With the power of authenticity, we have the power to be our true selves, evolving, messy, complicated, loving and a whole lot more.
We all have different faces or personas that we present to the world, we have different aspects or different versions of who we are, it’s a part of being human that we’re full of complexities and paradox contradictions.
There’s who you are with friends; relaxed, funny, happy, who you are with your family; dependable, loving, loyal, who you are at work, professional, rational, reliable.
These parts are all versions that make up who we are, it’s what makes us individual, unique, it gives us our idiosyncrasies, personality and develops our sense of self.
There are also the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden, our shadow selves, or the parts that we deny to make it more tolerable for ourselves and others’.
We may deny these parts or try to keep it hidden to be more accepted, or seen as uncomplicated, or a nice person who always does the right thing. This tends to be what we perceive as having a negative quality, such as having narcissistic tendencies, feeling jealousy or expressing needy emotions.
These behaviours might be a learnt coping mechanism, a way of being when we feel vulnerable and are faced with uncertainty or anxiety provoking situations. It’s moving further away from authenticity. It could be described as protective behaviours learnt from childhood experiences, or previous relationships, situations that misguidedly taught us how to attempt to protect ourselves from feeling shame, experiencing hurt or embarrassment.
Then there’s the constant splitting between what is our true self and our false self. It leads our internal dialogue, how we think and feel about ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings, which can influence the self that we present to the world.
Presenting your false self is putting on a brave face when we are faced with our fears, or the uncomfortable feeling of rejection. There’s the outside face of being strong and just getting on with it, when really you are feeling alone, hurt or broken inside. Saying “I’m okay” as a generic response, as anything other than that would make it uncomfortable or just wouldn’t be appropriate.
“Essentially you are shrinking yourself,
making yourself small and not allowing yourself
to have your voice heard,
not by you or anybody else.”
Authenticity & Childhood Experiences
Many of our experiences, the repression of authenticity and how we deal with them come from our early experiences, mirroring the behaviours of our early caregivers. We learn our relational patterns from our very first relationships, our parents.
Maybe you learned the only way to express your anger is to shout, or the only way to express your sadness is to ignore it, smile and pretend that it’s not even there. When your family default was to keep everything on an even keel, don’t rock the boat, don’t be too much, don’t express how you feel.
What these experiences teach you is that there are behavioural conditions to being accepted in the world.
For example, if you do well in school and get the right grades, then you are loved, you are valued, you are special and appreciated.
If you don’t do so well or reach your full potential through the expectations of other people, whether that’s your parents or your teachers, then you are a failure, you do not have as much value, you didn’t do enough, you are not good enough.
These messages aren’t necessarily explicit, but there are these subtleties that you pick up during childhood, adolescence and beyond.
One negative word spoken, or a disapproving look can last for years to come and serve as a reminder of a time when you were a disappointment, feeding into your inner critical self and how you internalise your self worth.
Perhaps privacy and keeping family business to yourself was part of your childhood experience. This is a very common phenomenon within a number of cultures that I’ve seen first hand. Keeping secrets, not reaching out for help or support, or making your family look bad, bringing shame onto the family.
These messages may have been more explicit, but what this teaches you is that people outside the family are not to be trusted.
It teaches acceptance, tolerance and silence when things in the home may not be okay. Its the denial and covering up of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse or neglect.
This informs you that staying silent is the way to deal with traumatic experiences, creating a conflicting message of not exactly being able to trust your family, but also not being able to trust people outside of the family home. Perhaps this influences the lack of trust in other relationships as a result.
“To live in authenticity has the power for you
to turn your life around and
become autonomous in the decisions
and choices you make.”
Authenticity & Impact on the Self
Without these conditions in place, family expectations, societal expectations, do you think you would still be the same person you are today?
Without these expectations would you still make the same life choices?
Do you feel like you have choices?
That can be the real difference between choosing your path or feeling like life just happens to you. You fall into a career, you fall into a relationship, you fall into having children with the wrong person, you fall into marriage.
Are these important life decisions happening out of choice or do you feel that you lack autonomy in your life?
Often, when there is a feeling of a lack of content, or wanting something different, perhaps it is born out of not actively making these decisions. Allowing yourself to be led into situations in order to please other people, to not let them down, keep the peace and make them happy. Allowing your false self to take over and your true self to become quieter, smaller, nonexistent.
Doing things in this way might feel easier at first, you might just want an easy life, without the drama, without the conflict and it feels like the right thing to do. So you ignore what your gut instinct is telling you, you bury those feelings of being uncomfortable, as you’d rather sit with your own discomfort than deal with anybody else’s. You’ve never learnt the skill of being able to articulate what your emotions are for yourself, let alone articulate it for anybody else.
You are used to not putting your needs first in many of your relationships, those closest to you may even be aware of this, knowingly using this to their advantage. This reluctance or inability to speak up for your yourself, people pleasing, and doing whatever you can to make people feel good about themselves, often happens at your own expense.
Finding your Authentic Self
Living your life to meet the needs of others puts them in the driving seat and comes at a cost to your true self and what it is that makes you authentically you.
Essentially you are shrinking yourself, making yourself small and not allowing yourself to have your voice heard, not by you or anybody else.
Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed can originate from continuing to meet the needs of other people, trying to keep up with their expectations of who you should be, without much consideration about what it is that you want. This can be in direct conflict of having your own needs met.
It is a sure way to unhappiness, low self esteem, a lack of fulfilment and a lifetime of regret.
To live in authenticity has the power for you to turn your life around and become autonomous in the decisions and the choices that you make.
Where you get to decide what path you take, you choose your own career path and ambitions, you choose when you feel ready to commit in a relationship, you create your own boundaries with family, friends and work colleagues.
Put yourself in the drivers seat and make decisions that also take into account what you need physically, mentally and emotionally. This is the ultimate meaning of self care.
Authenticity means being true to yourself, not ignoring how you feel but learning to recognise that feeling, becoming self aware and articulating in a healthy way when something doesn’t feel right.
The more you listen to that small voice the louder and clearer it will become, building your confidence and validating that you are entitled to feel exactly how you feel with no lengthy explanations.
"The more authentic you are - the more confident you are"
- Gabby Bernstein
I’m Lizandra Leigertwood and I’m counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I help people to build their confidence, self esteem and find their authentic inner voice. To arrange a consultation and see how counselling can help, you can email me in confidence here.