dealing with their personal issues etc, so they ask the child to behave appropriately and stop messing around. In such moments the experiments and explorations a child carries out are experienced as being rejected by the parents. She starts to self-correct her authentic behaviour fearing to loose the attachment with her parents. The suppression evolves and accumulates until we lose the connection with ourselves finding it difficult to be authentic.

In our childhood attachment is more important and we are ready to sacrifice authenticity. However, as adults we strive for authenticity - hence the question who am I comes back so strongly. At that point, though, we have maybe lost the sense of how to be ourselves and who is that self. And that is where the quest for meaning begins.

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