Get Real! The Myth of the Authentic Self

Get Real! The Myth of the Authentic Self

Lera Lynn, whose slow raspy voice evokes an undeniable sense of sorrow, sings, Lately I’m not feeling like myself/when I look into the glass I see someone else/I hardly recognize this face I wear/when I stare into her eyes I see no one there. The emptiness of the song’s lyrics represents today’s lack of Authenticity that many people are confronting. Listening to the song I was reminded of a Gestalt therapy workshop I attended in 1977. Irv Polster was working with a group member who was trying to come to terms with her life. She felt lost, no longer able to identify with her current situation, no longer able to recognize herself in the mirror. She cried out, “I’m not myself.” We were all listening intently, some nodding in empathy while others were identifying through their own personal struggles. The exchange was emotionally consuming, when out of the blue Irv says, “what do you mean you’re not yourself, who else can you be?” And with that, the tension was broken and we all exhaled into laughter. It was like being pulled from the edge of a whirlpool back into steadier seas, and it suddenly seemed absurd to think we can be anyone other than who we are. Today, when I see the term “Authentic Self” being bandied about as a high water marker of personality development I’m reminded of Irv’s cheeky comment and the haunting lyrics of Lera Lynn’s song and I think to myself that there is no Authentic Self, just the Self you are right now.

The problem with the term “Authentic Self” is that it sounds like an end product, something to achieve in order to be fully actualized; a fixed state. That’s nonsense, of course, since we are never fully actualized. There is no absolute when it comes to human development. The development of an Authentic Self is a growth process; we are always becoming who we are and are therefore never fully authentic. It’s a direction, not a destination. Destination equations are limited and restricting, they reduce personal development to an event marker that goes against the grain of progressive self-improvement.

Back in the 70’s when I was training with Irv, the Authentic Self was called “self-awareness”. The New Age version of self-awareness makes it sound like modern-day gurus and social media marketers are taking advantage of the opportunity to make something old seem new and interesting. To me, it sounds more like a repackaged sales job than anything else. From the ancient words of Socrates, Know thyself, to the immortal words of Hamlet, To thine own self be true, and to all the philosophers and orators in between, authenticity is a developmental journey much like the maturation process. We don’t find our Authentic Self like some proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; rather authenticity is a never-ending journey of self-discovery. It’s a conversation with life. You take from everything around you, you process, you reorganize, and you redistribute it back to the world for others to take or leave as they please.

If it’s true that we learn from our mistakes, then making mistakes is how we become more authentic. Paradoxically, we have to be less of our authentic self in order to become more authentic. Therefore, we are always one step short of being truly authentic even when we think we are at our highest level of authenticity. Caitlyn Jenner is a current example of the how the term Authentic Self can be misapplied. She has lived both a blessed and tortured life. Upon reflection, she says she was never really herself, a statement that no one can argue with. But who was she then? It’s not that she wasn’t Bruce, or an Olympic champion, or married, divorced, and on a reality series. It’s more that she was not comfortable with who she was. Many of us aren’t. Now that she has transitioned she feels like she’s living a truer life than the one she lived before. She has matured into Caitlyn but she could not have been Caitlyn without being Bruce first. Does that mean that Bruce was not authentic? Was he a phony? Absolutely not. Yes, she’s more authentic now in the sense of maturity, but not in the sense of finally becoming her true self. She’s finally becoming a more mature version of her former Self. This may seem like mincing words but the distinction between an end result, such as “my authentic self” and the process of maturing, which involves “becoming more authentic” is so important because without it we mistake maturity for being authentic.

The struggle isn’t between being inauthentic and being authentic, it’s about growing up. Being true to yourself is not easy. Learning how to do that takes time. Learning who you are, what you’re doing, how to do it, and how to have integrity about it is what life is all about. It’s about crawling before walking, and walking into walls before learning how to walk through doors.   Becoming consciously aware of how we are maturing is honorable, noble and affirming. Trying to find our Authentic Self, on the other hand, is folly that will always leave us just short of being there.

Five Minute Articles For Your Consideration8 comments

  1. Bill Tenuto says:

    So, Larry, old friend. Is this the latest, trendy New Age thing going on these days in Southern California? Discovering the Authentic Self? What the heck is that?

    You said something that seems to explain it to some extent. “Back in the 70’s when I was training with Irv,” you said, “the Authentic Self was called ‘self awareness’. The New Age version of self-awareness makes it sound like modern-day gurus and social media marketers are taking advantage of the opportunity to make something old seem new and interesting. To me it sounds more like a repackaged sales job than anything else.”

    It seems to me discovering the Authentic Self is the latest California, New Age “in thing.” When I was visiting in Southern California around 2004, I recall the “in thing” then was “follow your bliss.” I wonder what happened to that one.

