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Finding Your Authentic Self: The Journey Through Therapy

Many individuals embark on the journey of finding their authentic selves through therapy, often without realising that’s what they’re seeking. They come with a niggling feeling of being lost or disconnected, sensing that something isn’t quite right. Others may notice destructive patterns in their lives, such as reenacting past sadness, repeating unhappy relationships, or engaging in behaviours they can’t seem to break. This concept, rich with layers of meaning, touches upon the very essence of what it means to be human. In our quest for authenticity, we often encounter the intricate web of the ‘phoney self’- a construct shaped by childhood messaging and societal expectations. Through the therapeutic journey, we can unravel these layers, reconnect with our essential essence, and foster growth from a place of genuine alignment.

The Phoney Self: An Adaptation to Early Messages


From a young age, we are bombarded with messages about who we should be. These messages come from our parents, teachers, peers, and society at large. They dictate how we should behave, what we should value, and how we should perceive ourselves. In an effort to belong and gain approval, many of us adapt by molding ourselves to fit these external expectations. This adaptation often leads to the development of a ‘phoney self’—a facade that masks our true nature.

Carl Rogers, a pioneer in humanistic psychology, extensively discussed the concept of self and its development. He suggested that people often create a ‘self-concept’ based on conditional positive regard received during childhood. However, this adaptation can also be a way of staying safe. Children may adjust their true nature to avoid negative consequences, protect themselves from harm, or ensure survival in a challenging environment. These adaptations, although initially serving to keep the psyche safe, can create deep-rooted patterns that persist into adulthood.

Therapy as a Pathway to Authenticity

Therapy offers a unique space to explore and dismantle the phoney self. It provides a safe, non-judgmental environment where individuals can examine the origins of their adapted behaviors and beliefs. Through the therapeutic process, clients can begin to distinguish between the messages they’ve internalised and their true, authentic desires and values.

One of the primary tasks of therapy is to help clients reconnect with their essential essence. This involves delving into past experiences, uncovering suppressed emotions, and challenging ingrained patterns of thought. As clients gain insight into their childhood conditioning, they can start to let go of the phoney self and embrace their authentic nature.

Reconnecting with the Essential Essence

Reconnecting with the essential essence is not a one-time revelation but an ongoing process. It requires a commitment to self-exploration and a willingness to face uncomfortable truths. In therapy, clients learn to listen to their inner voice, to trust their instincts, and to honour their true feelings and desires.

This journey often involves grieving the loss of the phoney self that was created to navigate external demands. It can be a challenging process, as individuals may need to be born into the truth of who they are and let go of the constructed and defended self. This transformation can lead to significant changes in a person’s life - relationships might change, career paths might shift, and there can be a complete reconfiguration in alignment with their new truth. While these changes involve a lot of loss, they also open the door to living a life that is true to one’s authentic self.

Rewiring the Brain: From Unconscious to Conscious

An essential part of this journey involves moving behaviours and thought patterns from the unconscious to the conscious. Over years of living according to the phoney self, we build neural pathways that reinforce these adapted behaviors. These pathways become ingrained and automatic, making it challenging to change.

Through repetitive therapeutic work, clients can start to build new neural pathways that align with their authentic selves. This process involves consistently bringing unconscious patterns into conscious awareness and actively choosing different, more authentic responses. As these new pathways are strengthened, old, maladaptive patterns begin to weaken, leading to a more genuine way of being.

The Role of Social Media in Exacerbating the Phoney Self

In today’s digital age, social media has a significant impact on the development and reinforcement of the phoney self, especially among young people. Social media platforms often encourage individuals to present an idealised version of themselves, driven by likes, comments, and followers. This can lead to a continuous cycle of seeking external validation, further distancing individuals from their authentic selves.

The pressure to conform to certain standards and portray a perfect life can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and inauthenticity. Young people, in particular, are vulnerable to these influences, as their sense of self is still developing. They may adopt behaviours and attitudes that are not truly reflective of who they are, but rather who they believe they need to be to fit in or be admired .

Distinguishing Between Authentic Self and Adaptational Fear

A crucial part of reconnecting with the authentic self is learning to distinguish between the quiet voice of your true self and the loud, often fear-driven voices of adaptation. The authentic self is grounded in your deepest values, desires, and intuitions, while adaptational fears are rooted in past experiences of danger or disapproval.

