Becoming Authentic

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Authenticity is the art of being who you are. An authentic person is one who knows who he is, what he values and what he believes and is not afraid to say so, no matter what the cost. Many of us pretend that we are authentic, and some of us even believe it ourselves. But scratch the surface of most people and you find little of substance beneath the veneer. We live in an era when knowledge is the most abundant and cheapest commodity in the world. Yet most of us do not have a single belief that is authentically our own. Inundated with sound bites and media blitzkrieg, we confuse dogma for wisdom, partisanship for strength and ideology for character. Because we lack authenticity, we are victims of the information that should set us free.

Of course, no one is free from the influence of society, religion, upbringing or peer pressure. We are all products of our environment. From the time we take birth until we die, we respond to and absorb the personalities and culture around us. Our experience slowly percolates through the unique set of inherited physical and functional characteristics we were born with, and eventually a personality develops, someone we recognize as “Me.” But  personality is not an authentic representation of who we really are until we take it apart, look at it and put it back together with conscious intent, keeping what we believe is true and discarding the rest.

Jung called this process “individuation,” describing it as a continuous, lifelong process through which we begin to know, value, love and respect ourselves as individuals. It is the key to healthy self-esteem, maturity, ethical behavior and respect for life.

How do you become more authentic? First, understand that it is a process, not an event. You cannot wake up one morning and declare “I am an authentic person.” and expect it to be true. The first step — getting to know yourself — takes time, commitment, patience and a willingness to let go of fear, or at least to move forward whether you are afraid or not. Start by using your journaling practice to bring to consciousness the truth about yourself, your life and how you came to be the person that you are. The rest of the journey will unfold from there.

Journaling exercise

For the next few weeks, use your journal to look at your life in a new way. When you become aware of a conflict or a situation in your life that is not as you want it to be, approach it consciously by allowing yourself to explore your true relationship to what is going on. Ask yourself these three questions:

  •                What is the true nature of this situation? Letting go of judgment, attachment and fear, get in touch with what is really going on. Describe in your journal exactly what you see, feel, hear and believe about the person or situation and how it is causing conflict for you.
  •                What is the purpose of this situation–the real reason the conflict or situation exists?  Asking the purpose of something allows you to understand it in a different, less self-centered way.
  •                What is my need in this situation?  What need are you trying to fulfill by being involved in this situation in this particular way?

Each time you go through this exercise, you will uncover deeper insights and develop more understanding of your true nature, and become more authentic in your approach to life.

Next exercise: Taking Risks

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