To Find Yourself, Follow Your Truth: Authenticity as Self-Care

Rear view photo of young adult with short hair sitting on back of Jeep looking out at mountains and fieldI had a conversation with a friend the other day regarding authenticity—a value that I place close to my heart. It seems, in these times of “fake news” and the questioning of the integrity of many of the systems around us, the idea of living an authentic life is sometimes met with a shrug.

Our society is built around the façade of masking our true selves to please others, to build our “brands,” and to be the face of whatever role we are playing in that particular moment—parent, partner/spouse, worker, boss, coach, friend, neighbor, caregiver. No matter what is actually happening inside us or in the other pieces of our life, we are taught to compartmentalize each section in order to be successful.

As a clinician, I am able to see the effects on those who have to put on these masks, to the detriment of their inner happiness. I see the toll it can take on those who feel pressured to act as if they are a certain way, feel a certain way, or believe a certain thing that isn’t a reflection of their true self.

It can be heartbreaking.

It hurts to see a spouse pretend she has been happy for years in a stagnant marriage because she couldn’t stand the idea of judgment from being vulnerable with peers or family members.

It can be devastating to watch someone realize their shallow friendships are the cause of a deep feeling of loneliness despite constantly being around people.

It is horrible to see someone’s creative energy drained by a workplace that expects a happy face and a butt in a chair regardless of their ideas and desire to better serve.

So how can we better connect with who we are—even when there is a role to play?

There is often a fear of being authentic, especially within relationships. From a young age, we are told to “just be ourselves” without any additional prompting of who we are or should be. So often, we try to figure out who we are based on who everyone around us is, and how they respond to us within a situation. We spend our adolescent years “trying on” different identities, and then just going with the pieces that are accepted by those around us.

So when we are “being ourselves,” we are actually often being the person that the world has molded us into, for better or for worse.

When you can put responsibilities and roles aside to spend time doing things that fill your cup, you have more energy to spend on those responsibilities and roles over the long term—and they are less likely to suck you dry.

As adults, we get sucked into our routines with career and family life, often to the detriment of our creative minds and physical bodies. We begin to identify with those roles, often forgetting about our true value systems and the ways our idealist younger selves wanted to impact the world.

When processing with people in therapy about self-care, it can be revealing to talk about that idealist younger self. What did they love to do? What kind of people did they enjoy being around? What did they want for their future self? How are they different from who they are now?

While we often think of self-care as sitting in front of Netflix or getting a manicure, the most impactful self-care is finding ways to get back to our true identity and being authentic about what that looks like.

In other words, our responsible adult selves are good at taking the fun out of things.

If we go back and revisit that younger self, we often can find pieces of our identity that we can bring back into the picture to give ourselves more joy.

For example:

  • If you enjoyed creating or spent time just listening to music as a child, or wrote short stories for fun, those are things that could bring a note of authenticity back into your life. In taking time for yourself to create in this way, you can bring more enjoyment into your life.
  • If you were an athlete, but now find yourself at a desk job, you may want to find ways to incorporate the sports that you loved. Even if you can no longer physically play those sports, coaching them—or finding another way to be involved—could help you to reconnect with who you are.

When you can put responsibilities and roles aside to spend time doing things that fill your cup, you have more energy to spend on those responsibilities and roles over the long term—and they are less likely to suck you dry.

Learning about who we truly are, what we enjoy, and what really brings us to life can make those self-care moments go so much further. Because if you’re going to take time away to focus on doing something for yourself, it should be something that truly brings you joy.

If you’ve lost touch with who you really are, meeting with a licensed therapist may help.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, therapist in Summerville, South Carolina

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.

  • 4 comments
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  • AJB

    AJB

    March 9th, 2018 at 3:07 AM

    The thing that teenagers do is less figuring out who they are and more — at best — the process of trying to squeeze their selves into pre-existing archetypes that are limited by cultural norms and the arbitrary nature of language. More often, it’s the process of attempting to put the broken pieces of who they are back together into a socially acceptable approximation after having it utterly smashed to pieces during childhood.

    The phrase “just be yourself”, about 100 times out of 100, actually means “be someone else entirely, but play your part perfectly so I never have to feel the discomfort of knowing it isn’t real.”

  • AJB

    AJB

    March 9th, 2018 at 3:15 AM

    If we’re defining our authentic selves by the things we loved in childhood, then the authentic me is a person who is enamoured with language and who likes making useful things. But while both of these things are certainly real parts of who I am, the harsh-to-others truth is that it is much deeper and more socially unacceptable than that.

    Who I am is a person who is taciturn, who is Autistic, who is deeply sensitive and attuned to their sensory environment, and who has a spiritual connection with cats… the very things that my family, teachers, and therapists spent my childhood attempting to beat (usually figuratively, though occasionally literally) out of me, often in the name of “turning me into who I really am.”

    They’re also the very things that I had to piece together from broken bits as a teenager. The same things that I continue to embody today, only to continue to have others (I will pointedly note that therapists are often the worst for this) constantly tell me to just stop that and be who I really am.

    Interesting, isn’t it?

  • JLG

    JLG

    March 28th, 2018 at 1:48 PM

    Great comments, your post hits the nail on the head, not just for autistic people, although I found that context fascinating and can only imagine what that experience must have been like, but for everyone else really. The world somehow forces most of us to succumb to who we’re “supposed to be,” while the lucky few who resist that and persist and develop into who they really are, often are the ones who we think are “weird,” “odd,” or “poorly adjusted.” While there is no doubt that functional society has to have some basic rules and decorum to work, we also must ask ourselves “adjusted” to what?

  • tudo

    tudo

    March 9th, 2018 at 3:36 AM

    Top blog, keep doing this excellent work, thanks your content helped me to better understand this subject.

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