Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Stop Looking for Your Authentic Self

It is right in front of you.

Key points

  • Our actions today are determined by what has been programmed into us from birth.
  • There is no mysterious "authentic self" that needs to be discovered.
  • The ideal of an "authentic self" is unattainable and creates further frustration in the form of your self-critical voice.
  • With awareness and curiosity, all the information you need to know about who you are is available today.

The only authentic self that exists is the one that is present today—right this very second. Your actions and reactions right now reflect your entire lifetime of programming. Much of our programming is less than ideal but it is what exists. The search for your “authentic self” is futile, consumes a lot of mental energy, and detracts from your capacity to create the reality you desire.

Source: everydoghasastory/AdobeStock

A definition of “authentic self”

There are 225 million hits on Google for the term, "authentic self." Here is the Google definition.

Your authentic self is who you really are deep down. The part of you that doesn't care what others think. Authenticity happens when your words, actions, and behaviors consistently match your core identity.

The problem arises with the term, "core identity." Whatever it is for you consists of a "story" you have created about your place in life. We develop our own internal voice about who we are and have standards of how we should be and act. Then it becomes frustrating when we can’t live up to them. We may be more likely to engage in destructive behaviors even though we know better, and the cycle continues.

What if your core life programming was that of abuse and chaos without much modelling of strong values? What if you have little idea of what good behavior and healthy relationships look like? You did not ask for dysfunctional input; the nature of it may also block your capacity to step back and look at it in a way that allows change. Does this beginning make you a bad person? No. But trying to live up to an ideal of an authentic self would be daunting, frustrating, and almost impossible.

Your "authentic self"

Your authentic self is right here in front of you. It is the summation of your life programming from your parents, siblings, peers, teachers, employers, societal norms, and the marketing world. In other words, you are the product of who everyone else has told you to be. All thI messages are internalized and become your own inner voice telling you how you should be. The outcome is a lot of noise in your brain of self-judgement and that of others. We call it “self-esteem.” It is a mismatch of your powerful unconscious brain versus your conscious one. It is endless and wears you down.

in his brilliant book Livewired, David Eagleman points out that humans are uniquely dependent on their parents for physical survival compared to most mammals. A baby is completely helpless and cannot survive on its own for many years.2

Source: kieferpix/AdobeStock

The emotional brain is even more complex in that we have language with an infinite number of possibilities. We are programmed by every moment of our lives, which means none of us are the same. Humans give meaning to everything, and no two people can look at a physical object in the same way. Thoughts and concepts are much more complex, and we are downloaded first with concrete concepts, then abstract ideas, and we don’t develop deep philosophical thinking for many years.

We are completely at the mercy of our environment as to what is input into our brains. What becomes more problematic is that thoughts and ideals are perceived as real to a given person as a car or table.3 They become our version of reality or life filter. Once this life lens is set, it becomes reinforced over a lifetime—unless you choose to become aware of it and change it.

Who are you?

So, we are who the world has told us we should be. We have programmed behavioral patterns that are the foundation of our existence. Most of them result from the basic need to survive. Few of us are taught how to nurture joy. Who are we?

You are who you are today. You can see yourself by becoming aware of what you react to, what makes you anxious and angry, what are your behaviors and attitudes towards yourself and others, how much personal responsibility you take for your actions, and what level of compassion and empathy you feel for others.

For example, most of us know that compassion is a good idea. But what happens when you are upset? You may say or do things that you are not proud of, and compassion goes right out the window. It is because compassion is a conscious construct and anger arises automatically from your unconscious brain. It is a million-to-one mismatch. That reaction in the moment is who you are because something in the present connected you to something threatening (or perceived as such) in the past. You are there and not here. It is also who you are.

“Love your enemies”

In his book The Way to Love, Anthony DeMello has a chapter called, “Love Your Enemies.” He points out that if someone angers you, you should thank them. The problem is not them, but in you. Their words or actions triggered a response in you that allows you to have more awareness of what is inside of you.4 It is challenging in that it still feels like the other person is causing the problem, but it is you that is being triggered. The exception, of course, is physical or emotional abuse. Anger is a necessary protective reaction.

Your real authentic self

This all sounds challenging but there is a lot of hope once you realize how the complexity and depth of your life programming are playing out today. The key word is “awareness.” Once you are aware of how your past is continually playing out in the present, you can direct your attention to where you want your brain to develop. It continues to change every second—the term is “neuroplasticity.” Awareness creates the "space" you need to redirect your attention. Any amount will allow you to begin your journey into your new life. The sequence is 1) awareness 2) separation 3) reprogramming.

As you learn to take full responsibility for every one of your actions without judgement, you can create any reality you want by consistently making better choices. This new evolving person is still your authentic self. You just don’t have to keep searching for it.


1. Google Search, March 22, 2021..

2. Eagleman, David. Livewired. Cannongate Books, Edinburgh, UK, 2020.

3. Feldman Barret, Lisa. How Emotions are Made. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, New York, NY, 2018.

4. DeMello, Anthony. The Way to Love. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. New York, NY, 1995.

More from David Hanscom MD
More from Psychology Today