    As Jean Houston, a New Yorker, said in a talk I heard her give when I was living in San Diego in the early 80s, “Whatever you Californians are into this year.”

    I’ll make a generalization here which I think is arguably true. Many Southern Californians are self-absorbed.

    People who are self absorbed, unless they decide to do something about it, stay stuck in their self-absorption, and it can get lonely and mucky when a person is wrapped up in his or her own self-absorption for a long period of time.

    Finding the Authentic Self? Well I’ll admit I’m getting a good laugh about that at the moment, and I feel like playing, so here’s my playful Authentic Self at the moment…now.

    Yup. My Authentic Self is me, playing, right now, at the moment. Oops! Gee! The moment just went away. Where did that Authentic Self go? Oh, no. What will I do now? Golly. And after I just found my Authentic Self too. It came in just great, but then it went away…and really fast…it seemed like it took off at the speed of thought. But wait. Everything’s okay. Because this is a new moment, and, hey, I’m a little different now, so this must be my new Authentic Self. But now that moment just disappeared too, faster than I could type this, so now here’s the latest, most up-to-the-nano-second version of my Authentic Self. But, wow! Did you just feel that? That moment just went away too. How did that happen? Can’t seem to hold onto it. Maybe I should just keep letting go. You know. DETACH from my attachment to the moment and just release it. Yeah. Keep letting it go as fast as it comes in. Okay. That feels good!

    It moves awfully fast. Whatever this Authentic Self dude is, he’s moving at the speed of thought, and the speed of thought moves faster than the speed of light. It’s zippity quickity. It flashes through, comes in and goes out in a fraction of a second, so fast, so quick that I suppose the space-time of it’s movement can’t even be measured. But I sure can FEEL it. So everything is very cool because here I am, right here, right now. And wow! Now there are three of me. Me… my Authentic Self…and I.

    But I gotta keep detaching from what just happened a nano-second ago for this to work. To keep up with it, I gotta let go of the moment that just zipped by because that moment’s not even real anymore…it’s not my AUTHENTIC SELF anymore. It flew away.

    Guess who? It’s my brand new Authentic Self.

    Did you miss it? Well here’s my brand new, new Authentic Self.

    And now here’s my brand new, new, new Authentic Self.

    Did you miss it again? Well here it is now.

    No. Here it is now….No. Here it is…No. Here it is…No. Here it is….

    So here’s the deal to help give a boost up the ladder of life for any of your other readers who may need this, from a 67 year old man from New Jersey.

    Why bother trying to find the Authentic Self? That’s nothing but a lot of horse hockey.

    What we all want is to be happy and experience the beauty in the world.

    If you’re self-absorbed, break free of all that Crap-Ola. Rather than being the SELF-ABSORBED SELF, become the BEING IN SERVICE TO OTHERS AND GIVING SELF. Open your heart. Your heart knows what it feels like to give and your heart will guide you.

    Whatever talents you have…whatever you happen to be good at…your talents aren’t given to you for you to show off and say, “Hey everybody. Look at me. Ain’t I great?” There are people out there who need the very thing you’re good at doing. Give the GIFTS your SELF has to offer to those who would benefit from your gifts. DO for them the very thing you’re good at doing.

    Because you’re good at doing it, you’ll feel happiness by the simple act of giving it away, and the person you give to will feel the joy and relief of getting what he or she needs.

    Creator gave each of us our unique gifts for the purpose of giving, and when we give, Creator also made our hearts in a way that makes us feel happy when we give in this way. That’s how we human beings are built. It’s natural. It’s easy. It’s even fun!

    As Janice Joplin sang out so strongly, “You know you got it if it makes you feel good.”

    You wanna give it a try? It’s up to you. Who knows? You might like it.

    Oops. I just sneezed. OOOH! YUK. I think I just lost some pieces of my Authentic Self.

    Need to find a tissue. See ya.

    • Larry says:

      I think you may have eaten too many shrooms when you were living in Southern California. The effects seem to be long lasting. However, “being in service to others and giving of self” is a good definition of spirituality. You may be onto something there. Ramble on Bill…

  2. Sean MacLeod says:

    Grasped it all with whatever self (“whomever self”?) I am at this very moment. Perfectly stated, especially the summary in Larry’s last paragraph. Thanks to Bill for the humorous observations!So, for today, rather than trying to be my “authentic self”, I think I’ll just “follow my bliss”!

  3. Bill Tenuto says:

    Shanah Tovah, Larry, to you and your family.

  4. Carol Elias says:

    Hey Larry, I’m re-reading this. The application of this in this particular time in my life is really important.

    Thanks for the wisdom and I love the comments.

    • Larry says:

      Thanks, Carol! Glad you stopped by for a second reading. Sometimes when we look at old information with fresh eyes it conveys a different meaning than before.
      I love the comments too!

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