This is the sage-old advice your mother and friends have given you countless times. But why is it so hard to apply to your life? Why is it so hard to “be your authentic Self”?
Perhaps it’s because you don’t know who you really are.
As a spiritual guide, the first obstacle I see fellow travelers come across trying to find their path in life is the realization that they don’t know who they are.
They fail to listen to the Soul within and instead create mental ideas (dreams) of what they “should” be like and begin to doubt themselves whether they are living up to these notions.
Afterward, they seek comforting validation by asking me questions like: “Is this what Spiritual People do?” “If I think ____ does that mean I’m not an empathic person?” and “Do all healers/old souls/yogis like ___ and _____ ?”
In this article, I want to explore our lost authenticity and how we can learn to find our genuine selves by learning to love our Core Essence.
Table of contents
- How We Lose Our Authenticity
- Why Our Self-Worth is Painfully Fragile
- What is the Authentic Self?
- Authentic ‘Self,’ Not Authentic ‘self’
- 7 Signs You’re Connected With Your Authentic Self
- Authentic Self and Spiritual Awakening
- 5 Ways to Awaken Your Authentic Self
How We Lose Our Authenticity
Watching children play and hearing their genuine laughter is one of the greatest joys in life.
We were all born as children filled with life, a sense of wonder, and the desire to explore and live in the moment. Children have no past baggage or future anxieties so they express what they feel and aren’t afraid to love unconditionally.
After the age of 3, however, children start to become more tamed. This happens to all of us. Developmentally, something changes within us and we begin to lose that wonder, that innocence of childhood.
Our neocortex – or ‘thinking brain’ – grows stronger, and thus our thoughts become more dominant, putting our authentic feelings in the background. Slowly we begin to focus more on these thoughts, and in doing so, we begin to accumulate past baggage and future anxieties.
As our neocortex develops, we also become heavily influenced by our parents, peers, and society’s expectations of who we “should” be.
Why Our Self-Worth is Painfully Fragile
The process of losing your authenticity and adapting to society’s expectations is known as domestication.
Just like pets, we are domesticated with an emotional reward or punishment system. If our behavior is desirable, we are rewarded with attention and affection. If our behavior is not acceptable we are punished by the rejection of our parents or peers.
As children we didn’t care about people’s opinions or judgments, we lived in the present moment and our self-worth came from our authenticity. As we grow older, however, our thoughts become more dominant. And with thoughts come fears, and suddenly our need to be accepted grows. Our self-worth is now put into the hands of other people and their opinions of us.
The Fragmented Self
This new self-worth system forces us to change. It forces us to create a false image of ourselves, a dream.
Slowly we begin to notice that different people expect different things from us – our parents, our teachers, our friends, our priests, our bosses, our siblings, our lovers all want something specific from us – and so we are split up into dozens of different versions of ourselves.
We become so good at living up to these different images of ourselves that we forget who we really are.
When your self-worth comes from these false self-images instead of your authentic Self, you constantly feel off-center, anxious, and incomplete.
Deep down your unconscious mind knows that these images of yourself aren’t true, deep down you know that you’re pretending. And this makes daily living dangerous. This makes your self-worth painfully fragile.
For example, if your false self-image is that of being a “smart and witty person,” you are prone to having your self-worth shattered publicly if someone outsmarts you. It’s at this point that we learn to hate ourselves and self-loathing becomes a new and familiar dark friend.
Insecurity, Perfectionism, and the Need to “Be Right”
With a shaky sense of self-worth comes insecurity problems.
Insecurities are formed when you want to externally live up to an image you envision of yourself, but deep down you know the internal image of yourself is different. The greater the discrepancy between these two images, the more insecure you will feel.
This false image is also known as your “ego.” It is responsible for that need to always be “right” and “save face.” We need to feel right and prove that others are wrong because we want to protect this false image that we project to the outside world, to feel reassured that we aren’t lying to ourselves.
This need to be “right” – to preserve our self-image – is what gives birth to that constant struggle for perfection and the craving for other’s approval.
We suffer so much and try so hard to be important, successful, rich, famous, powerful, and we do this by forcing our false self-image to be real and more valid than other people’s self-images.
