Understanding the True Self: Unlocking Authenticity and Fulfillment
In the journey of self-discovery, many individuals seek to understand and connect with their true self. The concept of the true self refers to the core essence of who we are, beyond external influences and societal expectations. It represents our authentic nature, values, beliefs, and desires. In some writing, we find some authors referring to the ‘true self’ as the real or authentic self. However they refer to it, exploring and embracing our self, as we truly are, can lead to a deeper sense of fulfillment, purpose, and happiness.
What is the True Self?
The true self can be thought of as the innermost part of our being, often hidden beneath layers of protective mechanisms, conditioning and societal pressures. It encompasses our genuine thoughts, emotions, and instincts. I don’t propose there is a magical unchangeable center. We do, however, have action tendencies. We have a particular way of responding to the world. Certain elements in our environment, perhaps, arouse our system more than it does others.
Emotional lability refers to the rapid and unpredictable changes in emotions or mood. Individuals experiencing emotional lability may have intense emotional responses that fluctuate between extremes such as sadness, anger, irritability, or euphoria.
Our self is shaped by our biological programming and environmental conditions in a reciprocal fashion. Basically, we are born a certain way that reacts to environmental pressures. Our reactions, in turn, produce certain counter reactions in the environment. These counter reaction then impact us. On and on this goes in a reciprocal determining force, crafting our souls and forming our natures. Knowing this self and how that self reacts to the world is a powerful achievement in our personal development.
Imagine a football team with a certain identity. They may defend well against the run but not so well against the pass. They have strengths and weaknesses on their offense as well. The coach, when devising a game plan, must take in consideration their team’s individual constellation of strengths and weaknesses when developing a plan of action to best compete against their next opponent.
If the coach doesn’t know his team that well, their plan may be inadequate, difficult for his personal to effectively implement.
Over the course of living, we bring form to patterns. Our beliefs of the world, and image we hold of ourselves create constructs that shape how we live. Brian Little warns that “our personal constructs provide both frames for the anticipation of events and cages within which we can become trapped” (2014, Kindle Location 3,566). Consequently, unless we bring awareness to the underlying beliefs, we can’t manage them when they promote maladaptive reactions and behaviors. Understanding our underlying constructs is a function of knowing our true self.
Unmasking the True Self
Discovering and unmasking the real self requires a deep and honest exploration of one’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences. The true self, however, is not an object that we find in its entirety. Our authentic self is a concept. Our personal identity gets a little tattered, torn and disfigured. A normal process of living in a world full of others. However, this does not negate the process of digging a little deeper to know ourselves, our emotional patterns, behavior tendencies, likes and dislikes, and notable fears and joys.
The process of knowing ourselves is a endeavor that is never complete. We are dynamic, complex beings. Michael Eigen wrote “At times we see a question mark in the heart of identity.” We shouldn’t despair. the question mark is a primary part of the seeking process. Eigen explains, “we are encouraged to find our true self, our real self. There are moments when this feels possible, moments when it seems to really happen. We hit pay-dirt and the state resonates with further states to come.” He continues, “at other times, such moments are followed by criticism, questions, seeing constructions, beliefs, conditionings, experiencing doubts. Self-questioning is productive, yet not the only vehicle. With a sweep of a psychic eraser, whoosh, gone. Moments of radical openness” (Eigen, 2011).
Here are some key aspects of self discovery to consider:
Engaging in self-reflection allows us to introspectively examine our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Taking the time to understand why we respond to certain situations and people the way we do can reveal valuable insights into our true self. Sometimes, it helps to play the role of dispassionate scientists, examining ourselves without the noxious subjective, justifying views that typically block the view to our real selves.
Thích Nhất Hạnh proposes meditation as a means to see past the protective shields, hiding our authentic self. He taught that “meditation…helps us return to our true self. Practicing meditation in this kind of society is very difficult. Everything seems to work in concert to try to take us away from our true self. We have thousands of things, like videotapes and music, which help us be away from ourselves. Practicing meditation is to be aware, to smile, to breathe” (Hanh, 2017).
Meditation creates a momentary separation of the self from our subjective running commentary of experience. In these sacred moments, we come to see our selves from a clearer lens.
