If you’re ready to uncover your authentic self, then this article is for you. We’ll outline some practical tools and exercises you can start using today to put you more in touch with your true self. Bear in mind that self-discovery is a lifelong process and won’t be completed by simply reading an article.
However, as you move through your life and become more attuned to the true you, you’ll come across guides, hints, cues that will point you in the right direction. This article is one of them.
What does it mean to be your authentic self?
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice, to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown
What does it mean to be your authentic self? What is the difference between authenticity and inauthenticity? How do we discover our true selves and live our lives with authenticity and courage?
Living authentically as your true self is key to living a healthy, happy, and meaningful life. It is the choice to live your life in alignment with your core values and honest beliefs and choosing to speak and act in ways that reflect those values and beliefs.
Living an authentic life is a wise choice to make. When we live as our authentic selves, we don’t have to hide away, we don’t have to pretend we’re someone else just to fit it in, and we don’t have to go against what we believe to be important and true.
However, so many of us struggle to live authentically. We find it hard to express our true selves or might not even know who that true self is. Further, many of us don’t fully yet know what we want from life, so living in alignment with our deepest goals is an issue.
Who am I? Who is my true self? How do you live in authenticity? These are big and important questions and may even seem a little daunting, but they don’t have to be. Nobody expects you to figure out your true self overnight, so if you’re feeling lost or confused today, don’t worry.
Finding your true self and living your life with authenticity takes some time. Your life is completely your own, so there’s no rush. You’re not on a timer or in competition with anyone else to find your authentic self.
Still, the sooner you start working on finding it, or better yet, uncovering it, the sooner you can start living a happier, more meaningful life.
When you’re authentic, you end up following your heart, and you put yourself in places and situations and in conversations that you love and that you enjoy. You meet people that you like talking to. You go places you’ve dreamt about. And you end up following your heart and feeling very fulfilled. – Neil Pasricha, You Are Awesome
Why is it important to be authentic?
Simply put, authenticity makes you a better person. You have nothing to hide when you practice being true to yourself and expressing your truth to others.
Of course, you still have a private life and can choose to share or not share things with certain people, but you don’t feel the need to pretend that you’re something or someone you’re not.
Benefits of authenticity:
Studies have found authenticity is good for our health. According to the scientific journal Heliyon, the benefits of authenticity include:
- Higher self-esteem
- Positive mental health and well-being
- Positive mood and affect
- High-quality relationships
- Increased psychosocial adaptability
Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that everyone has a true self. This true self is made of an ‘innate set of attributes that may be discovered on the journey to self-realization and optimal functioning,’ as described by Joshua Wilt and colleagues in Heliyon. ‘What a man can be, he must be!” writes Maslow.
Another renowned humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, also supports the idea that living authentically is a vehicle for fully coming into our true lives and reaching a state of what Maslow termed ‘self-actualization.’ “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change,” writes Rogers in his seminal book ‘On Becoming a Person’.
Mental and emotional balance
In her book Neurosis and Human Growth, German psychoanalyst Karen Horney highlights the importance of being honest with oneself and recognizing one’s genuine strengths and weaknesses as key ingredients in achieving mental and emotional balance.
“Man, by his very nature and of his own accord, strives toward self-realization, and that his set of values evolves from such striving. Apparently, he cannot, for example, develop his full human potential unless he is truthful to himself, unless he is active and productive, unless he relates himself to others in the spirit of mutuality. Apparently, he cannot grow if he indulges in a “dark idolatry of self” and consistently attributes all his own shortcomings to the deficiencies of others. He can grow, in the true sense, only if he assumes responsibility for himself.” – Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth.
Susan Harter, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Denver, has written extensively on the topic of self-esteem, the construction of the self, and false-self behavior. In Snyder and Lopez’s Handbook of Positive Psychology, Harter defines authenticity as ‘owning one’s personal experiences, be they thoughts, emotions, needs, wants, preferences, or beliefs.’
She touts authentic living, truly expressing ourselves in alignment with our inner experience, is the foundation of emotional and psychological maturity.
How to live an authentic life
Practice mindful self-awareness
Learn to become a witness to your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Many of us are more reactive than responsive to the events in our lives. We behave in ways that reflect the way we’ve been conditioned to think and act.
For example, when we’re children, we’re often taught that it’s rude to say ‘no’ to an authority figure, even if we don’t feel like doing what they’re asking us to do or we feel that what they are asking of us is wrong. This behavior can carry on into adulthood and make us neglect our own wants and needs in favor of those of others.
Women, in particular, feel the effects of conditioned behavior. Many young girls are taught to be polite or ‘lady-like,’ either by their parents or other authority figures and societal influences, often to the detriment of their authentic selves.
Men, too, struggle with authenticity with regards to how a man ‘should’ behave. Though times are changing, many men still struggle to conform to what society deems as ‘manliness’ or masculinity, which all too often involves repression or suppression of emotions and sensitivity.
Observe your experience
To live a more authentic life and increase your health, happiness, and well-being, as a result, observe your honest thoughts without a filter. Tune in to how you feel in each moment and bring your focus and attention to the present.
“We train ourselves all through our life to waste energy following our inner narratives. We are often unconsciously driven by our fears, worries, and fantasies. Enter the space of Awareness of the present moment with no emotional filters, no regrets nor hopes, no daydreaming, and no nightmares.” – Natasa Pantovic Nuit, Mindful Being.
When you become a keen observer of your inner experience, which includes your values and beliefs as well as your physical sensations and ‘body knowledge,’ it becomes easier to identify which responses to life are truthful and which responses you have learned through conditioning.