This suffering that we undergo to try and be perfect is essentially undertaken in a desperate attempt to try and please other people. To be lovable.
However, believing that we should be a certain way to feel good enough to then be accepted, is a lie. Perfection doesn’t exist. You are never going to get to a point where your ego feels totally good enough, healthy enough, smart enough, or pretty enough.
The answer is that your ego is fundamentally false and illusory. It is essentially one big defense mechanism – a way to protect your precious vulnerability from the world by being socially acceptable. It will always feel unhappy and insecure because it is always ruled by society’s expectations and demands.
In understanding this unhappy predicament, reconnecting with your authentic Self becomes more vital than ever.
Read more: What is the Ego? »
What is the Authentic Self?
Your authentic Self is your truest, most genuine, and natural inner Essence. Some people call this innate quality the Soul or Higher Self. However, the authentic Self isn’t just a remote or hidden quality, it is something that we can also actively experience. When we learn to step into our authentic Self, life becomes enriched with meaning, purpose, joy, peace, and creativity.
Authentic ‘Self,’ Not Authentic ‘self’
Don’t get these two terms confused – most people do!
There is no such thing as an authentic self (lower case ‘s’). The self, or the ego, is a construct that can easily change. It has no true depth or substance. Therefore, how can it be authentic?
On the other hand, there is an authentic Self (with a capital ‘S’). This authentic Self is a deeply rooted quality or essence that we always carry with us.
We can compare self and Self with the difference between personality and character. A personality can be easily altered due to life experience. For instance, we might have moody and sullen personalities as teenagers. But then as adults, we might be optimistic and talkative.
Character, on the other hand, is a quality we always possess. For instance, a person might be naturally introspective, pragmatic, caring, or cheeky and carry that essence all throughout life, no matter what age.
7 Signs You’re Connected With Your Authentic Self
We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.– May Sarton
How many signs can you relate to?
- You feel connected with the Divine/your Soul
- You live a life aligned with your deepest needs and values
- You regularly experience synchronicity
- You understand your place/role in life
- You’re purpose-driven
- You’re not interested in “fitting in” with others
- You have a high level of self-love and self-respect
These signs are only really the tip of the iceberg. Authenticity imbues every part of our life with richness, depth, and meaning.
If you struggle to relate to the above signs, don’t worry. We’re all conditioned to adopt a false self-image. It takes time, persistence, and dedication to uncover the jewel beneath the layers of falsity. That’s why I’m here writing this article: to help you excavate your deeper Self. So keep reading on!
Authentic Self and Spiritual Awakening
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.– Carl Jung
Reconnecting with our authentic Self is a crucial part of the spiritual awakening journey. Why? Without awakening that Core Essence deep within us, we remain lost, stranded, and buried in a sea of lethargic, soulless living.
If we’re drawn to the spiritual path, we’ll also be prone to falling into various traps such as spiritual bypassing and spiritual materialism if we fail to develop a relationship with our authentic Self.
By staying true to ourselves and by connecting with our innate authentic instincts, we walk a path that is wise and heart-centric – a path with the potential for stimulating real spiritual ascension.
In fact, the journey of awakening your authenticity itself is a profoundly spiritual process. It’s a form of spiritual alchemy which demands that the old ways dissolve to reveal the beauty of that which is already within you.
5 Ways to Awaken 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, The Gifts of Imperfection
Picture this: people everywhere trying to desperately find love and approval outside of themselves. Imagine the kind of chaos this creates in the world.
Actually, you don’t have to – just look around you!
We search for love so hungrily, but love is already around and within us. We are terrified to love and accept others because we’re so afraid of getting rejected. But until we learn to love ourselves, we’ll never be able to truly love anybody else.
How do we stop rejecting ourselves? How do we stop being self-destructive? How do we stop feeding the false self-image?
Answer: we have to stop pretending to be something we’re not. We need to reconnect with and celebrate our authenticity again!
