What is Authentic Relating?
What is Authentic Relating?
At its simplest, authentic relating is a groundbreaking relational practice that creates profoundly enriching, enlivening, and nourishing relationships in all social domains of life, from the bedroom to the boardroom, with intimate partners and perfect strangers and everyone in between. Authentic relating is both a key and a map that allows people to unlock and explore the vast and extraordinary landscape of human connection that lies beyond the scope of most typical relationships. It is a practice that heals old wounds, softens and settles reactive nervous systems, and allows people to be deeply seen, heard, and accepted for who they are – even in their most recessed, darkest, scariest innermost selves.
Authentic relating is a strongly effective prescription for social isolation and loneliness and all of its attendant manifestations – depression, anxiety, hopelessness, addiction, self-harm, and even physical degeneration. Humans need to be in connection with other humans – when we are in connection with others, we thrive and are productive and creative, and when we aren’t, we wither and suffer, and become despondent, lethargic, and lifeless.
Authentic relating offers an integrated set of skills and tools that are potent, versatile, and easy to learn and apply in everyday life, with everyone we encounter. It combines cutting edge research into the science of relationships with the timeless tenets of ancient wisdom to produce a relational practice that is non-dogmatic, eminently practical, and immediately accessible by anyone.
The skills of authentic relating shine in how they provide a map to navigate conflict; there is no other practice or modality that offers tools as effective and easy to apply in resolving conflict and creating more trust and positive regard between individuals and groups. Authentic relating shifts the paradigm of conflict from something to be avoided and experienced through gritted teeth to an opportunity for stronger connections and relationships, more empathy between both individuals and groups, and a path towards co-creating vehicles of relationship that honors each person’s unique values and perspectives.
Another way authentic relating can be described is that it is a practice that reveals the hidden, makes the unconscious conscious, and the implicit explicit. It acts as a beacon of illumination, reaching into the darkest corners of our hidden selves to reveal the gems of essential humanness. As the artist and philosopher Tony Berlandt says, “The more introspective a work of art is, the more universal it becomes.” So it is with authentic relating – as we use the tools of the practice to locate and reveal the parts of ourselves that we’ve learned and been conditioned to lock away and keep hidden, we find a universality, a human-wide commonality, that has us feeling less alone and more connected to others.
Authentic is being real, honest, revealed, and transparent, allowing others to see, hear, and know our inner world. Relating is recognizing that there is someone else on the other side of the relational field, having a unique experience as rich and complex as our own, and that space and invitation must be given to weave their experience with our own to create a dynamic dance of both authentic human expression and reception. Most people have been conditioned to prioritize their own experience over others, or others’ experience over their own – authentic relating harmonizes this imbalance to create a center of gravity that lives in between each person, where the most aliveness and intimacy can be felt and shared.
Authentic relating is a practice that steers people toward a sense of wholeness, a defragmentation of the different parts of the self into a cohesive whole, where all physical sensations, emotions, and mental thoughts are integrated into a unified expression of consciousness. Great suffering and energetic drain arise from the constant efforts we often make to put forward some aspects of ourselves and keep hidden other aspects of ourselves; authentic relating provides the skills and tools to bring all aspects of multifaceted humanity together, and the result has often been reported to be as healing and transformational as even the best therapy can provide.
Authentic relating lives in the body. It is not a cognitive exercise. It is more like playing an instrument than doing a math problem. It is not a thing that we do, rather it is a way that we are. It is a remembering of a time before we were laden with absorbed culture, a time of innocence and unbridled expression. As we find ourselves hurtling toward a technologically driven society that ever further distances our sense of self from our bodies, authentic relating as a practice of re-embodiment, of re-integration with the wisdom and insight that lives in our bodies, has become ever more relevant and important.
The renowned Hungarian-Canadian physician and trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté speaks about how children have two fundamental needs in order for them to grow up in healthy mind and body. One is for secure attachment, and the other is for authentic expression. An ideal upbringing is one in which a child’s caregivers provide both ongoing reassurance that the connection between child and caregiver is strong and impermeable, as well as generous space for the child to be fully expressed throughout the emotional spectrum. However, if a child experiences a negative correlation between the two – when I express myself in this way, the connection is withdrawn – the child will always sacrifice authentic expression in order to ensure the security of the attachment, and never the other way around.
This is precisely why so many of us have grown up suppressing our authentic expression, because the risk of losing connection and secure attachment is too great. If we want to ensure the continuity of our relationships, we have learned (often, the hard way) to manage our emotional expression and to employ strategies to keep the relational cord intact. The paradigm shift that authentic relating offers is a complete flip of the script – the more secure are our attachments, the more we can be authentically expressed, and the more authentically expressed we are, the more secure are our attachments. This is a groundbreaking contribution to the quality of relationships available in this practice, and it is available to everyone, no matter the path a person has traversed to arrive at its doorstep.
Authentic relating brings the focus to the here and now, and invites us to shed the social scripts we often lean on to navigate through social interactions. The deepest sense of intimacy and the greatest sense of aliveness are concentrated in the mystery of the here and now, where we never know where we are headed and what we will discover along the way. In an authentic conversation that lives in the here and now, we are riding the very edge of the unknown, letting go of planning for the next response or question and allowing the aliveness of the unknown to be the only source of inspiration. One of my favorite maxims of the practice is to follow the aliveness, wherever it may lead. Time and again, this simple guiding principle has steered my conversations and interactions with people to the most fascinating, enriching, and unpredictable places.
We have found that authentic relating provides a space for people to feel a sense of belonging – in themselves and in the world. All parts, all dimensions, all emotions, all aspects that make us human are welcome in this practice. Where there are divides, bridges can be built, worlds can be explored, and treasures can be discovered.
We hope you find this beautiful practice as nourishing, fulfilling, and enlivening as we and now thousands of ART graduates have, and that it illuminates for you the precious treasures of essential humanness in yourself and others