Investigate your family belief systems
The family is our first community and is where we learn to relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us. Every family operates with its own family dynamic, and some family dynamics are unhealthy, especially for a developing child.
As children, we are vulnerable to our environment and do our best to survive in the environment in which we find ourselves. Childhood experiences of emotional injustice, fear, neglect or conditional love and acceptance influence our behavior and lead us to take on survival behaviors.
Sometimes, these survival behaviors manifest as not speaking our truth, suppressing our feelings, or avoiding emotional intimacy out of fear that our needs won’t be met if we open up or out of fear of being emotionally smothered by a parent.
By bringing our attention to the origins of our behaviors and how we learned to get our needs, we gain deep insight into why we may not not be living as authentically today as we could be.
Identify authenticity gaps in your beliefs and actions
We don’t always behave, act, or speak in accordance with what we truly believe. Sometimes, there are discrepancies between our words and our values, such as when we make a discriminatory or hurtful joke without giving it much thought. We might make a joke about someone’s background or personality but not really believe that to be true.
Why, then, do we make the joke, knowing that it might hurt someone. Often, such behavior comes from a desire to fit in or be seen as witty or funny. Still, the reward is shallow and may cause us to feel distant from our true selves.
To live an authentic life, it’s important to notice those moments where we speak on behalf of our ‘adaptive self’ – the part of us that just wants to fit in – and our authentic self.
Learn to differentiate between internal and external influence
What influences you to take action and make change? Is it your inner values and authentic beliefs, your deepest dreams, and the wisdom of your heart? Or is it external factors such as monetary gain, social status, or others’ expectations?
Recognizing what influences your thoughts, action, and behavior is a crucial step on the path to living a truly authentic life.
How to determine your sources of influence
Ask yourself the following questions to identify your sources of influence:
- Is this action or decision coming from my gut?
- Am I doing this to please or satisfy other people?
- Do I feel external pressure regarding this decision?
- Am I willing to persevere through obstacles and difficulties to achieve this goal?
Face your fears
Our fears can provide much insight into who we really are. When we face something we fear, our fear response stems from a disconnect between our true self and the self that we fabricated in response to our experience (the adaptive self).
As humans, we’re typically uncomfortable with unfamiliarity. We seek the familiar to find comfort and often avoid new experiences in which we might feel uncomfortable or frightened and which may challenge our perceived sense of self.
Your authentic self may have, at one time, faced a lot of fear or sadness, confusion, or anger, so much so that these feelings overwhelmed its ability to cope and led to the onset of the false self, the mask, the adaptive self. It may have been the case that your authentic self felt hurt or betrayed and so retreated inwards.
It’s important not to blame yourself for locking away your authentic self and replacing it with a means of survival. Still, it’s equally, if not more, important to understand that you have a responsibility to your authentic self to rediscover it. Whatever hurt if it frightened you in the past is in the past, so let yourself know that you’re safe.
Face your fears and explore your authentic truth. Challenge yourself as much as possible to do things that frighten you (within reason), such as socializing more, speaking up for yourself, or taking up a new hobby or skill. Doing so will boost your confidence significantly and provide the momentum you need to keep exploring and expressing yourself.
Recognize when you feel like your most authentic self
Is there a hobby, behavior, or relationship in which you feel more deeply connected to yourself than usual? Perhaps you feel at one with yourself when you play your favorite sport or when you create a painting or play music? Perhaps there’s an important person in your life with whom you feel you can express yourself without any inhibitions or fear of judgment.
It’s crucial to recognize the times, things, and people that make us feel most at home with ourselves. These are guides towards recognizing your authentic self and living your life in accordance with it.
We often hold back on expressing how we really feel because we fear the consequences. We fear that someone will judge us or that our words and actions will have undesirable consequences.
For example, you might avoid telling a friend that their behavior towards a third friend was inappropriate because you worry that they’ll reject or abandon you. You might avoid telling your boss at work that you believe things could be done differently because you fear losing your job.
Sometimes it makes sense to hold back on telling others what we think, such as when doing so might cause unproductive anxiety, but generally, it’s important to speak up for yourself and let others know how you feel.
By speaking your truth, you show others that you are trustworthy. Whether they agree with you or not, they know that you’re sincere and will more than likely come to respect you for it.
How to Be Genuine
Here are some notable ways to be genuine:
- Act in accordance with what you believe is right and not based on other people’s expectations of you. Remember that whether people like you or not does not matter; what matters most is that you stay true to yourself.
- Always give judgments based on facts and not on your initial presumptions. Genuine people care about how their decisions affect the people involved.
- Create your own trajectory. It is important to focus on what you want to achieve in life. Your dreams and plans do not need approval from others.
- Be generous. Share your knowledge or other resources with others. Help others when you can. Bear in mind that if they succeed because of your help, you are part of their success. Be happy for others’ successes.
- Respect people. Take into account that people should be treated equally regardless of their status or background.
- Have intrinsic motivation. Do not do things to seek a reward or material things. Do activities you have passion for and sustain a lifestyle that makes your life more meaningful.
- Be accountable for the things you say. Once you commit yourself to doing something, make sure you execute and deliver it.
- Accept constructive criticism. Everyone has flaws, and you need to know yours to improve on them. When given feedback, genuine people do not feel attacked; they use it for self-growth.
- Be a role model. Your words should align always with your actions.
- Do not boast about your achievements. Genuine people recognize the significance of self-appreciation. They do not need to brag to get social validation.
It can take some time, practice, consistent effort, and most of all, courage to be willing to dive into your depths and explore who you really are. It can take even more courage to express who you are to the world willfully. Still, the rewards of self-exploration and honest self-expression far outweigh the consequences of staying hidden behind a mask.