Embracing authenticity means living in alignment with our values, beliefs, and aspirations. It involves embracing our strengths, accepting our vulnerabilities, and boldly expressing our true thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment. Authenticity eliminates stressful dissonance between values and actions.
Robert Najemy wrote that “we usually choose relationships, money, objects or even work as external frames of reference in order to feel secure and to identify ourselves. Contact with our spiritual center, which is unaffected by the changing external world is an exceptional source of inner security, which liberates us from dependence on these external frames of reference. We would do well to learn to feel this [I] who is beyond all these temporary, passing identifications and states of mind. When we identify with our true self, we can objectively observe and correct our personality. (Najemy, 2001, p. 64).
Basically, discovering the ‘I’ who is beyond all these temporary, passing identifications is the ultimate unveiling of the true self. Accordingly, our journey of discovery should take note of how we rely on external sources to define our inner being. As we begin to peel away these external sources, the self become clearer.
Removing External Influences:
To connect with our authentic self, it’s crucial to strip away the influences of external factors that may have shaped our identity. Markedly, this might involve questioning the societal norms, cultural expectations, or the possessions we desperately cling to for identity.
We never can wipe the slate completely clean. In theory, it sounds nice. However, we live in a world surrounding by objects and systems. Our best shot of seeing through the chaos to find the self, is taking note how the different elements impact our behaviors and feelings. Basically, we need to quit living on autopilot, stand back, and mindfully examine our world, and how our world impacts our emotions, beliefs and behaviors.
Freedom of Choice
Free agency is under attack. Science views the individual as an automation, dancing on the stage playing a predetermined role, created by biology and external influence. I concur largely with some of the findings. But the determining factors are not, go back so many levels that one can’t be certain what actually matters and what doesn’t. In our world, the one we live in, we experience and act in the present. We can view our reactions to immediate stimuli as learned, conditioned, or free agency. How we view these moments also impacts how we respond.
Rollo May wrote, “this identity of freedom and being is demonstrated by the fact that each of us experiences himself as real in the moment of choice. When one asserts ‘I can’ or ‘I choose’ or ‘I will,’ one feels one’s own significance, since it is not possible for the slave to assert these things.” He continues, “In the act of choice, in the original spontaneity of my freedom,” writes Karl Jaspers, “I recognize myself for the first time as my own true self” (May, 1999).
Our emotions carry critical messages from our past. Certainly, the trigger of the feeling affect is in the present. but our reaction emerges from our past. Honoring these sacred moments of arousal may provide a map to the past, opening up new revelations about our true self that we have missed. Whether we are angry, sad, or happy, the emotion is a lesson, expounding on the subject of self.
The Benefits of Embracing the True Self
Embracing and embodying our true self can have numerous positive effects on our lives:
When we embrace our true self, we feel empowered and confident in our own skin. We no longer seek validation solely from external sources but find validation within ourselves.
Being in touch with our true self enables us to form more authentic connections with others. As we express our genuine thoughts and emotions, we attract people who appreciate us for who we truly are, fostering deeper and more meaningful relationships.
Living in alignment with our true self brings a sense of inner peace and fulfillment. It reduces inner conflicts and allows us to make choices that resonate with our core values, resulting in greater overall well-being.
Increased Life Satisfaction:
By embracing our true self, we unlock the potential for a more fulfilling and purpose-driven life. As we align our actions and goals with our authentic desires, we experience a greater sense of satisfaction and contentment.
Embracing the Journey
Discovering and connecting with our true self is a lifelong journey. It requires continuous self-reflection, introspection, and a willingness to challenge societal norms. Embrace the process with compassion, knowing that understanding and embodying your true self can lead to a more authentic, fulfilling life. Remember, your true self is your greatest asset – embrace it, nurture it, and let it shine.
Eigen, Michael (2011). Contact with the Depths. Routledge; 1st edition.
Hanh, Thich Nhat (2005). Being Peace. Parallax Press; 2nd edition.
Little, Brian R. (2014). Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being. PublicAffairs.
May, Rollo (1981/1999). Freedom and Destiny. W. W. Norton & Company.
Najemy, Robert (1985). The Psychology of Happiness: Understanding Ourselves and Others. Holistic Harmony Network; 4th edition.