This is the sage old advice your mother and friends have given you countless times. But why is it so hard to apply to your life? Why is it so hard to “be yourself”?
Perhaps it’s because you don’t know who you really are.
As a spiritual guide, the first obstacle I see fellow travelers come across trying to find their path in life is the realization that they don’t know who they are.
They fail to listen to their inner souls and instead create mental ideas (dreams) of what they should be like and begin to doubt themselves whether they are living up to them. Afterward, they seek comforting validation by asking me questions like: “Is this what Spiritual People do?”, “If I can’t do ____ does that mean I’m not an empathic person?” and “Do all healers/old souls/yogis like ___ and _____ ?”
In this article, I want to explore our lost authenticity and how we can learn to find our genuine selves by learning to love ourselves.
A Child’s Authenticity
Watching children play and hearing their genuine laughter is one of the greatest beauties in life.
We were all born as children filled with life, a sense of wonder, and the desires to explore or create and live in the moment. Children have no past baggage or future anxieties so they express what they feel and aren’t afraid to love unconditionally.
After the age of 3, however, children start to become more tamed. This happens to all of us. Something changes within us and we begin to lose that wonder, that innocence of childhood. Our thoughts become more dominant in putting our authentic feelings in the background. Slowly we begin to focus more on these thoughts, and in doing so, we begin to accumulate past baggage and future anxieties.
The Birth of Dreams
This process of losing your authenticity and replacing it with thoughts in the form of fears, shameful memories, rules, social values, and beliefs is known as domestication.
Our domestication can turn into a disease if our parents do not have the awareness and wisdom of what they are passing on. Just like pets, we are domesticated with an emotional reward or punishment system. If our behavior is desirable we are rewarded with attention and affection. If our behavior is not acceptable we are punished by the rejection of our parents or peers.
As children we didn’t care about people’s opinions or judgments, we lived in the present and our self-worth came from our authenticity. Now, however, our thoughts are more predominant. With thoughts come fears, and suddenly our need to be accepted grows. Our self-worth is now put into the hands of other people and their opinions of us.
This new self-worth system forces us to change. It forces us to create a false image of ourselves, a dream. Slowly we begin to notice that different people expect different things from us; our parents, our teachers, our friends, our priests, our bosses, our siblings, our lovers, and so we are split up into dozens of different versions of ourselves. We become so good at living up to these different images of ourselves that we forget who we really are.
When your self-worth comes from your false image instead of your authenticity you constantly feel off-center, anxious and incomplete. Deep down your unconscious knows this image of yourself isn’t true, deep down you know that you’re pretending. The danger is for example, that if your false image is that of being a “smart and witty person”, you are prone to having your self-worth shattered publicly if someone outsmarts you. This is when we learn to hate ourselves.
With a shaky sense of self-worth comes insecurity problems. Insecurities are formed when you expect to externally live up to an image you envision for yourself, but deep down you know the internal image of yourself is different. The greater the discrepancy between these two images, the more insecure you will feel.
This false image is what in psychological terms is known as your “ego.” It is responsible for that need to always be “right”. We need to feel right and prove that others are wrong because we want to protect this false image we project to the outside world, to feel reassured that we aren’t lying to ourselves.
This need to be “right” is what gives birth to that constant struggle for perfection, and the approval of others. We suffer so much and try so hard to be important, successful, rich, famous, powerful, and we do this by forcing our dream, our false illusion, to be real and more valid than other people’s dreams.
This suffering we undergo in order to be perfect is essentially to please other people. It is a lie we fool ourselves into believing that we should be a certain way in order to acknowledge that we are good, in order to accept ourselves. I have previously explained that perfection doesn’t exist. You are never going to be good enough, healthy enough, smart enough or pretty enough because you are chasing an ideal that is a false illusion, a dream.
Wake Up to Your Authentic Self
Can you imagine the chaos that trying to find love and approval outside of ourselves creates in the world? You don’t have to, just look around you.
We search for love outside, but love is already around us and within us everywhere. We are so afraid to love and accept because we are so afraid of getting rejected. But until we learn to love ourselves, we will never be able to truly love anybody else.
How do we stop rejecting ourselves? How do we stop being self-destructive? We have to stop pretending to be something we are not and find our authenticity again.
These are some practical suggestions that I have experienced myself, and witnessed, to work quite well:
– Be honest with yourself
To find your authenticity again you are going to need one key ingredient: truthfulness. Being truthful with yourself will teach you how to trust in yourself.
The desire to be honest with yourself with help you reveal what is real in yourself and what is a lie that you have either inherited from your domestication (beliefs, values, ambitions), or unconsciously created as a defense mechanism to protect your false image’s self-worth. “Do spiritual people do this? Do introverts do that?” This is your mind finding a label to try to live up to with a false image. Never aspire to live up to a label, labels are symbols to guide your attention to further exploration.
– Learn how to forgive yourself
You can be your own worst enemy. One of the first steps in finding your authentic self is to stop judging yourself, and whether or not you’re living up to the false “perfection” standards and expectations you have set for yourself. The easiest way to overcome self-judgment is to learn how to forgive yourself.
Say for example you eat pizza and feel guilty afterward because your false image feels “fat”. Afterward, your mind will go around in circles repeating to yourself how fat you are, making you anxious and creating the urge to soothe yourself with more food. It becomes a vicious circle. Your body has needs and once they’re satisfied it becomes quiet. But your mind is not as simple; it unconsciously gives you its own needs for emotional comfort. Your conscious attention locks itself in a repetitive loop (self-judging thoughts) and doesn’t let go. Learning to forgive yourself allows you to take away the conscious attention from your mind and become more in-tune with your body and emotional needs.
3. – Self-love and respect.
Loving yourself is not selfish, in fact, it’s the only way we can bring about any positive change. We can never be happy unless we learn to love ourselves unconditionally.
To love yourself is to respect yourself, to treat your body like a temple (e.g. eating a healthy diet, cleanliness, and exercise), as well as respecting your emotional and psychological health by avoiding the accumulation of emotional poison (e.g. grudges, hate, impatience).
.- Embrace being alone
I can never stress this enough: make time for solitude. It is in solitude that we create the space for authenticity. It is in solitude that we become aware of our domestication, realizing what we are truly like in our own company when we aren’t putting on a false image for other people.