How often, when asked how you are, do you say “I’m fine, thank you” when in actual fact, you’re far from fine? We’ve all done it haven’t we? In fact, this is very much how I lived my life for many years, but did you know that this may well be a sign that you are not being congruent?
Let me start this blog by telling you that, despite how much I talk about it now and how important it is in everything I do, I had no idea what congruence or to be congruent meant until 2009 when I spent time in Arizona on the EASE programme which was the predecessor of the NOW Programme. In fact, until this point I had lived a life of suppressing my emotions, forcing myself to appear positive, even when I really didn’t feel it and saying everything was ok when it really wasn’t. The very opposite of congruent.
Humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, describes congruence as “a state in which a person’s ideal self and actual experience are consistent or very similar.”
Congruence is about not denying our emotions, but being in alignment with how we feel, and not bottling up those emotions that society would likely deem as “negative”. In fact, it probably won’t surprise you that doing so can be detrimental to our physical health. Studies have shown that if we regularly bottle up our emotions we are 30% more likely to die prematurely and 70% more likely to suffer from serious health conditions such as cancer*. This is likely due to the fact that suppressing emotions and “carrying on regardless” causes the release of toxins into our systems which can then present as physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and other illnesses.
With this in mind, it’s worth asking yourself how often you just power through when you’re feeling mentally drained or stressed or how often you force a smile so as not to appear ‘negative’ in the eyes of other people.
Not only is congruence vital for good health but also for our relationships too as it helps to promote authentic communication and trust, but how can you live a congruent life in a world that so often encourages forced positivity?
I remember visiting a B&B once where I was hoping to run a workshop and when the owner greeted me she demonstrated congruence perfectly when I asked her how she was. Her reply was “things are a little difficult at the moment as we recently had to have our beloved dog put to sleep. Anyway, let me show you around.” In her reply she didn’t force herself to pretend everything was all rosy and fine, instead she was honest with me about how she was feeling in that present moment but didn’t dwell on it for too long and force me to take on her problems. I could express my sympathies for her loss because, of course I could totally empathise with how she was feeling, but she wasn’t expecting me to try to say anything that would fix the situation or act as a therapist. Her reply helped to establish an authentic connection with me.
Horses are a prime example of living congruently and are sensitive to whether we are being congruent too and this may influence the interaction you have with each or how the horse responds to you. It’s why I love to take some time each day to observe my horses and how they react to their surroundings. Of course not all horses mirror your emotions, some actually transmute them, but this ability that horses have is why they are so important in the work I do, helping others to live congruently.
Congruence is not necessarily something we learn and automatically enable us to live our lives authentically without effort. Instead it’s a practice, something we can learn to embed into our day to day lives. In many ways it’s about UNLEARNING certain behaviours that we have been conditioned to think are necessary. Congruence is being honest when someone asks you how you are. Congruence is taking a step away from something that is causing your mental health to decline even when you think you should just power through. Congruence is being authentic and allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling even when it doesn’t fit with society’s need for constant positivity. This is something I personally work on every day so that I never go back to life pre 2009 when I was unable to speak my truth and live authentically.
If you would like to read more about living congruently and how you can make more authentic choices please visit my previous blog Be Honest With Yourself – Congruence is Key to Emotional Wellbeing
*Study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health and University of Rochester