One effective strategy to identify these voices is through mindfulness and self-reflection. Pay attention to the feelings associated with different thoughts: authentic self-guidance typically feels calm and clear, while adaptational fears are often accompanied by anxiety and urgency. Engaging in regular practices such as journaling or meditation can help clarify these inner voices.

Navigating the Journey with Support

Navigating the journey towards authenticity can be challenging and complex. Having a therapist or a supportive person to collaborate with can be invaluable. A therapist acts as a co-pilot, helping you navigate the changes in your personal circumstances and providing guidance and support as you dismantle the phoney self and realign with your true nature. This collaborative effort ensures that you are not alone in facing the emotional and practical challenges that arise during this transformative process  .

Humanity’s Age-Old Struggle with the Authentic Self

The struggle to find and maintain an authentic self is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, various cultures and philosophies have grappled with the idea of living true to oneself. Ancient philosophers like Socrates emphasised the importance of self-knowledge with his famous maxim, “Know thyself,” while Eastern traditions like Buddhism have long taught the significance of understanding one’s true nature. These teachings highlight that the quest for authenticity is a fundamental part of the human experience, one that transcends time and culture.

Growing from a Place of Authenticity

Growth from a place of authenticity is transformative. It allows individuals to live in alignment with their true values, to form genuine connections with others, and to pursue goals that resonate with their inner truth. This authentic living fosters resilience, as individuals are no longer driven by the need for external validation but are guided by their own intrinsic worth.

Therapy supports this growth by providing tools for self-reflection, emotional regulation, and mindful living. It empowers clients to make conscious choices that reflect their authentic selves and to navigate life’s challenges with a sense of inner peace and confidence. This process is metaphorically akin to having a chiropractic adjustment, bringing the individual back into alignment with their true self.

The Importance of Support Systems

For many, groups such as the 12-step programs emphasise “To thine own self be true,” highlighting the importance of reclaiming authenticity. Often, people develop addictive tendencies to cope with the stress of maintaining a phoney self and dealing with past traumas. Recovery in these programs focuses on rediscovering and living in alignment with one’s true self, supported by a community that understands the challenges involved.

Conclusion

Finding your authentic self is a deeply personal and transformative journey. It involves peeling back the layers of the phoney self, reconnecting with your essential essence, and growing from a place of authenticity. Through therapy, you can embark on this journey with support and guidance, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and genuine existence. Embrace the process, trust in your inner voice, and allow yourself the freedom to be truly, authentically you.

In the words of Irvin Yalom, “The more unlived your life, the greater your death anxiety.” Embrace the opportunity to live fully and authentically, for it is in this authentic living that true fulfilment and peace are found.

 

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Contemporary Films About Reconnecting with Your Authentic Self

       1.      “Wild” (2014)
       •       This film, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, follows her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail as she seeks to heal and rediscover herself after a series of personal tragedies.
       2.      “Eat Pray Love” (2010)
       •       Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, this film depicts a woman’s journey around the world to find herself after a painful divorce.
       3.      “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006)
       •       A biographical film about Chris Gardner’s struggle with homelessness while raising his son and striving to achieve his dream of becoming a successful stockbroker, ultimately finding a sense of purpose and self-worth.
       4.      “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)
       •       This film explores the dynamics of a dysfunctional family as they embark on a road trip, each member facing their own struggles and learning about themselves along the way.
       5.      “Into the Wild” (2007)
       •       Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, this film follows his journey into the Alaskan wilderness as he seeks to shed societal expectations and find his true self.

Books About Reconnecting with Your Authentic Self

       1.      “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck
       •       A classic book that combines psychology and spirituality to explore the journey of personal growth and self-discovery.
       2.      “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl
       •       A powerful account of finding purpose and meaning in life, even in the most difficult circumstances, based on Frankl’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps.
       3.      “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown
       •       This book encourages readers to embrace their imperfections and live authentically, based on extensive research on vulnerability, courage, and worthiness.
       4.      “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown
       •       Another impactful book by Brené Brown that delves into the importance of vulnerability and living a wholehearted, authentic life.
       5.      “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael A. Singer
       •       This book offers insights into transcending the boundaries of the self and achieving inner peace and freedom.
       6.      “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach
       •       A blend of Buddhist wisdom and psychological insights, this book guides readers toward embracing their true selves with compassion and mindfulness.
       7.      “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
       •       A philosophical novel about following one’s dreams and listening to one’s heart, emphasizing the importance of self-discovery and personal legends.

These films and books can provide valuable insights and inspiration for anyone on the journey to reconnecting with their authentic self and finding meaning and purpose in life.

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