Professional Counseling & Psychotherapy

In Search of Our Authentic Self

In my office, individuals have often expressed that the person others see is not their true self. Often as well, folks are confused about or feel disconnected from their authentic self. But we want to understand ourselves, and we want to be respected by others. So here are some thoughts, questions, and ideas that may be helpful in the pursuit of being who we really are:

1. It is a desire that most of us have to be liked by others. So we try to fit in. But when are we giving up too much of ourselves out of fear that others may not accept us, that others may judge us, that others may not like us, or that others may become upset with us? How can we balance the desire to be liked with value-based behavior? To be true to ourselves, we need to
be able to speak up for ourselves, express our opinions, ask for what we need, and set limits that work for us in relations with others.

2. While it is appropriate to vary our behavior in different situations and with different people, doing so can also cause us to feel disconnected from ourselves if we stray from our core values.
But what are our core beliefs, principles, and values? Have we ever written them out? It can be very helpful to consider what’s important to us in the areas of marriage, parenting, family relations, friends, social life, work, health, personal experience, and spiritual practices. And it can be very helpful to list our values, for example, creativity, excellence, family,
friendship, health, kindness, optimism, service, wisdom.

3. What about being happy? Most of us like being happy. So it can help to consider the times at which and the situations in which we feel the happiest and most like our true selves.

4. Consider that our authentic self is not a fixed state. We are constantly growing and reformulating our identity. So it helps to consider not only who we truly are but who we truly want to become.

5. As we reflect on who we want to become, are we identifying specific goals? Are we setting goals that reflect our most important intentions, motives, and values? Are we developing strategies for achieving those goals that incorporate our values into our lives at home and at work?

6. What obstacles or barriers impede the opportunity to truly honor our core values? In what manner are we being held back from being who we truly are or who we truly want to become by ways we have been hurt or harmed in the past? Are we resourceful in developing skills for managing our misreactions or over reactions to current events that trigger past emotions? Are we working to advance insight into defenses that can lead us to blaming others and acting out on them when we’re unhappy or to blaming ourselves and then becoming either overly compliant or self-destructive?

7. When we watch the Olympics or other programs on television, we are often provided with backstories from which we learn more about the individuals featured. We learn about circumstances and events in their lives that help us to understand who they are and how they came to value their goals. When is the last time we looked at our own backstory? And while we’re looking back to understand ourselves in the context of our own history, it can also be helpful to look back on our childhood dreams and goals. Which have we achieved? And which ones would we still like to pursue?

8. It can be very helpful to identify and examine our preconceived notions, that is, the ways, beliefs, and opinions we learned from others while growing up that we have never really considered for ourselves or even our own longstanding beliefs that we have not reexamined in a long while.

9. It can be very helpful to advance knowledge into our “blind spots.” Do we reflect thoughtfully and carefully on the feedback we receive from family, friends, supervisors, and co-workers? What are we learning as we reflect on the ways that others with whom we relate are reacting to us?

10. Are we able to acknowledge our mistakes, apologize, and make amends when we have wronged others? By the same token, are we comfortable with ourselves in being imperfect?

11. And as we go through life and are trying simply and fearlessly to be ourselves, our true selves, without following the crowd, are we able to become more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable? Are we becoming more able to stand by ourselves, encourage ourselves, and support ourselves in the face of self-doubt, uncertainty, or even failure?

12. In the pursuit of our authentic self, we need to reflect on who we are, to understand our history, and to identify our goals and values. Taking time to enjoy the outdoors as well as time to meditate quietly can help to clear our minds and reflect on who we are and what matters to us the most. Creating art in any form is a wonderful way to express ourselves and to learn more about ourselves in the process. Journaling can be very helpful in identifying how we feel, what is working well for us in our life, and what we would like to change.

13. Finally, to experience our authentic selves, we need to be explorers. We need to try new things. When we try new things, we discover more about what we like and who we are.

So, in the search for our authentic self, we seek the confidence to express our own thoughts and opinions, to identify our own values and understand what is really important to us, and to consider not only who we are but who we want to become. We formulate strategies for incorporating our values into our life and address obstacles that are holding us back from who we truly are or truly want to become. As we examine our life, we reflect on our own backstory, reconsider our preconceived notions, and advance knowledge into our “blind spots.” We learn to relate with ourselves in a compassionate, kind, and supportive manner even with all our imperfections. We become increasingly comfortable in acknowledging our mistakes and in making amends. We learn to lean into uncertainty and anxiety with comfort and confidence. To reflect on our lives, we take time to meditate, pray, and journal. And to discover more about ourselves, we try new things to find out more about what makes us happy and provides meaning and purpose in our lives.

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