“Who am I?”
This question is one of the oldest and most provocative things humans can ask themselves. It aims for the heart of our humanity, attempting to bypass all of the arbitrary rules and social norms that clutter our mindspace and keep us from living authentic lives.
Authenticity as a value and goal presents a lifelong aspiration and challenge for every person to pursue. Here, I’d like to address three key areas that can prevent us from living authentically. But first, let’s take a moment to discuss what I mean by authenticity.
In my view, living authentically means living a life fueled by the consistent goal of manifesting our values in everything we do. Whether we’re aware of it or not, everything we do, every decision we make emanates from values. Essentially, when we live authentically, we manifest values according to our inner guidance—continually propelled by our innate curiosity, interests, and passions.
Authentic individuals can be said to live inclusive lives, seek wholeness and harmony, and have fun in the process.
I have found there to be three main areas that can prevent us from living this way.
People pleasers generally fear conflict. They may believe, in fact, that if someone isn’t happy with them, they’ve fundamentally failed somehow. They then frantically dart about, attempting to rectify their “wrongdoing.” However, people pleasing goes much deeper than simply attempting to make people happy. People pleasers operate from a false belief that tells them doing for others means appeasing their wishes and whims. This in turn typically leads to a sacrificial dance in which the person striving to please jettisons their own needs as they attempt to make room for the caretaking relationship that develops.
This can lead to codependency, as people pleasers wind up becoming dependent upon others. Quite the opposite of authentic individuals, people pleasers never take the time to investigate their own value system. Rather, they put all of their focus on attending to other people’s values, habitually suppressing their own needs. This can lead to resentment and chronic self-doubt.
As stated above, authenticity is inclusive. To avoid the trap of dependence, we must remain mindful of our own values while acknowledging those of others. Maintaining a balance and compromise regarding the values of self and the values of other allows for a smoother, more holistic approach to living.
Lack of Emotional Intelligence
I’ve written extensively on the importance of cultivating emotional intelligence (EQ). Living without the basics of EQ can prevent us from living authentically. These basics—effectively naming, fully feeling, and appropriately expressing our emotions—allow us the flexibility and courage to navigate the slings and arrows of life itself. Authentic individuals courageously plumb the depths of their emotional lives in order to figure themselves out and come out on the other side happier, healthier, and more at peace.
Rather than cultivating power over others (think abuse and manipulation), we want to cultivate self-power. Self-power means we control our sense of peace, self-contentment, and focused ambition. In short, self-power can allow us to more effectively get what we want—and keep it once we have it.
In 10 years of counseling, I have not worked with one individual who didn’t have at least one emotion they dreaded feeling and therefore, resisted. However, resisting our emotions and feelings not only produces misery, it also denies us access to our value system. What’s more, living without EQ can effectively turns us into people pleasers or avoiders. In other words, we wind up either moving towards others and ingratiating ourselves to them, or we end up avoiding them outright. Neither approach lends itself to living holistically and wholesomely, in an authentic way.
Lacking Knowledge of Personal Values
Finally, and I’m sure not surprisingly, the last roadblock to living authentically is a lack of knowledge about or an inability to manifest our personal values.
I ask you to take a moment and consider the following values exercise. On a piece of paper, write down some values you wish to have in your life. Start with five of these. Think adjectives: courageous, open-minded, kind, resourceful, etc. When you’ve finished listing these, turn the paper over. On this side, list at least two behaviors that prove you manifest these values in your life on a regular basis.
All too often people can list particular values they “have,” but they are unable to back them up with behaviors they regularly perform. If we cannot point to these specific behavior-manifesting values, we may be living a disingenuous life
The above roadblocks can, collaboratively or independently, keep us from being true to ourselves and aligning our sense of self with the world at large. Ultimately, living authentically gives us more freedom of choice and therefore, more power over our lives. Rather than cultivating power over others (think abuse and manipulation), we want to cultivate self-power. Self-power means we control our sense of peace, self-contentment, and focused ambition. In short, self-power can allow us to more effectively get what we want—and keep it once we have it.
If you find yourself struggling with living authentically or developing self-power, you may find it helpful to consider and explore these issues with the help of a qualified, compassionate therapist or counselor.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.