Here are some helpful paths and practices that can help you awaken to your authentic Self:
1. Be unflinchingly honest with yourself
To find your authenticity again you’re going to need one key ingredient: truthfulness. Yes, you’ll need to adopt (or hone) a no-BS take-no-prisoners truth-honoring attitude!
The desire to be honest with yourself will help you reveal what is real in yourself and what is a lie that you have either inherited from your domestication (beliefs, values, ambitions) or unconsciously created as a defense mechanism to protect your false image’s self-worth. In turn, you will learn to trust in yourself more.
Shadow work is a wonderful way of developing self-honesty. By examining your inner demons, the parts of you that are buried away, you will come to know a more whole picture of your being.
Read more: Shadow Work: The Ultimate Guide »
2. Learn how to forgive yourself
The sad truth is that we are often our own worst enemies.
One of the first steps in finding your authentic Self is to stop judging what you’ve done and whether or not you’re living up to false “perfection” standards. The easiest way to overcome self-judgment is to learn how to forgive yourself.
Say for example you eat pizza and feel guilty afterward because your false self-image feels “fat.” Inevitably, your mind will go around in circles repeating to yourself how fat you are, making you anxious and creating the urge to soothe yourself with more food. It becomes a vicious cycle!
Learning to forgive yourself allows you to take away the excessive power of neurotic mental rumination and become more in-tune with your heart and body and their emotional needs.
One simple but powerful way of practicing self-forgiveness is to find or create an affirmation that you repeat daily. Examples might include, “I embrace all that I am,” “I forgive and forget,” “I let go,” “I release myself from the pressure to be perfect,” and so on.
Read more: 101+ Morning Affirmations »
3. Self-love and respect are non-negotiable
Loving yourself is not selfish, in fact, it’s the only way we can bring about any deep-seated positive change. We can never be authentically bone-deep happy unless we learn to love ourselves unconditionally.
To love yourself is to have self respect, to treat your body like a temple (e.g., eating a healthy diet, cleanliness, and exercise), as well as respecting your emotional and psychological health by avoiding the accumulation of emotional poison (e.g., grudges, hate, impatience).
Self-love is a practice that takes time, persistence, and gentleness. As you learn to embrace all parts of yourself (both ugly and pretty), your heart will open. And when your heart opens, your authentic Self can shine through more clearly.
Read more: How to Love Yourself »
4. Embrace being alone (solitude!)
I can’t stress this enough: make time for solitude!
It’s in solitude that we create the space for authenticity to blossom. It’s in solitude that we become aware of our domestication, realizing what we are truly like in our own company when we aren’t putting on a false self-image for other people.
By embracing solitude, you’ll come to learn more about your authentic Self – what it feels like, what it looks like, and what stifles its Divine light.
There are many ways to enjoy being alone, some ideas include:
- Going for a long solitary walk
- Watching the world through a window, sipping tea
- Listening to soothing music
- Sitting and contemplating nature
- Meditating and enjoying the silence
Do whatever speaks to you and your Soul!
5. Introspective inner work
There is no way around it: you must go within to awaken your authentic Self. This process of inner exploration is called inner work. And there are many ways to do it.
The three basic paths we recommend are (1) self-love, (2) inner child work, and (3) shadow work. Since I’ve already mentioned self-love and shadow work above, I’ll touch on inner child work.
By reconnecting with your inner child, you’ll gift yourself with the chance to heal deep core wounds. We all possess a wounded inner child, and it’s by embracing this broken and vulnerable part of us that we find true wisdom, peace, and healing.
Inner work is a marvelous gateway to deeper spiritual growth which can facilitate true transformation. And this transformation can result in experiences of Oneness, kundalini awakenings, and other profound transpersonal experiences that refine the Soul.
Read more: Inner Child Work: 5 Ways to Heal Deep-Rooted Trauma »
You are a manifestation of the Divine within a body. And your authentic Self is a sacred expression of that Divine presence.
As you learn to awaken your authentic Self, life will take on a deeper and more soulful dimension. You’ll no longer be plagued by the desire to appease others and betray yourself, but instead, you will listen to your intuition and walk a path with heart. This is the foundation of true spiritual growth.
How do you connect to your authenticity? What has your biggest block been? I’d love to hear below!