As much as I love this phrase, I am also mindful of how hard it is for children and teens to contemplate the idea of just being who they are. Heck, it is even hard for adults! Being your authentic self can feel risky in our screen-obsessed world. Many people seek to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by other human beings. And as a result, the image we present have become mere presentations of who we think we 'should be' and not reflections of who we really are. So how do we stop the 'masking' and start to live a life of authenticity?
1. Observe yourself objectively
Learn to observe yourself like a fly on the wall. Watch yourself, observing how the version of yourself that you show the world behaves, what it believes, how it reacts under pressure, and how it responds to challenges. Practice noticing which of these responses feel authentic, and which ones feel inauthentic. By identifying which responses are just “for show” vs authentic, you can begin to notice the falseness and begin to better see the truth underneath.
2. Examine family belief systems
Think back to episodes in your childhood, episodes that led you to stop being your authentic self and instead adopt some other way of existing in this world. By examining where our behaviors come from, we can learn a lot about our authentic selves.
3. Identify discrepancies
Try to become aware of discrepancies between your actions and your beliefs. If you catch yourself making a remark that makes you cringe, ask yourself whether you really believe the words you speak. Are you just saying these things because someone else taught you to?
If you acknowledge what is true for you now, then you can better live your life according to the needs of your Authentic Self. But that kind of authenticity requires self-awareness and self-honesty.
4. Examine your doubts
When exploring your Authentic Self, you may feel unsure of how to go about it. You may question whether it's even possible to change what feels so deeply ingrained within you or is invisible to you. So keep an eye out for feelings of doubt.
Doubts can be like breadcrumbs that lead you to your Authentic Self. If you doubt something—a thought, behavior, emotion, experience—reflect for a moment to find whatever is underneath. Is your Authentic Self trying to tell it to "stop it?"
5. Face your fears
Humans tend to be most comfortable with what is familiar. Sometimes, I use the phrase 'comfortably, uncomfortable.' The unfamiliar is often challenging, at least at first. Evaluating your core beliefs can feel like exploring a foreign landscape you are unfamiliar with. Working in therapy can help with identifying core beliefs, as it is often the source of distress.
Our Authentic Self often has a lot of fear, sadness, and anger—our true selves were hurt and that's why they hide. However, the difficult secrets we hide from ourselves are what make us who we really are. So as much as possible, and as slowly as you need to, courageously explore the truth of what makes you who you are. Identifying, experiencing, accepting, and letting go of these buried emotions is exactly what fuels your Authentic Self.
6. Explore your values
Integrity, ethics, and living our values is an effective way to live more authentically. The trouble comes when we are so far from our Authentic Selves that we do not even know what our values are. So explore your values and figure out some ways to start living them.
7. Love yourself
Because it takes self-love for our Authentic Selves to emerge, embedding more love and compassion within yourself is helpful. One way to increase your self-love is to set aside some time aside to take numerous deep breaths each day. You can add this into an existing meditation practice if you like. I like the Calm App and Dr. Weill's 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Slowly deepen your breathing and when you are feeling fully relaxed and receptive, call love to yourself from your environment. Imagine each breath infused with compassionate energy. Draw love into your lungs and disperse it throughout your body, or send it directly to your Authentic Self. Keep breathing consciously until you feel the lightening and lifting energy of these "love breaths."
Once filled with love, share some of it with friends or loved ones. Sending love to others tends to expand the love within!
Created with approval from The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.