Updated: Feb 15, 2020
There are lots of inspirational phrases that have been circulating for years:
“Just be yourself”
“Believe in yourself”
“Don’t be Who You Are Not”
- plus many variations. Yet this comes after years of betraying these sentiments. It can be very hard to be yourself, because from childhood, we are taught how we should be. It begins with instilling the wisdom of table manners, doing as you’re told, and saying ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’. All useful to an extent. Conforming to this criterion will gain you approval in society. But this social conditioning develops at an exponential rate. We will learn what to value at an early age: We learn what hobbies and interests get the most admiration from peers, and which occupation will earn the most respect. Success is measured by how much you earn, how big your house is, how expensive your car is. As children, we don’t have the ability to question the messages we receive, we just incorporate them into our self-structure and our belief system. This all comes at a massive cost to the true essence of ourselves.
Our entire lives may be built upon who we’ve learned to become, but not who we are. From a clinical standpoint, this mismatch often presents in the therapy room as a painful and confusing process which can generate a lot of anxiety and depression.
We are also taught about what attitudes to adopt: Allowing yourself to feel the impact of painful experiences is often perceived as weak, or self-indulgent; but painful feelings are an important piece of phenomenon within yourself which needs your attention and the space to breathe, and this requires emotional strength. We may avoid processing painful feelings because this could compromise our established performance in our well-respected occupations, and our roles within relationships - the features which depend on the full functioning of our carefully constructed social facade; so, as a result, painful feelings stay hidden in our psyche for a long time, gathering weight.
The struggles with being authentic
You may be very familiar with identifying with the socially learned version of yourself, and this can bring some comfort: This is what you know. It may be all you’ve ever known; so, to get in touch with your real essence beneath can feel daunting and ungrounding, especially in a climate where you won’t feel accepted for this.
Erosion of defences
Your socially palatable facade is akin to a defence. It operates to protect you against rejection, to protect you from ridicule for being different, and to prevent disappointment from loved ones; so being authentic can appear risky.
Relationships will change. If you see relationships as a dance, the footsteps that you make will alter, and it will disrupt the rhythm that's adopted by others, and this can make the relationship less than harmonious.
Becoming authentic also involves becoming assertive.The things you reluctantly put up with before was usually to please others, but as your confidence in your authenticity develops, so will the realisation that you have a voice and it should be executed. This won’t always align with other people’s agenda, but the importance of this will fade.
Becoming authentic can seem like a long journey, and there will be challenges; but this will be the most personally fulfilling discovery you will ever make. You may experience what it is like to feel truly happy according to your own values and preferences. As it is often a big commitment to undertake this work of ‘unbecoming’, an empathic counsellor who is committed to helping you to connect with the real essence of yourself, at your pace, will make this journey smoother.